Christal Sutton’s racing arena sits on an innumerable amount of land on the outskirts of Texarkana, down a long, long dirt road adorned with patches of ponds and rolling hills. There you can find her horses, mini ponies, dwarf pony, and the several cats waiting for a good belly rub.
Sutton’s barrel raced for well over two decades now, and she’s showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, she still rides daily, helping her horse stretch and then contest their strength in the arena. Their relationship is intricate.
She started racing at 7-years-old and progressed so quickly her mother let Sutton race the World Champion barrel horse, Sonny Bit O’ Both. Beggar is the name of the current horse she barrel races and his personality is as strong as Sutton’s, dedicated and passionate. Both love the sport and thrill of the race.
They’ve won countless titles, buckles, money, show ribbons and a blanket. Most recently, they’ve won titles like the 2013 BBR World Championship 3D Insurance Champion, 2016 AQHA Reserve Champion Level 1 Barrel Racing, and 2017 BBR World Championship Finalist.
These titles don’t come easy or without great reward. Beggar receives deep tissue massages, weekly chiropractic work, pre-race breathing treatments, along with his regular stretches and exercises.
“For a normal practice week I will ride four to five days. I do a lot of drills at home when I ride my horses, but I also ride them in through the pasture,” said Sutton. “This keeps them moving their body and using their mind correctly, while also giving them a break from the barrel pattern.”
Practicing year-round reinforces the tight-knit relationship she has with Beggar.
“The winter season tends to offer a little more down time, but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be out at a barrel race saddling in the cold, wind, and rain.”
It isn’t all that rough though, Sutton and Beggar practice in their indoor arena that is climatized and can withstand the unique East Texas weather.
“This allows me to keep my horses ready for the barrel races when the outside weather may not be ideal for riding.”
By now, it’s easy to discern how time consuming this sport can become if you intend to be successful. Racing commands a good amount of Sutton’s focus and time.
“I love the sport of barrel racing and that means I put a lot of thought into the future when deciding the bloodlines for my prospects that I raise.” However, she did emphasize , “Beggar is special to me, not because of how much he has won, but because of his heart.”
Her affection for horses and animals can be traced back to her mother, who is a feline veterinarian.
“It helps having my mom as a vet because she educates me on what I can do to improve the overall health of all of my animals,not just the four cats.” Yes, four!
If all of the animals and intensive dedication to barrel racing weren’t enough, Sutton is also a teacher at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.
“I try to spend about an hour in the morning answering emails, and then I move on to grading papers in the afternoon after working my horses.”
She has to keep a strict schedule, luckily she has the climate controlled indoor arena that enables her to schedule her racing time at her convenience, not the oscillating Texas weather.
Teaching is enjoyable for Sutton and she finds helping students rewarding.
“The best part of teaching is when you can tell the students are learning something new and it is helping them in some other part of their life,” she said cheerfully. “I want my students to feel comfortable asking for my help or input on their assignments whether it’s through email, a phone call, or a face-to-face meeting. “
Despite all her commitments, she wants to work harder and go further, always striving to improve herself as a barrel racer and instructor.
“The more I do to better myself and my horses, the brighter our future will be,” she gleamed. “My goal is to continue to raise quality barrel prospects that will carry me down the alleyway for years to come.”
The same can be said for her teaching; she’s putting equal dedication into her studies. Sutton is currently in the process of applying to the English Doctorate at the University of Oklahoma where she intends to pursue a concentration in her interest of American Literature, British Literature, and Gender Studies.