From Racing to Barrel Racing

By: on Monday, November 16, 2015

If you are looking for a barrel racing horse your first choice would probably be a quarter horse. As a matter of fact – most people might assume that barrel racers pretty much exclusively use quarter horses! They are perfectly built for this job – fast, low to the ground and agile. Thoroughbreds tend to be taller and lankier, somehow, and probably not thought of as being a perfect match for barrel racing. Laura Wiencek, however, is of a different opinion! She trains and competes off the track Thoroughbreds in barrel racing!

“I didn’t start out racing off-the-track-Thoroughbreds (OTTBs)” Laura says. She grew up barrel racing quarter horses – and loving it, competing successfully in such competitions as the Josey Junior World in Marshall, Texas, and the Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio and the Quarterama in Toronto Canada.

Then, in 2013 she competed in the Extreme Retired Racehorse Makeover ( where 10 trainers were chosen to transition a retired racehorse into different lines of work. This year Laura, president of the Thoroughbred Barrel Racing Association, competed in the RRP Makeover with Fine Leather, whom she found racing at Mountaineer.  In his second to last race he broke out of the starting gate busting his lip on the door and his last race in 2013 he was cut off before the first turn and ripped his front left hoof and still finished the race in fifth. After that race Laura brought him home to rehab at her farm.  In the spring of 2014 Bill Hackney agreed to give Leather one last chance on the track. Unfortunately he ended up with a shadow on his ankle and the fear of him having a cracked sesamoid brought him home from the track in permanent retirement from racing. He has a huge heart and loves attention so he is perfect as an ambassador for what we are doing here at Win-Seek Performance Horses.

laura picking up Leather

This is the day I brought him home from the track…

Slowly and methodically Laura and Fine Leather worked at getting fit and ready for the Makeover in October. “In the beginning I could not ride him because of his foot” Laura says, “so I started by hand walking him.” At about the same time that Laura acquired Fine Leather (Leather) she realized she herself was out of shape – and thus they started their journey to get fit together.

“The Retired Racehorse Project Makeover was a great experience for me.” Laura says. “I loved having the opportunity to ride leather at Kentucky Horse Park after only being on him 30 plus times. He was a complete angel and stood while I commentated during the barrels both in the arena and on the sidelines like a pro. I know I couldn’t have done all I had without working on myself both physically and mentally. By watching what I ate and exercising I felt great running around the arena setting up barrels and running the barrel portion of the event.”

laura with Nuno Santos

Laura and Leather with Nuno Santos in Lexington, KY


Like many riders and horse owners Laura does not have a lot of time to allot to exercising every day. Thus she decided that the best way to get fit for her (and a lot of her students) was to incorporate different strength and balancing exercises into their daily lives with their horses. Laura also uses a step counter to keep track of how many steps she takes every day.

“My goal is 10K steps a day. I will carry water buckets to the end stalls rather than running a hose. I make extra trips with hay rather than put it in the wheelbarrow. I have cut out pop and because I don’t like plain water I try drinking flavored waters…the carbonated water helps to keep the need for pop at bay.”

In Laura’s opinion, riders need good balance, cardio and leg strength – and so she has come up with all kinds of creative ways to use equipment one might have around the farm as fitness equipment.



Sydney Collins, one of Laura’s students, on Boreaous


“We use barrels and landscape timbers for balance, the mounting block for step ups and leg strength, and anything else from hay bales to saddles. I also try to walk to do chores around the farm instead of riding the tractor to get there.” Laura believes in training herself and others the way she trains horses: to fit a goal. She emphasizes that it is important to be realistic about your goals – and then methodically pursue them. She also believes in cross training – for herself as well as her horses. The horses in her care are cross-trained to perform in different “disciplines” – her barrel racing horses also do English and trail. Some even work cattle.

Laura also works on inspiring her students to adapt healthy life style changes. Rae Lytle (from North Bloomfield, Ohio) is a student of Laura’s has a great sense of humor when it comes to how she became motivated to start a healthier lifestyle. Have you ever had a horse tell you to get off because you are too heavy? You might think that is a funny statement but it’s not. It’s embarrassing and it’s true.” She often tells people. “A couple years ago I decided to start taking riding lessons from Laura Wiencek at Win Seek Performance Horses in Cortland, Ohio so I could ride with our granddaughter who also is taking lessons there.” A horse in Laura’s lesson program in a very gentle way nudged Rae to realize that riding is an athletic endeavor.

“One day I’m in the arena riding a nice gentle old quarter horse and after a couple laps he pulls up next to the mounting block and stopped. I got him moving again and the next lap around he did it again. This time he turned his head around with a look that said “Get off!” Once again I got him going again and with every lap after that he would stop at the block look at me with that plea in his eyes. I’m sure when I did get off I heard him moan a sigh of relief. It was at this point I decided I needed to get serious about losing weight and getting healthier. The first thing I did was join Weight Watchers and started eating healthier. I cut pop, bread and sweets from my diet and started drinking more water, eating more salads and fruits.

The second thing I did to lose weight and get healthy was to get more active. I hate exercise of any kind but being active is exercising while doing another activity. Since I’m a chronic multi-tasker, it’s like killing two birds with one stone. This year for my 60th birthday my husband got me a beautiful Tennessee Walker named Pete. Pete hadn’t been ridden much for the past four years so I spent a lot of time walking him up and down the driveway and around the arena. When I am shifting the stalls I do the twist with each fork full. I’m burning calories, using more muscles, working on my waist line and cleaning the stall. Kind of like killing four birds with one stone.

Lauras student

Marylin, Rae’s granddaughter, is hard at work practicing balance on a barrel

I know getting in this shape didn’t happen overnight and that it’s not going to come off over night. However, I know I’m on the right track with my eating and being more active. I also know that as I lose and get in shape not only is it benefiting me but it’s benefiting Pete also.”

Laura currently manages Grand Haven Stable and has recently decided to add another discipline to her knowledge bank: dressage!

CategoriesEditor’s Note

About the Author:

Anna Nielsen
Anna is the publisher of


  1. Danielle says:

    Great inspiring story. We are having our first baby this December so I know it is going to be a struggle to get back into shape to get back on the horse and back into barrel racing. I already have back issues but I just can’t let the dream of continuing to barrel race die. We also bought an off track appendix quarter that we loved dearly and was an amazing barrel horse I used in high school rodeo. He lived a long retired life and passed away unfortunately last year. Just liked your facebook page. If you ever feel like submitting a pic for a feature you can find us on facebook and instagram under Cowgirl Times.

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