Annaley My Darling – from Flat Racing to Barrel Racing

Written by Jennifer Wittridge

“I had given up horses for many years before I had the opportunity to own my own horse again and my main aim was to look for a young former racehorse, knowing that they are the most trainable and I have always wanted to discover the Western way of riding. My history in horses lies in the showing of all breeds at County level, producing ponies and horses, breaking and schooling together with racehorses. Following a rather nasty accident that set me back for a long while, I came across a 3 year old former racehorse in 2013.

Looking at the pictures, I saw she had good conformation, good feet and a great eye and my mind was made up, she was coming home. I gave Annaley My Darling (aka Annie) and now known as Aspen, a year off work just to grow, put on weight and get her barefoot with my farrier, Mr James Hird, who has done an amazing job.

After her time off, I began to introduce her to ground work and then to being ridden Western, all of which she grasped with all four feet. The biggest missions were exposure, getting her out and about in the showing world and hearing loud speakers without her thinking she was at the races. It took two training sessions before she relaxed; other than that it has been beach rides, taking her to woods and water and giving her as many different good experiences as I could. I am very proud of my 15hh pony, built like a bull, just like her father, Sharmadal.

Aspen has never been out of the ribbons in this sport which is predominantly a Quarter Horse sport. Not being a Quarter horse, we can only show unaffiliated in the Western disciplines, but Aspen did well in Ranch Horse, HUS (Hunter under saddle), Horsemanship and even did well in Pleasure classes. Unfortunately, a few personal circumstances made travelling hard to do for a year and a half and I was getting frustrated at the lack of Western riding facilities and events in my area, apart from Brandon Riding Academy in Suffolk.

After a few conversations with my friend Sally Heron, from 4 Strides Equestrian UK, who organises Barrel Racing clinics and competitions in the East Midlands, we managed to bring the sport home to Norfolk.

So we gave it a go and wow….. this has transformed my former racehorse into one of the best barrel racers in the UK! In fact it has given both Aspen and I a new lease of life. As far as I am aware, Aspen is the only former racehorse to be competing in this sport and doing so well. We have been given the opportunity now to compete and represent the UK in Europe this year and we are currently seeking sponsorship to be able to take this unbelievable opportunity. I compete under 4 Strides Equestrian UK and the UK Barrel Horse Association (UKBHA).”

Training for these events is outstanding and we never actually race until race days. Balance, technique and agility are paramount but what is lovely about this sport is the banter, camaraderie, mutual support of friends, coaching and the fact it is open to all abilities with any combination of horse and rider. There is often lots of laughter and it is very up-lifting.

Special thanks must go to Faye Jennifer Harrison, Sally Perry (former owner), James Hird and Sally Heron (Coach).”

For more information on the sport of Barrel Racing, please contact Sally Heron: info@4stridesequestrian.co.uk

Photos courtesy of Mark Fettes, emmelleff, Laura V photography

Barrel Racing explained:-

Barrel racing is a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a clover leaf pattern around pre-set barrels in the fastest time. It combines the horse’s athletic ability and the horsemanship skills of the rider to successfully and safely manoeuvre the horse in a pattern around three barrels.

It is believed that competitive Barrel Racing was first held in Texas in 1948 by a group of women looking to make a name for themselves in the sport of rodeo. Two barrels are set 90 feet apart from a third barrel, 105 feet distant from both, thus forming a triangular pattern.