When Chad Harden won the 2009 GMC Rangeland Derby, one of the stars of his outfit was a horse named Barney.
When he first acquired Barney 12 years ago, Harden didn’t think that would ever be possible.
“We bought him in the fall of 2003 for $3,500,” recalled Harden of the thoroughbred horse he trekked down to Seattle to pick up and bring back home to Alberta. “We thought we bought this big, strong, powerful horse because that’s the most money I’d ever spent on a horse.”
Instead, Harden was initially disappointed to find out that Barney was quite a bit smaller than most of his other horses. At the time he didn’t see the determined gelding’s potential and desire to run fast.
“We brought him home and we were disappointed, so we didn’t have him in our good 16 horses of our barn horses the next spring,” said the 44-year-old resident of Mulhurst Bay, Alta. “We actually had him outside, but one of our other horses got injured in the spring.”
That prompted Harden to audition Barney for his wagon team and, lo and behold, the little horse outran his competition.
“We took him again the next time and he outran another horse,” beamed Harden. “Four times going to Hobbema, he was outrunning everything we had, so we had to put him into the barn and get him into the main lineup. Probably halfway through the year we ended up using him more and more and he ended up becoming a superstar in our barn.”
Primarily used as a right wheeler, Barney helped Harden blaze around the track to titles in both Calgary and Edmonton.
“He’s just a great all-around horse,” said Harden, who has also used Barney as a left wheeler and in both lead positions on his team. “Without him, we wouldn’t be at the Calgary Stampede for 15 years in a row.
“He’s been a great horse in our barn and he’s just a great story for the whole chuckwagon world. That’s why he’s still here. He’s been a superstar, but he’s been a quiet superstar below the radar, because he’s not in the key position, but he’s in a great position.”
At the Ponoka Stampede, Harden put his 18-year-old horse to work on four of the six nights of racing.
“In Ponoka, the first day we hooked him on the right wheel in the race and then we sat him for a day and then we outrode him for three days and then we rode him the last night again there,” Harden said.
Most 18 year olds have designs of hitting the beer gardens and they happily wait in long lines to get into Nashville North or the Cowboys Stampede Tent.
He just wants to run.
And he got that opportunity on Monday night as Harden called upon Barney as his right wheeler once again for his final loop of the Stampede Park track.
Unfortunately for Harden and his horses, it started raining heavily just before the start of Heat 7 making driving conditions difficult. Despite a five-second penalty for knocking over a barrel and a finishing time of 1:17.93, it was still a special moment for Harden to run another race at the Calgary Stampede with Barney as part of his Kubota Canada Ltd. outfit.
“It’s just like a farewell tour through the ring,” said Harden, who will continue to use Barney as one of his outriding horses. “He’ll come and have his last race as a chuckwagon horse here. He’ll stay two more years in the outriding pen.”
Veteran outrider Eddie Melville said Barney has what it takes to still compete at the highest level.
“He’s a Cadillac,” Melville said. “He’s a nice, smooth ride and he’s got a lot of class. He’s just one of those horses that loves the sport.”
What Harden initially considered a bad investment has become a “feel-good story” and a big part his family.
“We got him and he’s been a mainstay of our whole farm,” Harden said. “He’s been around for so long that he’ll become one of our kids’ horses. He’ll retire on the farm for sure.”
But retirement definitely isn’t on Barney’s mind yet.
He’s even busy in the off-season at Olds College helping students learn how to groom and gallop horses.
“He goes there in January,” said Harden, while noting the curriculum for the courses was developed in conjunction with Horse Racing Alberta. “They spend a month at Olds College right on the grounds and they do indoor riding with him and they learn how to gallop horses. He spends all of February and part of March teaching students how to ride and gallop horses.
“He’s a very important part of the whole province of Alberta and grooming the future of the horse racing industry.”