After finishing a 12-hour shift as a Sarasota police officer, 25-year veteran Kurt Dever hangs up his uniform, changes into riding clothes and hits the trails with his partner: a 16.1-hand racehorse named Dallas.
“It’s a perfect way to relieve stress after work,” he says. “There’s a lot of bonding that goes on between you and the horse. You build a lot of trust.”
Dever says this trust plays a big role in developing the horse/rider bond that’s important in his after-work hobby — barrel racing, a rodeo event that challenges riders to complete a cloverleaf pattern around stationary barrels in the fastest time.
The bond between Dever and Dallas was evident in his recent victory at the National Barrel Horse Association World Finals in Perry, Ga. After only competing in the sport for three years, Dever qualified for the championships and took first place in his division — a rare accomplishment, even for lifelong riders.
The son of a jockey, Dever spent much of his life around horses, and he competed in rodeo events throughout high school. After getting married, his hobby fell by the wayside — until a few years ago.
“I probably hadn’t ridden in 30 years,” says Dever. “My daughter got into barrel racing, and she talked me into doing it with her. I thought it would be a fun way for us to spend time together.”
Typically a female-dominated sport, Dever says he’s received some teasing from people who don’t understand the level of skill barrel racing requires. With winning runs decided by hundredths of a second, riders must have a mastery of their horse and the ability to make split-second decisions.
“It’s almost like a rollercoaster ride,” says Dever. “Everything happens quickly, and it’s a lot harder than it looks. I tell people they’re welcome to come try riding if they want. Nobody’s ever taken me up on it.”
Dever says although this particular rodeo event was new to him, he’s found a lot of similarities between his new hobby and his high school rodeo days.
“It’s kind of the same,” he says. “There’s a lot of pressure, and you’re dealing with an animal, so you have to perform well together. The adrenaline is definitely there; it’s a fast sport.”
Dever found that he had a natural talent for barrel racing, and he and his daughter have enjoyed competing together over the past few years. This year, Dever earned enough points at competitions throughout the season to qualify for the 20th annual world championships.
Going into the event, he says he tried to stay calm and focused and remember why he got into the sport in the first place: to bond with his daughter and relax after work.
Luckily, Dever says he and Dallas both performed at the top of their game, and, much to his surprise, he walked away with a world title.
“You can definitely over think it,” he says. “But I just left him alone and let him do the job. I was ecstatic when I won. People ride their whole lives and never win something like that.”