Logan, Ohio, native Nina Shirey was born with barrel racing in her blood. The daughter of longtime barrel horse trainer Brad Shirey, Nina grew up barrel racing alongside her dad, her mom Jenna Shirey, and siblings Hannah, Madeline and Faye. She began her competitive career like many children do — on the back of a miniature horse named Stevie — before graduating to faster, more capable ponies.

“The ponies taught her a lot,” Jenna reminisced. “They kept her on her toes and taught her how to put a horse where it needs to be. We never really put her on something she could just send down the chute and win the barrel race on. We weren’t big on pushing her — we wanted her to deal with whatever situation came her way.”

As Nina grew, she graduated from ponies to more competitive horses. In August 2022, 10-year-old mare Scouts Valentine joined Nina’s team. By Capo De Capi and out of Dash N Way by Mr Eye Opener, “Ruthie” had a style that was different from the Shireys’ other horses. But Jenna says she and Brad knew the mare had potential to be a winning fit for Nina.

“We talked to [Ruthie’s previous owner] Jess Shafranich, and we watched some videos of Ruthie running,” Jenna said. “We could tell by how Nina rides that she would be a good fit for Ruthie.”

Nina Shirey turns first barrel
13-year-old Nina Shirey from Logan, Ohio, captured the coveted All American Quarter Horse Congress Barrel Racing Sweepstakes win aboard 2013 mare Scouts Valentine (Capo De Capi x Dash N Way x Mr Eye Opener) with an aggregate time of 29.601 (14.718, 14.883), worth $3,840. The pair also turned in the fastest time of Round Two with a 14.718, worth $1,920. Photo courtesy All American Quarter Horse Congress

The Shireys purchased Ruthie — along with a second horse, Whateva Fires You Up, for Madeline — in August 2022, and Nina went to work figuring out how to successfully jockey the mare.

“It takes a lot of gauging to run Ruthie,” Jenna explained. “I’m not going to say everybody in the world could ride her. You have to feel her out every run. You have to send her, but you also have to gauge her. It’s definitely Ruthie’s world.”

Not one to be easily discouraged, 13-year-old Nina says she welcomed the challenges that came with learning to run a horse like Ruthie.

“She’s helped me as a rider in many ways,” said Nina, who has already won seven saddles and 25 belt buckles. “Riding something different than you’re used to makes you think outside the box. Ruthie can definitely be challenging, but I can also make a mistake and she’ll cover for me.”

In the year since Ruthie joined the Shireys’ string, Nina admits there have been some valleys. But there have also been plenty of peaks — the pair won the Ohio National Barrel Horse Association Youth and Open State Championships just a short month after Ruthie came home. They also bested a field of 700 to win the Virginia Barrel Classic Slot Race and take home the Open reserve championship, won the Cash Grab Slot Race and Crazy Woman Ranch Slot Race, and have amassed a cool $50,000 in earnings. But the pinnacle came in October 2023, when Ruthie and Nina topped a tough field of veteran competitors — including Brad and Madeline Shirey — to take home the coveted All American Quarter Horse Congress Barrel Racing Sweepstakes win.

“It was amazing,” Nina said of the win. “Last year at Congress, Madeline tied for reserve and I knocked to run a 14.4 to win. I knew I just had to get around the barrels this year and I’d have a pretty good chance. I had a sloppy run in Round One and ran a 15.2, but then we came back in Round Two with the fastest time of the night.”

In the Finals, a hiccup at the first barrel cost the pair some time, bumping them to fifth in the round with a 14.883, but Nina says she had faith Ruthie could make up for it.

“She stumbled at the first, and I knew that cost me,” Nina explained. “But she’s bred to be on the track, and I know she can outrun a mistake like that. I just went for it.”

When the coliseum dust settled, Nina’s aggregate time of 29.601 topped the leaderboard, earning the young Ohioan and the Shirey family their first Congress Sweepstakes title.

In the Shirey family, a win for one is a win for all.

“That’s just how it works for us,” Jenna said simply. “It’s such a family thing. It’s a team effort — we do this together, and we all play a part in every run. A win for anybody in the family is a win for all of us.”

All American Quarter Horse Congress Barrel Racing Sweepstakes Top 5

1st — Nina Shirey, Scouts Valentine, 29.601, $3,840

2nd — Julie Sieskey, JJ Mister Wood Chip, 29.709, $3,072

3rd — Alivia Cox, TF Bar Dash Freckles, 29.724, $2,496

4th — Michael Roper, Ima Flamin Hot Mess, 29.749, $1,920

5th — Denise Evans, Lightningrollingstone, 29.809, $1,536

            

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