Since she was a little girl, Vicki Sorrels loved horses.
Some members of her family had horses and she rode whenever she could, but until she turned 30, the Kasilof resident never had a horse of her own.
Then, four years ago, her husband, Chris, bought her one in celebration of the couple's 11th wedding anniversary.
Instantly she began barrel racing with the Soldotna Equestrian Association and last month the relative newcomer to the sport missed qualifying for the finals of the National Barrel Horse Association in Augusta, Ga., by just .01 of a second.
"You can start at any age," said the 34-year-old Sorrels.
"I never thought in just four years I could qualify for the world championships ... and go.
"I was nervous from the time I got on the airplane."
Qualifying to compete in the NBHA World Championship show was almost a given for Sorrels, who was the District Reserve 3-D Division Champion in 1999, moved up to the 2-D Division in 2000, and won Reserve State Champion in the 3-D Division in 2001.
But then the Sorrels let a friend borrow their horse trailer and it was wrecked in a traffic accident. Without a trailer, she could not compete this year.
"Because I had qualified during the previous year, my husband said, 'Let's go anyway and just watch,'" she said.
"When we got there, I contacted the Georgia State (NBHA) director, Gene King, and he said he had a horse for me to ride.
"I had never met him or his family, and I had never seen the horse, but he said I could ride it, and he didn't charge me to ride the horse. I did have to pay a late fee of $225," Sorrels said.
And two days before her turn in the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center arena, she got to ride Stories Gypsy Jet, a 14-year-old sorrel, quarter horse mare for the first time.
With faith, skill and a serving of good luck, the two ran the barrels in 15.974 and 15.943 seconds, "the best times I'd ever done in my life," she said. Her best previous times on the Kenai Peninsula had been in the low 17s.
But even her new best times weren't good enough to place her in the finals at the world-championship level.
"It doesn't matter," she said. "Just the thrill of being there was worth it. I suggest anyone qualifying to go to world, go to world.
"I'm sure I'll be telling my grandkids about it."
That might be a little premature as the Sorrels' oldest child is son Mykel, 13, who attends Soldotna Middle School, and their two daughters, Heather, 11, and Alexis, 9, are both grade-school pupils at Tustumena Elementary School.
Mykel did some team penning earlier, but now that he's 13, he's developing other interests, according to his mom, and because Heather suffered a finger injury involving a horse accident several years ago, she shies away from horses somewhat.
"Alexis is a big-time horse lover," said Sorrels. "She can't wait to be barrel racing, too.
"I hope to start her next year, if we get another horse trailer."
But racing isn't the only reason Sorrels spends her time around horses and the equestrian association.
"We have rules including no drugs, no drinking and no cussing, and to me, most of the people are all a family," she said.
The group and its many activities also provide a means for younger people to maintain their self-esteem and self-confidence, she said.
"That's what keeps kids from steering in the wrong direction."
Sorrels currently is the secretary-events director for the association, and she was instrumental in getting the Soldotna group paired up with the Peninsula Horsemen's Associa-tion of Ninilchik to produce four annual Peninsula Cowboy Round-up Series rodeos.
In addition to competing in barrel racing, she does some team penning and aspires one day to ride in cutting horse competition.
"Gene King said that whenever I qualify for NBHA worlds again, he will have a horse or find a horse for me to ride."
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