SUMMER is traditionally quieter for horse sports in the west but the prospects got a huge boost in Barcaldine on the weekend with the running of the inaugural event in a new outback barrel racing circuit.
The Summer Buckle Series is the brainchild of Barcaldine's Jolene Seeds and Blackall's Jaimee-Lee Prow, who wanted to do something for rural horse people in tough times.
"The drought means that all of us are feeding horses anyway, and we just felt there was a lack of recreational horse activities," Jaimee-Lee said.
"The barrel racing circuit is too far away for most to take part in at the moment, so we thought we may as well do something here."
An enthusiastic response has seen 20 events locked into the circuit so far, at Winton, Longreach, Aramac, Blackall, Tambo, Augathella and Alpha as well as Barcaldine, meaning barrel racers will have the opportunity to earn points once or twice a month until the final at the end of May.
The 'three-division', or 3D concept, popular in America and booming in Australia, works by splitting competitors into divisions, with one second time splits between them.
Everyone, regardless of ability, runs in the 3D barrel race and is then placed in the division of their time ranking, depending on the fastest time of the day.
As well as encouraging riders to improve their skills and work towards a higher division, the system still gives the chance to be competitive.
"It suits all levels of riders and horses and gives everyone the chance to win prizemoney at each event," Prow said.
The response on the opening weekend - 277 runs over two days - exceeded expectations.
Competitors travelled from as far as Winton, Charleville and Stonehenge.
Ailee Donaldson and Alisha Woods featured high in the first division placings, but Alisha's results were with two different horses.
Points accumulate for each division and hand-crafted buckles at the end of the series will go to the highest points earning horse and rider combination.
Feature events, including a futurity for horses under seven years and an open barrel race, have also been incorporated.
The circuit is affiliated with the Australian Barrel Horse Association, which gives competitors a gateway to compete in the national ABHA finals at Tamworth next August, by taking part in a minimum of five events in the Summer Buckle Series.
Prow said there were plans to build the western circuit into an annual event.