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Meet the Member Harlee Barela
story by Lindsay Humphrey
Known for her soft hand with younger mounts, it’s not surprising that Harlee Barela rode a 5-year-old gelding at the 2020 Race for Cash in Clovis, New Mexico. The duo were the first ones out on Sunday morning of the weekend event, and they clocked a smokin’ 15.054. Not only was this the fastest time of the entire weekend, it also put Harlee in first place for the KKRFV qualifier in the senior division. “This will be my second year qualifying for Vegas. I went in 2018, but we focused on other events last year,” said the 14-year-old. One event that took Harlee’s focus was the Extreme Millions Races in Utah. Harlee walked away with first in the 2D and checks for $30,000.
“They paid out over a million dollars at that race and Harlee was the third highest money earner of the weekend and the only youth to win that much. There were over 900 runs in five days, so we didn’t know how Harlee did until the very last day,” said Harlee’s mom, Lisa. Harlee was riding Awickedbid, a mare out of the late Terribly Wicked. She also owns a half-brother to that mare, Thlastwicked (aka, Rooster). The 16-hand palomino is best described as a powerhouse, but he runs smooth as butter, Harlee said. Rooster was just barely four when the duo ran back in March, but Harlee’s string of mounts are usually younger than six. Back in December, Rooster also won one of the races at Christmas Cash in Amarillo where there were well over 500 racers at the event.
“Harlee is a very confident rider, so she’s able to jockey those younger horses. If she asks them to do it, they will. She’s worked really hard on her horsemanship and just knows how to read a horse,” her mom said. Harlee has quite the set up at home for horses: her parents buy 2 and 3-year-olds and then train them up themselves. Everyone in the family, including Harlee’s 11-year-old sister, Danilynn, and 23-year-old sister, Samantha, are well versed in horsemanship. The spring quarantine gave Harlee extra time to keep her horses legged up and building her confidence on those younger mounts.
“We just practice all day every day,” Harlee said. Living in the center of New Mexico in Veguita, Harlee found herself out of state more often than not this year. “It’s about a 3 to 4 hour drive everywhere we go. We did a lot of the virtual home races too. We were just trying to keep these horses running and if we had to travel, we did,” Lisa added. Harlee and her sister used to rope and tie goats, but they quickly realized they wanted to focus their attention on barrel racing. Harlee usually runs no less than four horses at each race she enters. Some might think that’s too much for a soon-to-be high school freshman, but Harlee prefers to run that many.
In early March, Harlee almost didn’t enter the KKRFV qualifier but she’s certainly thankful she did. Not long afterward, the country started shutting down and barrel races were hard to come by. Luckily, Clovis is one of Harlee’s favorite arenas. “Clovis has really good ground and it’s an indoor which means its heated and air conditioned. My horses have always ran really well there. And the announcers for KKP make it so exciting, they get everyone pumped up,” Harlee said. A second shot in Vegas is a dream come true for Harlee, but it’s also a result of her hard work and dedication. Her dreams are bigger than life itself right now, but Harlee has the grit to make them happen. “I want to run at the AT&T Stadium, Calgary Stampede, Pendleton Roundup, and, of course, the Thomas & Mack someday.” That someday might come quicker than Harlee expects since she’s not only got the horse to do it, she’s also in the right mindset to sail straight to the top.