‘Three fast barrels’ to challenge Thoroughbreds

Rider Lindsay Jensen barrel racers her OTTB mare. She is among 12 trainers competing in the August event

Rider Lindsay Jensen barrel racers her OTTB mare. She is among 12 trainers competing in the August event

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.

A logo that captures the upcoming Extreme Barrel Racing Competition

A logo that captures the upcoming Extreme Barrel Racing Competition

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.

Jackie Harris, a barrel racer and founder of Dreaming of Three, with her mare Sis

Jackie Harris, a barrel racer and founder of Dreaming of Three, with her mare Sis

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.”


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10 responses to “‘Three fast barrels’ to challenge Thoroughbreds”

  1. Toni Palmer

    Thoroughbreds make awesome Barrel Horses. I have trained several of them to run barrels and Poles. I had one that I rodeo’d on.They are the Best Breed they are so willing and very athletic. Love Love Thoroughbreds. Great organization you have started:-) Thank You !!!

  2. Nancy Beavers

    I purchased a 5 yr old OTTB mare that had went to pasture for 8 months and then was passed around for a year by resellers. When I purchased her, she was confused and not very trusting, but I could still see her prior years of training and the love that someone had invested into this mare. I started with ground work and then went through many arena exercises with trail riding everyday. Mindola is fearless, likes to please, and deserved a second chance…I am glad I found her. I currently am using her as a trail horse, but an accomplished trail horse until we decide which path to take.

  3. Jackie Harris

    Thanks everybody! It is developing into quite the Event, with lots of support and excitement! Hopefully, we will raise a ton for CANTER and Bright Future Farms and have a good time doing so! We will most likely start taking applications for next year’s Makeover beginning of February of 2014! Keep up with news on Dreaming of Three’s Facebook Page, or via the website. If you’d like an application sent to you once we begin taking them, please email me.

  4. Victoria VanDerVoort

    I am in love, this is fantastic. I have two OTTB’s have owned many and worked at some of Woodbines layup barns with broodmares, stallions, babies, ottbs and layups. EVERY TB stands a chance at something, my newest lady isn’t ready for the ring yet, otherwise I would have joined but next year I can’t wait to compete! – Wish I could be there you have all of my support!

  5. Nikki

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! This is such a great idea…I wanted to enter, but during the selection process I was moving and had too much on my plate for this…I’m doing the Retired Racehorse Training project this summer, and you can bet that my OTTB will be tearing around some barrels!! 🙂

  6. Cynthia

    Great story Susan. My OTTB mare at a hunter/jumper stable for 6 months and then at a dressage stable for 8 months. She did well in dressage. The barn manager told me numerous times that my horse would have limitations. Sure, she isn’t going to be a level 3 dressage competition horse, but I think she is doing great. For now, I moved my mare out to pasture for a mental break, and she is much happier! And when I ride her, I have a nice relaxed horse that has some dressage skills. On top of that, I had been sharing some of your stories with the barn manager. I still take dressage lessons, and wouldn’t you know it, the barn manager bought a mare almost identical to my mare, a thoroughbred of all things, and is training her. Your stories, and the things everyone does for OTTB’s inspires a lot of people. Thanks again.

  7. janice strain

    Susan, thank you so much for what you are doing. I love thoroughbreds raise and race them. Until I found your website, I pretty much took them home after their racing career as I would not risk their future. However, several of them deserve second careers and frankly I can no longer support 20 some horses. I am past retirement and no longer really able to retrain myself, so the possible contacts I am developing through your site are a blessing. My horses raised retire sound and have many starts. That is due to their genes, but also they are raised pretty much as they would be in the wild–other than they feel free to come up on the deck and truly show the intelligence that TB’s are known for. President’t Woman raced 69 times won 130,000 when Indiana purses weren’t much. Is small, tight, agile and bored to death with “pasture life”. She is sound and a very special mare. Her longtime trainer told me she is the most intelligent animal he had ever worked with–that has its drawbacks–as she is also independent, but totally professional in every thing she does. She will make a wonderful partner for the right person. Keep up the good work.

    1. Sonia Barr

      I agree that President’s Woman might make a really good barrel racer. I knew her when she was racing. She gives 110% to her job.

  8. Hannah

    I live in the area where the horse was lit on fire and when I read about them donating money to the horse, I was overcame with joy! North Star (the horse) is now doing better but still needs to be taken to the vt to get his skin taken care of.

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