Oct. 25—Prince is an American Paint Horse born 13 years ago to a loving family in the town of Lockport. Felicia Craft remembers the first time she rode him, as her father led the young steed.
Now 26, Craft qualified for the National Barrel Horse Association race in Georgia three years in a row, but always passed up the chance to ride Prince in the event because of the cost and genuine uncertainty that she could make the trip alone. She said her boyfriend, Joshua Landsman, is a mechanic, which would be great because tires and axles malfunctioning is common when transporting horses, but he's been unable to get time off work.
This year, a friend, Amie Maier, had an extra spot in her trailer and said if Craft could afford the gas, she was willing to haul her and Prince, along with her own horse Pebbles, to Georgia.
"The opportunity came out of nowhere," Craft said. "I had to go."
A school bus driver and graduate of Niagara County Community College's physical therapy program, Craft got the invitation in July and started preparing. One of the first people to hear the news was her father, Fred Craft.
Mr. Craft died Sept. 17 after being gravely ill for an extended time.
"He was one of my big supporters. He loved hearing the stories about me and my horses," Craft said. "I was his caregiver for a long time. He knew we were going and he knew how excited I was — so now he has one of the best seats in the house."
Prince and Craft's first race begins on Saturday, then the Sweepstakes Race are on the following day. After that there are two qualifying rounds of racing over a four-day period.
"There are three barrels and you run a cloverleaf pattern through them," Craft said. "4-H has barrel racing and that's where I started while growing up, when I started my riding years."
According to Craft there are five categories of fastest to slowest sets of horses. She said the final category, "slowest," where Prince typically scores, is deceiving because these "fat kids who are good at gym" are also very fast.
"The fastest horse in the race sets the pace," Craft said. "For example, if the fastest horse completes the race in 15.5, then the next category will begin at 16 seconds. The third will begin at 16.5, the fourth at 17 seconds and the final category would be the fastest 25 horses beginning at 17.5 seconds."
Craft is already planning on buying the "Qualifier Buckle," which is in lieu of a trophy from the NBHA just for earning the invitation. She said she decided to buy it since she's finally going, and because of her father's passing, but there are other fees as well.
"Entry fees were almost $1,200, so now we're doing a basket raffle. Family and friends have donated baskets and I will post them on Facebook," Craft said. "I've also started a bottles-and-cans drive."
Craft can be found on Facebook as Felicia Craft and bottles and cans can be donated to the Lockport location of Upstate Bottle Return at 6620 Lincoln Ave. In order for the deposit money to go to her and Prince, donors must state specifically that they are supporting Felicia Craft.
"It's a hobby," Craft said about horse racing. "But to me and my heart it's also a passion."