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Bucking the Pandemic Blues …    Runnelstown family’s efforts paying off as impact of Circle C Arena continues to grow

The Clifton family of Runnelstown is shown after one of the recent riding events at Circle C Arena with Miss Mississippi for America Julia Saucier. The Cliftons started the arena to provide opportunities for local riders, particularly youth riders, to have a place to practice and compete during the pandemic. Pictured (L-R) are Allen, Ronnie and Hope Clifton, Saucier, and Morgan Clifton.
Contributed Photo

Dispatch Staff
When the pandemic shut down the world, it didn’t just hit retail establishments and churches. The shut down seeped into everything and impacted everyone – including equestrians. For many Perry County residents, horseshows and competition on horseback are not just for fun, they are a way of life.

One local family decided to do something about the issue. Circle C Arena began holding barrel runs once a month in the fall of 2021. The runs began on Sunday afternoons, as many local churches hadn’t yet resumed indoor services. What started out as a small local event has turned into so much more. Circle C Arena owners Ronnie and Hope Clifton said they just wanted to give riders a chance to ride and compete when everything else was shut down.

“We started out with about 15 riders,” Hope said. “Afterwards, we grilled burgers and sausage dogs. That quickly turned into 25, then the next thing you know, we had 60 people one Saturday.”

Hope said after that Saturday, she was asked to make a social media page so people could follow and know when runs were taking place. The page has gained over 300 followers, and many of them make their way to Circle C Arena to have a little fun while keeping their horses up to speed. Hope said riders are coming from all around the area-Perry County, Jones County, Alabama, the Gulf Coast and even Louisiana.

“Spectators have told me how nice it is to be able to drive 10 minutes from home for a run.” Hope said. “I have also been told we have amazing dirt and everyone loves the family atmosphere.”

“We have done two buckle runs and are currently doing a six-show buckle series. Julia Saucier, Miss Mississippi for America, reached out to me to help sponsor the series. She is helping by gathering prizes for the winners.”

The six-show series has categories for experiences riders as well as beginners. Winners will receive prizes, including a payout of a portion of the entry fees. Hope said Miss Mississippi for America Julia Saucier was instrumental in getting this series together, and while she is currently in Las Vegas competing for the Miss for America Strong title, all those riding at Circle C Arena are cheering for her.

“Julia came to a couple runs and asked about a Tuesday night series,” Hope said. “She said let me help you and give back to the community.”

Without the help of Saucier and many others, Hope said holding the runs would be hard to do. Lots of locals pitch in at the arena by volunteering their time for any number of things during the runs. There are those handling the announcing, cooking food and moving barrels.

“We are blessed to have so many people who care about our community,” Hope said.

Holding the rides was also a benefit for the Clifton family as well. Hope said their two children ride and were missing the camaraderie of other riders at shows. Their daughter Morgan was a rider for Pearl River Community College in Poplarville and wanted to keep running her horse after she finished her courses at the school, and she has recently been helping her little brother Allen get comfortable in the saddle. There were no places in Perry County to ride throughout the pandemic, and the Cliftons wanted to do something about it. They have created a family atmosphere-where adults participate in runs too- and it’s been a blessing for so many, Hope said.

“It’s a confidence booster,” Hope said. “They (riders) are competing with people with the same average. They are continuing to learn.”

The Cliftons plan to continue hosting runs, at least for now. Hope said the plan is to hold something once a month, with a break at the end of the year. To keep up with events, check out their Facebook page, Circle C Arena.

“We have free admission and a small set of bleachers,” Hope said. “Many people bring lawn chairs and blankets to sit on.”

“We would like to invite you to come watch some outstanding competitors, eat some great food and fellowship with some amazing people.”

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