Rachelle Riggers hasn't been home for a month. She's too busy doing what she loves.
The 29-year-old St. Helens resident and her horse Magic French Flight — "Magic" for short — are making their way across the West, competing in rodeo after rodeo. She was competing in Utah and Arizona a few weeks ago, and spent this week at rodeos in Eugene and Toppenish, Washington.
It's a schedule that keeps her on the move. Some might call that "grueling," but Riggers has another word for it.
"This is the biggest time of the year for rodeos," Riggers said from her truck heading home to St. Helens after a competition. "It's Cowboy Christmas."
On Thursday, July 1, Riggers was in Marion County, competing in one of the West Coast's largest riding events, the St. Paul Rodeo.
Riggers is a barrel racer, a tough completion in which riders maneuver their horse around several barrel-shaped obstacles in a large arena, competing for the fastest time.
Held the Fourth of July weekend every year since the 1930s, St. Paul boasts one of the largest rodeos in the country. This was Riggers' first time competing.
"I was so excited to get the opportunity to compete at that level," she said. "It's pretty exciting."
Riggers has attended the rodeo as a spectator and said the spectacle of the event is something you don't see other places.
"It's fun and the crowd is really into it," she said. "It's a huge arena and probably the only place to run where there's shrubs inside the arena. That's pretty unique. There's a lot of excitement and energy there. (St. Paul) is a small town, but it's a huge event."
All that excitement can be difficult for some horses, she said.
"St. Paul is a difficult arena," she said. "Not every horse is able to handle it."
Horses are easily startled, and changes in terrain or arenas can throw horses off their game. The St. Paul Rodeo lacks the fencing seen at many other arenas, Riggers said, and horses are expected to move through dark alleys and under grandstands, which can be intimidating.
Some horses, though, thrive in that environment, she said.
"It's a lot more stimulation for a horse," she said. "Some horses need that high-energy setting to perform. Thankfully, my horse will run anytime I put him in there."
Growing up in Lewiston, Idaho, Riggers was practically raised in the saddle. She competed in her first barrel race when she was 4 years old.
But while rodeo life is old hat for Riggers, it's all new to her horse, Magic. The 8-year-old American Quarter Horse started competing in rodeos only in the past month.
"He's doing really well," she said. "To come and compete in that setup, it was incredible for him. I'm really proud of him."
The offspring of a horse Riggers raced when she was in high school, Riggers says the flurry of competitions are helping him get used to rodeos of all shapes and sizes.
Riggers loves barrel racing for lots of reasons, she said. She gets to travel the country, meet people and form a connection with her animal.
"There's a lot of adrenaline and partnership and time you spend with your horse. You really become a team and form a friendship with them," Riggers said. "You go out and win together. They know when they do well, it's really fun."
Her passion for racing is a major time commitment. Riggers was up at 3 a.m. to drive from St. Helens to St. Paul and have Magic ready to compete.
Riggers, who works full time with Providence Health Systems, says juggling her career and her hobby can be a challenge. The St. Paul rodeo was the first time in weeks Riggers was able to spend some time at home. But working remotely and having a work team that understands her schedule have been key.
"My team at work is so good at helping me chase my dreams," she said. "They give me the flexibility I need."
With more horses racing throughout the day, Riggers wasn't sure how she placed during Thursday's competition by the time she had to leave for her next competition in Eugene, but said no matter what the official results are, she says Magic is a winner.
"We weren't perfect, but he tried his hardest," she said. "There wasn't any more that he could have done"
This was Riggers' first time competing at the St. Paul Rodeo. She says it won't be her last.
"I'll definitely go back next year," she said. "Now that I've made a run in there, I know what I need to do to prepare."
The St. Paul Rodeo runs through Sunday, July 4.
Editor's note: A typographical error in an earlier version of this story's headline has been corrected. The horse is named Magic French Flight, or "Magic" for short.
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