Late last month, Dawson County High School senior Lily Verhoven and her trusty horse Woodrow — with Digarun as his show name — traveled to Perry and accomplished the fastest time at the National Barrel Horse Association Youth and Teen World Championships with a time of 14.592.
While she has been a part of many barrel racing competitions, this one was particularly special due to the bond she has with Woodrow and the journey they have had together.
“It felt good, he definitely came in there and worked,” Verhoven said in an interview with NBHA after the event. “The first go he wasn’t feeling his best so we got him looked at. Once we got that fixed he went to work. I kind of just had to sit there and not get in his way at all.”
Taking an interest in horses at a young age, Verhoven has been a full-time caretaker for a stable of horses for several years. For the past year, she and Woodrow have been working together and becoming a dynamic duo at many events.
The importance of both their relationship and the level of competition they are in is reflected in the initiative she has taken in ensuring Woodrow’s health and happiness.
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From driving several hours to see her trusted vet to spending hours on the phone asking horse experts what she could be doing better, Verhoven wanted to be as prepared as possible going into the world championships.
“You want your horse to feel a hundred percent into it,” Verhoven said. “It helped that our vet took his time with us and said, ‘This is what’s wrong, let’s fix it.’”
The culmination of their teamwork was on display at the world championships in Perry, where people from all across the country and globe came to compete.
Verhoven’s work over the course of the week-long event had just as much to do with keeping her horse calm as it did navigating their routine.
She calmly worked through Woodrow’s anxiety, which at one point resulted in a locked jaw that required an injection. Through their mutual trust, the pair would achieve a winning time.
Verhoven credits her horse’s personality and their resulting bond as important factors in their shared success.
“The bond is truly important in barrel races,” Verhoven said. “It helps them come out of their shell and strive to what they really are.”
Her mother Laurie expressed how proud she was of her daughter’s growth as a dedicated caregiver.
"She gets up every morning, she’s here during the afternoon [and] takes care of them at night,” Laurie Verhoven said. “She pours her heart and soul into it. If [the horses] aren’t feeling good, she’s the going to be the one that finds it [out].”
The next big event that Lily and Woodrow have will be the state-level show in September back in Perry.