From roller skating champion to barrel racing champion, Hannah Mae Oakley is making waves running barrels.

By Katie Navarra | Photos by Elliott Equine Photo

At 10 years old, Hannah Mae Oakley Reddick, Florida, was frustrated she couldn’t roller skate at a friend’s birthday party. She was determined that wouldn’t happen again and began making daily trips to the local rink.

“I’m really competitive,” Oakley said. “When I couldn’t skate, it drove me crazy. While watching YouTube videos, I came across videos of artistic roller skating, which is like ice skating on roller skates.”

She convinced her parents to drive her an hour each way to practice six days a week, where she skated for four hours at a time. By age 14, Oakley had won two national titles but was burned out. Horses had always been on the periphery of her life — her sister rode and hauled the junior rodeo circuit with a close family friend — but until then, Oakley was too little to hang around the older girls.

Then, a tragic accident, which might convince others never to ride, brought Oakley into the barrel racing world. Lara Dewees, the friend Oakley’s sister hauled with, was in an accident at a pro rodeo in Mississippi. The gate wasn’t closed, and the horse slipped on wet pavement exiting after a run. Lara sustained a brain injury and passed away shortly after. But horses were a part of the Dewees family, and riding helped them heal.

“We went to the family’s house, and I rode double behind people because I didn’t have a horse of my own,” Oakley said. “Lara’s grandfather told my parents not to let me get into this. But Lara lived, slept and breathed horses. That stuck with me to keep going, and I still call her grandmother to tell her how I did at every race.”

Oakley’s family bought her a 4D horse, and she began competing at junior rodeos, joined the National Barrel Horse Association in 2017 and attended every district show she could. Gradually, she upgraded horses to EF Docs Red Hot Gin, a reject cutting horse.

“He opened a lot of doors for me. In the beginning, he played a big part for me to realize that I can make something better and have this feel,” Oakley said. “He was no faster than a 3D horse when I got him, and he’s turned out to be a 1D horse, placing sixth in the 1D at the NBHA Shamrock Showdown one year. He helped me realize I might like to do this.”

As she continued upgrading, the family bought horses coming out of their futurity year. She rode with Ryann Pedone and became good friends with Rylee Elliott, who won the 2017 NBHA Open 1D World Championships aboard Super De Shine.

About 1 1/2 years ago, Elliott asked Oakley to help ride colts with her for Jennifer McGraw of JM Farm. Oakley was asked to stay on when Elliott was pregnant, and she continues to ride out of JM Farm today.

“It worked in my favor to run on the futurity horses,” Oakley said. “I used to get so ridiculously nervous I would almost throw up. Now I’m a more confident rider and know what I need to go in and run.”

Briefly, Oakley’s goal was to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo when she turned 18. She got her card, but the opportunity to ride futurity horses kept rolling in and she saw the lucrative cash prizes.

“I’d rather take six horses and have a chance to win more money than take one to a rodeo,” Oakley said. “I like to have all the chances I can get. For me, that’s what I would like to do.”

Besides getting past the nerves, Oakley says one of the biggest lessons learned from riding futurity horses is the importance of believing in the horse.

“If you don’t believe in that horse, they won’t believe in themselves. If you’re not confident in them, how will they be confident?” Oakley said. “You have to believe what you’ve done at home and what you train for all year and that you’re prepared. If you don’t believe in them, you won’t be very successful going down the road with them in the futurity world.”

This year marked the end of Oakley’s career as a youth rider, and she went out on top claiming her first NBHA youth title — the Teen 2D World Championship. She rode Double Dose Of Bugs, a mare she also ran as a derby horse. The win was more than a national title — it was a celebration of a 2 ó year battle to rehab the mare and to click as a team.

“She taught me never to give up on a horse, because a lot of people would have given up on her,” Oakley said. “We used to call her our box of chocolate, because we never knew what we would get that day. She would have 4D runs and then win an open 1D. Thank the Lord, I’ve finally figured her out.”

As for what’s next, Oakley is juggling college classes to become a personal financial advisor while continuing to train and run futurity horses. She bought her first Pink Buckle-eligible horse, Its So Fuzzy, a brown mare by KVN Corona and out of Smooth N Fuzzy by A Smooth Guy, bred by McColee Land & Livestock LLC in Orem, Utah. Her goal is to keep the mare six to eight months and then sell her as a futurity prospect.

“I never saw myself as a futurity trainer for my entire life, but I definitely think I will keep horses and ride outside horses,” Oakley said. “Honestly, all of this has been sprung on me. But whatever door opens, I’m game to take it. You have to jump at the opportunities set in front of you if you want to be successful.”

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