The dirt track at Marana Heritage Arena has become a second home to barrel racing aficionados, like 24-year-old Shyanne Summerfield.
Summerfield was practically raised on horseback, racing at various venues in Arizona since she was 3. She spent much of her time learning the ropes at the Marana facility, which is a stone’s throw from the Interstate, adjacent to Marana Middle School.
The arena, which opened in the late ’90s, closed its doors in 2016, only to be revived last year by members of the Cowboys and Cowgirls Open Barrel Racing Association.
Summerfield remembers the brief interlude when the arena was closed, which forced local racers to head for Phoenix to compete.
Those days are over, and Summerfield is back in Marana, competing against people of all ages, including her mother, Laura. The duo are part of more than 150 riders that ride at the facility during the racing season, which runs from January to November.
Summerfield believes the facility, which is owned by the Marana Unified School District, is a lifesaver for area residents that love the thrill of rodeo.
“The entire atmosphere there is incredible,” she said. “You become good friends with your competitors, and it becomes just a big family environment. We all encourage each other and it’s just fun to get to be in a place where we all encourage each other, and we just get to be one big family.”
Creating that communal atmosphere was imperative for arena operator Kelly Robertson when she set out to restart races. She said the racing association was able to accomplish that goal thanks to a cadre of volunteers and donations from community members.
“We put out feelers throughout the community and got sponsorship from a lot of different local vendors that helped us earn the money to put everything back up,” Robertson said. “We basically started from scratch. We had to put everything from the fencing to the lights, to the porta-potties, to the dumpster.”
The facility revival has become an instant success story, with events each week, including open rides on the track and barrel races on the first and third Saturday of the month. The association takes time off in the summer, from mid-July to Sept. 1, but remains open for the rest of the year.
Seeing the arena come back to life has been a joy for racing association president Teri Murphy, who has been around since its inception two decades ago. Murphy believes the facility’s recent success is thanks to the community’s western roots, with plenty of barrel racing and horse-riding enthusiasts in the area.
Murphy added that having a facility like the arena is crucial, as it allows the next generation of Marana residents to connect with the town’s agrarian history.
“I think that children getting the opportunity to experience the western way of life is important,” she said. “I was with the committee when we first started the arena back 20 years ago, so when it shut down for about two years, it was heart-wrenching and devastating to me.”
Murphy believes the facility’s success is crucial for Marana’s livelihood going forward, keeping up with other agrarian communities around the state, that have similar facilities for their residents.
“Most smaller communities, like Queen Creek, places like that, they have one that’s built by the town,” she said. “So, I think it’s our way of contributing back to what the original heritage of Marana was all about.”
Summerfield sees the value of having a facility like the arena in the heart of Marana, as it allows barrel racing and horse enthusiasts to convene in a communal setting to share the activities they love most.
“I’ve been competing everywhere since I was little, and people that love horses, we all know how important the ground is at a facility,” she said. “And the ground there is fantastic, and the time that they put into it is remarkable. It’s nice that you can go there and not have to worry about it and just get to work your horses and not have any issues with anything.”