Kelly Sparks knew the capabilities of 7-year-old gelding One Dashing Episode long before her win at the ANHA Shootout in Waco, Texas, last month. Purchased off the track as a 3-year-old, “Gus” was a natural on the barrels and fit Sparks’ program perfectly. The Fort Sumner, New Mexico, barrel racer has a knack for transforming ex-racehorses into competitive barrel horses and has found success with several off-the-track Quarter Horses.

“I actually prefer to take a horse from the track,” Sparks shared. “Usually they’ve been hauled a lot, so they’ve seen the sights and tend to handle being on the road well. Not a lot frazzles them. Of course, some of them need some time to come down after being on the track, but I don’t mind that.”

Sparks says in addition to the been-there-done-that attitude that comes standard with most off-the-track horses, she likes that they already know how to run.

“I like to slow work a lot, so the track horses really suit my preferred style,” Sparks explained. “I like the ones that want to run on their own, because I want to guide the horse, but I don’t want to have to whip one or really get after one to run.”

Sparks says she sets her off-the-track horses up for success by filling in the gaps and teaching them the skills they didn’t learn in their initial training. Since the speed is already there, she chooses drills and exercises that focus on body control.

“The track horses don’t know how to pick up their leads or lope circles,” Sparks said. “They’ve never been taught how to place their feet or use their bodies, so it’s a learning curve. Once they have those skills, they usually take to the pattern quickly. The run is already there, so it’s just a matter of making sure they know how to place their feet in a turn.”

Gus may have been a natural, but Sparks says it has taken some time for the two of them to find their stride. 

“He has so much run, rate and turn — I would sit, he would sit, and we would get a barrel,” Sparks said. “That happened over and over again. I kept thinking, ‘Man, someone else could be cleaning house on him.’ Then I finally asked myself, ‘So what if I fall off?’ And that’s when things changed.”

As Sparks’ confidence has grown, so has Gus’ — the talented pair has begun stringing together an impressive collection of wins, including a commanding finish at the ANHA Shootout in Waco, Texas, from September 2–5, where they led the Shootout field by nearly a half-second spread.

For Sparks, the journey to the winner’s circle with Gus has been one of perseverance and self discovery.

“Gus has had the talent all along,” Sparks shared. “It’s just been a matter of trusting in that talent and in my own ability to jockey him to his full potential. I’m so grateful for him. I don’t know how I would live a life without horses.”

ANHA Shootout Divisional Results

  • 1D—Kelly Sparks on One Dashing Episode, 16.291, $8,483
  • 2D—Jana Guthrie on Waylon James, 16.819, $7,069
  • 3D—Fawn Aldrich on Stripping Royalty, 17.355, $5,655
  • 4D—Crystal Wagoner on DTF Speedy Lu, 17.814, $4,241
  • 5D—Paige Curran on Wood Ubmy Barret, 18.312, $2,828

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