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Rodeo royalty offers 4-H barrel racing clinic

Barrel racing champion Jane Melby, at left, shared tips of the trade with 4-H riders Aug. 10. The clinic was held at Strait Rail Ranch in Nevis. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise) 1 / 2
Cayla Melby Small, at left, works with another group of 4-H barrel racers in the outdoor arena. 2 / 2

Jane Melby and her daughter, Cayla Melby Small, returned to old stomping grounds this month to offer a barrel racing clinic to 4-Hers.

On Aug. 10, the mother-daughter duo teamed up to teach 35 riders from across Minnesota. Strait Rail Ranch in Nevis hosted the event.

A graduate of Sebeka High School, Melby has won two world championship titles and is a three-time National Finals Rodeo (NFR) gold buckle winner.

Small, 20, was a 2016 NFR qualifier and named Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) Rookie of the Year.

Six years ago, the family moved from Backus, Minn. to Oklahoma to purse their rodeo careers.

"I do clinics all over, but generally not a 4-H clinic. I do 20 clinics a year in multiple states," Melby said. "My goal is for my daughter and I to get back to NFR on RC Back on Black foals."

In 2011, Melby rode RC Back on Black in the NFR finals. The mare carried her to sixth place in overall WPRA world standings.

"4-H is really strong in Minnesota, and the horse program appears to really be holding its own," said Kristine Walsh, who manages Strait Rail Ranch for owner Pete Lewis.

This was only the second 4-H event held at the ranch, she said. In July, they hosted the 4-H Northern Regional Drill Team Competition, with 100 riders.

Returning to Minnesota for a wedding, Melby agreed to instruct the 4-Hers for a one-day clinic.

"She really supports 4-H. She was a 4-Her and that's where she got her start," said Minnesota 4-H Horse Director Renee Kostick who helped Walsh organize the clinic.

Seventeen counties were represented at the event, Kostick said, some traveling from Dakota County in southern Minnesota and Wright County to the north.

4-H horse volunteers are very knowledgeable, Kostick said, "but when you have the opportunity to learn from a professional, plus they are a role model to a lot of these kids, it's a different learning opportunity."

All of the clinic participants had a chance to work with Melby. First, they ran a barrel course under her keen eye. Based on their race times and abilities, they were divided into three smaller work groups.

"Kids who ride horses have a real specific passion for what they do," Kostick said, "and there's a connection with the horse. For some reason, there's a connection between girls and horses."

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