The Extreme Retired Racehorse Makeover Barrel Race kicks off Aug. 2 in Negley, Ohio to showcase a spectacle once thought unlikely: tight-turning Thoroughbreds curling around “three fast barrels.”
Organized by longtime barrel racer Jackie Harris, founder of nonprofit organization Dreaming of Three, which she named for her girlhood dreams of barrels and of riding the fastest horse, the event will help prove that Thoroughbreds are more capable of the sport than many equestrians might have thought. Even her.
“I’m one of those people who thought I’d never get a horse like a Thoroughbred,” Harris says. “But after watching videos of the training going on for this event, and one horse in particular, I’m thinking now that I will probably have to have an off-the-track Thoroughbred for my next barrel horse.”
Originally, the event was fomenting in her imagination as a way to re-train any down-on-their-luck horse. All Harris wanted to do was give something back to the horse community by sponsoring an event to showcase the trainability of unwanted horses.
She initially planned to save horses from kill pens and pattern their re-training in a similar fashion to what was seen in the popular Mustang makeover series. However, she changed her mind after realizing delays with quarantines and other costs could possibly slow her schedule.
She refocused on the Thoroughbreds after connecting with CANTER Ohio representative Jenn Ruberto, an ex-racehorse advocate who encouraged Harris to consider the vast athletic capacity of the American racehorse. And then connected with racehorse retraining maestro Steuart Pittman, founder of the popular Retired Racehorse Training Project, for some advice.
“I had no idea before I started this that in today’s barrel racing world there is plenty of room for Thoroughbreds,” she says. “In fact, one of my competitors in the Barrel Race Makeover is a pro-rodeo rider who uses an OTTB.”
In the upcoming competition, 12 trainers who were chosen from a field of 25 applicants hailing from as far away as Las Vegas and New Hampshire will be tasked with turning green racehorses into animals capable of performing on the flat, and with the barrels. “The only stipulation was that they have to have raced, and that they couldn’t be a pleasure horse already,” Harris says. “There could be no other training.”
The results of 100 days of training will be unveiled in a two-segment show at the Simmons Equestrian Center. Horses will perform a freestyle exhibition in walk, trot and canter, and in barrel racing, where they will be judged on things like side passing and lead changes, she says.
Proceeds from the event will be donated to CANTER Ohio and Bright Future Farms in Sarver, PA, an all-horse rescue, which concentrates on helping older Thoroughbreds.
The event is an extension of charitable fundraising she started after losing her father and her stepfather within three months of each other.
Feeling particularly blue one day over the deaths of the two men she loved so much, and lost in thought while waiting to enter a show ring, her Quarter Horse Sis reached around and nudged her foot, as if to say, do something. That’s when it hit her; from then on, she would donate all of her winnings to the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.
She formed her nonprofit Dreaming of Three to serve as a fundraising and organizational tool, and since creating a Facebook page and a website in 2012, has enlisted 136 other riders in 26 states to raise money for charity. Last year, the startup charity raised more than $22,000 for charity, including raising $7,000 for a horse who was doused with accelerants and lit on fire in Erie, PA.
Now Harris is turning her attention to the OTTBs.
“I hope by holding this event it will help save some lives of OTTBs in the future as we prove they are capable in all disciplines,” Harris says. “The hope of Dreaming of Three is to make this an annual event, and eventually to expand it to add an Open OTTB Barrel Race and a youth OTTB Barrel Race.”
Harris notes that barrel racing might be the perfect option for smaller racehorses.
“Smaller Thoroughbreds can fall through the cracks,” in sport-horse disciplines that call for tall, scopey jumpers. “But I think some of these small OTTBs are built for it.”