The horse's sharp exhalations keep time beneath the gray afternoon sky.
In one smooth movement, the rider swings back her heels and the pair is off to the tempo of hooves against earth.
Fourteen-year old Kristen Wells of Sandusky has taken the reins of her dreams and will soon compete in her first world barrel racing competition.
In barrel racing, a horse and rider run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels set up on a dirt course.
The riders compete against the clock, running as close to the barrels as they can because every tenth of a second counts.
Knocking over a barrel though can add five seconds to the clock or in some cases get a team disqualified.
Kristen's partner on the course is Lucky, a spirited 12-year-old paint with one blue eye and one brown.
Flying around the barrels at breakneck speeds, missteps or slips can quickly turn dangerous.
"You have to be safe," said Kimberly Wells-Smith, Kristen's mom. "You have to pay attention to what the horse is doing."
Kristen and Lucky have spent four years learning how to read each other.
"Lucky follows her like a puppy," Wells-Smith said.
Despite the dirt and the danger of barrel racing, Kristen said the excitement keeps her coming back.
"The adrenaline of running fast and quick turns," Kristen explained as Lucky stomped her hooves, ready to get back on the course.
Wells-Smith and Kristen's 12-year-old sister, Savannah, stood outside the gate as Kristen and Lucky practiced their runs Thursday afternoon at Kandi-Land Stables in Castalia.
With practice, the pair will be able to run a loop around the barrels in about 17 seconds or less.
Kristen and Lucky will both be put to the test this summer when they compete in National Barrel Horse Association World Youth Championship.
"I'm nervous, but I'm confident, too," Kristen said.
Kristen said the butterflies in her stomach disappear once she and Lucky start running the course.
This July, Kristen and her family will travel with Lucky more than 900 miles to Jackson, Miss., for the World Youth Championship competition. Equestrian sports have been a family affair since Kristen was very young.
"She's always ridden, always," Wells-Smith said.
"It was something I learned to love," Kristen said.