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story.lead_photo.caption Katy Pendergrass races her horse Whocaughtcha during the 2017 Runnin' WJ Barrel Race at Four States Fairgrounds. Photo by Gazette Staff / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Ark. — The 14th annual Runnin' WJ Barrel Race at the Four States Fairgrounds this Friday through Sunday raises funds for the group's therapeutic riding center.

The riding center serves children with disabilities at the Texas-side non-profit organization's ranch. Riding lessons teach youth 4 years old and up an array of skills and provides them with physical benefits.

Expect hundreds of riders competing all three days, says Runnin' WJ Ranch Executive Director Sam Clem. All riders are welcome, but most are female riders, ages ranging from 12 to 80 years old.

Seeing the barrel racers dash around the arena as they compete is free to the public.

"Friday morning our big barrel race starts," Clem said. "We should have over 3,000 ladies in town from about 25 different states."

The action starts daily around 8 a.m. and lasts throughout the day and evening. They anticipate running almost 24-7, said the Runnin' WJ director.

"We're going to have some food trucks out there. People can come around and see the horses out in the fairgrounds and walk around and visit with people, get 'em something to eat. Just sit and watch the ladies run," Clem said.

It's a $12,000 added event with Future Fortunes putting up an an additional $50,000 prize, Clem said, so that's attracting new riders who've never attended this barrel race.

"This is by far going to be the largest one we have ever had," he said, noting riders of all ages and genders are racing against the clock.

They have various classes within the barrel race with additional payouts for competitors such as grandmothers, called "Granny Grunts," Clem said.

"We may have a payout for the younger kids, as well. We want everybody to have a good time when they come to Texarkana," he said.

Barrel racing is a way to introduce the public to the children with special needs served by the organization, one reason they hold this event as a free one.

It's also their largest fundraiser of the year with roughly $60,000 to $65,000 in donations last year. They hope to exceed that total this weekend.

"We wanted it free to the community because our biggest deal is raising awareness for the special needs community in town," Clem said. Funds are dedicated to scholarships so children can attend lessons.

"Probably 70% of our children that ride are right at poverty level," Clem said. "This just goes to scholarshipping them."

The race typically has about 800 riders a day pre-registered, but they usually have an additional 20 to 30% come through the gate to participate.

"We've got more pre-registered this year than we ran total last year," Clem said, noting they appreciate both cites and the sponsors who help Runnin' WJ hold this race. Plus, they average about 50 volunteers an hour, he said.

"The people of the community that support the ranch, tell them we love them and thank you," Clem said. "There's no way you can pull this size of event off in Texarkana without the community involved."

It's a family event, and Clem also appreciates his staff who make it happen.

"I truly know that our special needs community in this town is worth fighting for, and that's what we do," Clem said.

(More information: Visit or, or call 903-838-3223.)

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