Article by Tanya Randall
At the age of 32, Oen essentially started over from scratch in the barrel racing business. Yet since 2010, the Wapakoneta, Ohio, native completely changed his fortunes, becoming one of the leading futurity riders in the country and having recently surpassed the $1 million mark in Equi-Stat rider earnings.
“Some people have their lives figured out at 32,” Oen stated. “I started over and told myself that I could do this.”
The youngest child of Steve and Cathy Oen, Pete followed his older sisters Stacy and Carey into horses. His mother was a stay-at-home mom and started babysitting for champion reining trainer Mike Flarida.
“He invited Mom and Dad to bring us down to his farm to see the horses,” Oen explained. “Stacy decided she wanted a horse, but I was so young I don’t even remember that.”
The Oen family “dove head first” into the horses.
“We started out going to the Friday night fun shows in Lima, Ohio,” he remembered. “My dad bought a truck and we had a matching trailer. We thought we were high rolling. Those were the days that you left the horse tied to the trailer all weekend with a long rope.”
Although his dad later modified the trailer to hold three horses, Oen’s barrel pony often made the trip to shows in the dressing room of the trailer.
“It was a big dressing room,” he laughed. “You could put three people in there with the pony. Thankfully we didn’t go much further than 45 minutes or an hour from the house. My dad would put a bale of hay down and my pony would step on the hay bale to get in the dressing room. It wasn’t a circus trick; it was necessity!”
When Oen started junior high, his parents were burnt out on the horses and sold everything but the tack. Yet, Oen wanted to start riding again when he started high school.
“He took me to the sale barn and bought me a weanling,” Oen said. “He told me later that he knew what he was doing—he was buying himself some time. He didn’t have to buy a truck and trailer because I had a baby horse to raise and train.”
Oen trained and sold that horse and had purchased another through Flarida. That reining reject was his first big champion, winning the Junior Pole Bending at the 1995 All-American Quarter Horse Congress.
After high school, Oen turned his part-time job with the city of Wapakoneta into a full-time job to help support his desire to train horses for a living.
“I knew training full time wasn’t going to make ends meet, so I took the job with the city,” he said. “I was working full time Monday through Friday with the city and training horses at home in the evening and barrel racing on the weekends because government doesn’t work on the weekends.”
Oen was also exposed to more aspects of the industry. He credits all-time leading futurity rider Troy Crumrine with the introduction to futurities.
“I rode with Troy a lot when I was younger because he was only 15 minutes away,” he explained. “I went to some of the futurities with him even before I had a colt. I cleaned stalls and helped warmup horses. I got a taste of it going with him and thought ‘this is something that I want to do.’”
Although he had his own barn going and had quit his full-time job just two years after he started, Oen left Ohio for Oklahoma. That experience, he said, has driven him to be where he is today.
“Sometimes the end of something is the beginning of something better,” he said. “My true futurity career started in 2011.”
Since then Oen has been ranked as one of the top futurity riders each year. Last year was his best with $261,593 in total earnings.
Oen said he honed his craft watching and working with others, but also making a lot of mistakes.
A lot of people ask how you learn to train—it’s from mistakes and crawling on another one,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of mentoring and I’ve watched A LOT. I developed my style from watching and working with other people.”
His program, which has involved training, tweaking, tuning or straight up jockeying, has also evolved over the years and the results have netted several consecutive $100,000 years.
“I’ve changed my way of training the past couple of years and I think you’re seeing the results of that, he said. “My horses don’t see barrels nearly as much as they used to and when they do, they don’t see them as long as they used to either, which I think is huge.”
In the fall of 2012, Oen made Ardmore, Oklahoma, the home of Pete Oen Barrel Horses.
“It’s been nothing but positive ever since,” said Oen, who wanted to thank his parents for their unwavering support. “It’s been a dream come true. Some people think they can’t do it because they didn’t have a horse family or they’re not rich or born into oil or cattle—well I wasn’t either.
“Winning a million is pretty cool, but I want people to see that you can start over, you don’t have to come from a horse family, you can do this.”
Grab the June 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News to read more about Oen’s success at the Northwest Futurity.