FAIRFAX — Cassidy and Paige Superneau have been riding horses almost as long as they’ve been walking.
The girls, who are two years apart, got their start riding as their mother held the lead line.
The girls laughed as they remembered Pepper, the feisty little pony, they rode in gymkhanas in their early years.
“Back then, not knowing what the different colors meant, we would compete with each other for the different colored ribbons; we wanted one of every color!” said Cassidy with a chuckle.
Paige is now a junior at BFA Fairfax, and Cassidy is a freshman at VTC, and barrel racing is their main event.
They spend the spring, summer, and fall traveling the eastern United States and Canada to race.
Competitions are divided into two categories: riders 18 and younger race in the Youth Category, and the Open Category is open to any age competitor. Young riders can compete in both if they desire.
Growing up with horses, the Superneau girls have learned to love and respect the animals they ride.
“Training your horse is basically like training an Olympic athlete; you want to take excellent care of them,” said Cassidy.
“You want them to feel their best and ensure they are at their best. They want to do their job and be part of what you’re doing.”
Training and physical care play an integral role in the well being of the horses, but there’s another equally vital piece.
“Many people have trouble with their horses, and some of that has to do with connection. You have to learn to ‘know’ what your horse is trying to tell you. Their mental state is very important,” said Cassidy.
“We don’t look at our horses as tools; they are basically our best friends.”
The girls each have a horse of their own. Paige has been riding Rain for four years, and Cassidy has been riding Hank for six.
“The horses all have different personalities. It took me a long time to figure out Rain,” said Paige. “At first, she wouldn’t even turn her first barrel, and it was all a matter of the correct cue with my hand.”
This spring, while waiting for the race season, the girls have been honing their skills out of the saddle.
“We’re starting to ride with no saddle or bridle to help build an even stronger connection. There’s a little less control, and the horses can make mistakes and get a little confused,” explained Paige.
“If you reassure them with a movement of your leg or hand, that helps them understand what you want.”
The Superneau’s work with quarter horses, a breed known for being very diverse. They are excellent on the track and make wonderful family pets.
Hank and Rain, the quarter horses the girls are currently racing came from Oklahoma and were trained in Canada by a man beloved by the Superneau family.
“Our horses are the last two at Ridgefield who were trained by Jean Claude Daudelin, our mentor, before he passed away. They raced in Canada, and they did very well,” said Paige.
Hank and Rain went through a four-year-old futurity in Canada before coming to the United States.
During the futurity, a four-year-old horse races on a circuit with other four-year-old horses. At the end of the year, the horse with the most points accrued over the season wins the futurity.
Hank finished second, and Rain finished in the top ten in their respective futurities.
The horses are busy through the race season, but the girls also keep them moving year-round.
“In the winter, we take trail rides to keep their muscles in shape; the deep snow is a good workout,” said Paige.
“We ride daily in the spring and work with the horses. We start slow and work up to more strenuous workouts.”
When race season begins, usually in April, the family packs the trailer and travels to the weekend events. Everything from food, tack, and brushes makes the trip.
Some horses don’t like the ride; others clearly enjoy the trip.
“My mom’s horse loves the wind; when we look out the mirror, we can see him sticking his nose out,” said Paige.
At the venue, the horses are unloaded and brushed. After they are saddled up, they take a gentle ride in an open arena to warm up their muscles and conserve energy for the upcoming race.
“When your name is called, you get your horse calmly into the chute,” explained Cassidy.
Horse and rider exit the shoot into the arena, navigating the barrels as quickly as possible. The entire race usually takes a mere 16 seconds, and if the horse or rider knocks over a barrel, they’re disqualified.
Paige and Cassidy usually race in both the open class and the youth class at each event.
Last season, Paige won the Vermont Open and Youth State Championships for the National Barrel Horse Association, and Cassidy was the Reserve Youth State Champion for the NBHA.
“That was my peak of the year. I had a great first run, and won all four runs that day,” said Paige.
The family didn’t go to the NBHA Worlds last year, but in both 2017 and 2018, they did make the trip to Perry, Georgia, after both Paige and Cassidy qualified.
Cassidy was named the 2nd Division Reserve World Champion in the Open, a competitor beating her out by a slender .4 second margin.
“It was amazing to go down there, compete, and do that well. There were riders who came from around the world.”
Barrel racing is divided into divisions to ensure that a more significant number of competitors have an opportunity to win races and prize money.
“It also draws larger crowds because more people come to the show knowing they could place even if they aren’t the best,” explained Cassidy.
Cassidy’s standout moment in 2019 didn’t result in a win, but it did make a statement.
“I hadn’t been doing well all weekend. My dad gave me a speech that motivated me, and I went out with confidence.
“I was waiting for my run, and I thought I knew my number. I went right out with no hesitation. I got in the arena and ran the fastest time of the weekend, but I was out of turn, and it didn’t count.
“I wasn’t too upset; I was glad that people could see that I could run that kind of time. I was proud to know that I could do it!”
When it comes to racing, the girls have very different experiences when they get on the course.
“People are cheering, but I don’t hear anyone except for my dad’s voice. Most of the time it’s dead silent in my head. At that point, it’s all about muscle memory,” said Cassidy.
“I hear people when I race. I try to keep my horse calm: fake it to make it when I get nervous,” said Paige.
“You don’t want the horse to feel your emotions until you’re in the chute. They feed off your energy. I’m known for walking very calmly into the gate.”
This year, the girls were both hoping to make it back to Georgia in August.
“We qualified last year, and we were looking forward to going back,” said Paige.
“I got a new horse this year,” said Cassidy, “and I was excited to get this new horse in competition.”
While they wait to see what the future will hold under the COVID-19 conditions, the girls are keeping busy.
“We’ve each been riding three horses a day. It’s nice to ride more than one horse and get a feel for different horses,” explained Cassidy.
Once again, it all comes back to relationships, a reminder that the horse and rider truly are a dynamic team of talented individuals.
“A lot of people have trouble when they get a connection with only one horse. When that horse is gone, they have a hard time learning to connect with another horse,” said Cassidy.
“We’ve ridden so many horses in our lifetime, and that has really helped us.”