Local barrel racer sets sights on world title

George H. Gentry Junior School seventh-grader Paityn Berklund rounds a barrel during a recent state competition. The 13-year-old is making her first trip to Las Vegas and the Junior World Finals this December. 

When 13-year-old Paityn Berklund out-raced 65 other riders in the American Quarter Horse Association Junior World Championship in barrel racing, her first words to her parents were, “I got a puppy.” 

An Australian shepherd to be precise, which was promised to her if she won it all. 

Along with a bevy of trophies that came with the win, Paityn now has Lakota, the family’s newest dog after winning by three-hundredths of a second. 

“I had no idea how I placed after my run. I wasn’t expecting to win,” Paityn said. “I thought I would just go out there and have a good run, and maybe place in the top 5. It was surprising when I won. I was extremely happy.” 

 To become a junior world champion, Paityn, a seventh-grader at George H. Gentry Junior School,  practices about four days a week, sometimes riding until 9 p.m. 

“It’s a big sacrifice for Paityn,” Hilari Berklund, Paityn’s mom, said. “She’ll play volleyball, then she’ll come home and practice and then does her homework.” 

Her partner in all of this is her horse, Spirit — an American Quarter Horse named after the airline they flew to get her horse in Wisconsin — who she got about a year ago. With some practice and a bond the two have formed, success has followed. 

“I knew she was the horse for me because she wasn’t crazy,” Paityn said. “Usually, most of the horses that are fast that I’ve ridden are crazy hyper. But Spirit was so calm, her head was low and she didn’t get scared when we went to run the barrels.” 

In total, Paityn has won 14 belt buckles. 

“Paityn has an ability to connect with the horse that she’s on,” Hilari Berklund said. “It’s an incredible bond she has with those horses. She’s a natural.”

Paityn starting riding at the age of 9 and started training at the Josey Ranch in Karnack with her first horse, Precious.    

The ranch is not only where she started but a place she has had a lot of success at. 

“There has always been a special tie (at the ranch), so it was a sentimental thing to be able to go back where she started and to win it all,” Hilari Berklund said. “For Martha Josey to recognize Paityn was a big deal. I’m very proud of what Paityn has been able to accomplish.” 

Her love of the sport was first 

realized when she attended the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. She would sit in awe when she watched the how professional barrel racers would direct their horses around a cloverleaf pattern of barrels. 

As she grew up, so did her passion for the sport, which led to the Berklund family purchasing a horse and some land in their hometown of Anahuac. 

Paityn’s 10-year-old sister, Sloane, also barrel races, and the sisters help with horse chores and ride together often. They also have a 7-year-old brother, Steele. 

There’s no telling what more this 13-year-old will accomplish, but in the immediate future, her sights are set on the 2019 AQHYA World Championship Show in Las Vegas in December.  

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