Fledgling barrel racers Amber Marshall and Candace Bullard are molding themselves into competitors who could someday make their mark on the professional women's rodeo circuit.
Marshall, a 14-year-old Payson High School freshman from Jake's Corner, first climbed on a horse when she was only 18 months old.
Since that first ride, Marshall's love and devotion to horses has grown in leaps and bounds. In the past few years, she also has developed a reputation as an accomplished competitor on the America West 4D, town of Payson and the National Barrel Horse Association racing circuits.
Most recently, she rode her gelding A.J. to a first-place showing in a gymkhana series at Sanders' Arena in Globe.
During the year-long series, she practiced at home each day after school and traveled to Globe once a month to compete. For her victory, she earned her first championship saddle.
Her collection of winning hardware also includes 10 buckles she's been awarded for her feats in the arena.
Before her career ends, Marshall's goal is to earn many more saddles, buckles and possibly prize money.
Bullard, a 13-year-old at Rim Country Middle School, also has been almost a life-long equestrian.
Bullard credits her aunt, Barbara Hodges of Scottsdale, and local rider Shari Patterson for fueling her interest in horses. The two have helped the teen master the nuances of barrel racing.
"They taught me to keep my hand quiet, so not to jerk the reins, and to use my legs more," Bullard said.
The teen says her 13-year-old mare, Catballoo, is a big reason for her success.
"She's fast and she always wants to learn more," Bullard said. "I'm glad Mr. and Mrs. (Joe) Haught sold her to me."
As a member of the Rim Rascals 4-H Club in Pine, Bullard qualified for the Arizona State Horse Show Oct. 24 in Scottsdale. Competing in the junior division, the teen rode her way to first place in barrel racing, and fourth in both pole bending and goat tying.
Next on the agenda for Bullard is a Thanksgiving holiday barrel racing event at a Litchfield Park arena.
Marshall will compete during the holidays at an NBHA competition at the Apache Gold Casino in San Carlos. For Marshall, the support of her sponsors, which include Hashknife Feed, Unlimited Outfitters, Jake's Corner Bar and Don's Sport Shop in Scottsdale, have allowed her to travel and compete.
"I couldn't do it without them," she said.
Both young riders also thank their parents -- Brian and Shannon Marshall and Dave and Margaret Bullard -- for encouraging them in their athletic endeavors.