When Raymond Reynolds purchased a plot of 80 acres in 1960s West Chester, Ohio, he knew it was the start of a new chapter in his life. What he didn’t know was that it would also be the beginning of a love affair with horses that would span more than five decades, earning him 15 saddles, numerous championship titles, and too many memories to count. While Reynolds had simply been looking for a property he could enjoy with his wife and children, life, as it often does, had something else in store.
“My wife and I went to look at the acreage we bought before we built our house on it. They just happened to be having a mounted patrol and horse show across the road, so we went over to watch. I had never seen anything like barrel racing, and I fell in love with it right there. That was 55 years ago,” Reynolds recalled.
Enamored by horses — and by barrel racing, in particular — Reynolds took the plunge and purchased his first horse. He didn’t know much about riding horses, and he certainly didn’t know anything about training barrel horses, but Reynolds was determined to figure it out.
“The first horse I bought was just a riding horse,” Reynolds said. “I learned to ride on it, then I bought another horse shortly after that. I knew nothing about running barrels or training a barrel horse, but I won the first barrel race I entered her in. She went on to be a great horse. I could go anywhere and win with her.”
Without a background in horses, Reynolds says he relied heavily on watching other successful competitors to hone his barrel racing skills.
“I learned early on that if you don’t take the time to learn the game, you’re going to lose out,” Reynolds said. “I never tried to take everything from one individual. I watched everybody run and picked up bits and pieces from that.”
The days were long. Reynolds worked overtime at the Ford Motor Company factory where he was employed full time only to come home, ride his horses, and do it all over again. But the bits and pieces were coming together, and with the help of notable barrel horse trainers Denny Dawson and Bobby Stivers, Reynolds’ program thrived.
“I ended up with close to 20 really good horses over my 55 years in the industry,” Reynolds shared. “Picking winners could never be narrowed down to a science, but I learned what to look for. They need to have a good way of moving. They need to have forward motion and the desire to turn. Most importantly, they need to have a lot of grit and try. It takes all that to make the package.”
For the last three years, this winning package has come in the form of VF Big Shot, a 2014 son of Born Ta Be Famous. At 82 years old, Reynolds still sends the big palomino gelding flying down the alleyway — even whipping once or twice on the way to the first barrel just for good measure. Reynolds, who recently finished in the top 10 during Round One of the Ohio National Barrel Horse Association State Finals before being sidelined by a bout of food poisoning, says age is no excuse for quitting.
“You have to work harder to keep up. I often tell people, ’30 years and 30 pounds have slowed me down, but you just have to get a bigger saddle and a faster horse,’” Reynolds said with a laugh.
He may joke about it, but the Ohio barrel racer doesn’t plan on exiting the arena anytime soon.
“I’ll put it this way — I’m not looking forward to quitting,” Reynolds shared. “I love to do it. I love the people and I love the competition. I think God is in charge of when I’ll have to call it quits. Until then, I’ll be riding.”