Fourteen-year-old Kaelee Brown is a cowgirl through and through. She is also a trend-setter.
Kaelee runs barrels on her mare, Kola, for her high school rodeo team in Texas. Before gunning it out of the alley toward their first barrel, Kaelee often takes a look around to survey her competition. She is surrounded by friends and opponents who are as fiercely competitive as Kaelee sitting atop mostly Quarter Horses.
Kaylee looks at them from atop Kola, her off-track Thoroughbred.
Bred in Oklahoma, Kola raced as Kipling's Red Bird. A tried and true miler, she broke her maiden just a few starts into her career by 7 ½ lengths. While she was purchased for just $4,000 as a yearling, her final career earnings ended up being more than $30,000 in 28 starts.
Kola was trained by Ray Bustamante and ran mostly in and around Texas at Retama Park, Lone Star, and Sam Houston. When she needed a rest from the races, she and the other Bustamante horses would go to Ray's farm in Aledo, Texas, not far from where Kaelee and her family live.
“The Bustamantes are instrumental in her love for horses,” said Kaelee's mom, Misty Brown. “Kaelee used to go down to their farm pet their horses and feed them carrots, and the Bustamantes became family friends of ours.”
So, when Kaelee got to the point in her riding when she was ready to take on her own project horse, she went to Ray to get his input on whether a Thoroughbred could be an option.
“I was looking for a horse I could train as a barrel horse,” said Kaelee. “Ray told me 'I don't want to give you just any horse. I want to make sure she will do well for you and will have the right mindset. I think I have the horse.'”
The horse he had in mind was Kipling's Red Bird, or Kola. At the time she was still a racehorse, but Ray knew she would make a great partner for Kaelee and thought her physical make-up combined with her mindset would make her a great barrel racing prospect.
Kaelee started her off with slow flat work, teaching her to balance, neck rein, and back off of the bit. Then, they began teaching her the barrel pattern and to incorporate speed into the mix.
“She was such a fast learner,” said Kaelee. “I just started running her in the North Texas High School Rodeo circuit in February, and every week she gets better and better.”
She's gotten so good, in fact, that Kaelee has received more than a few inquiries as to what kind of horse she is, if she's for sale, and where people can get one like her.
Kaelee isn't interested in selling her, though. Her plan is to climb the ranks and make it into national competition, and she says that some of the skills Kola learned on the race track will hopefully help her in the world of rodeo.
“She's so quick out of the alley and coming off of each barrel. She uses her butt to push off just like racehorses do as they break out of the gate,” said Kaelee.
“She's even ridden Kola on a parade! added Misty. “I have Arabians and I wouldn't dream of putting them in a parade, but Kola isn't scared of anything. I think being on the track around all of the noises, crowds and action desensitized her to the things most horses would react to.”
Both Kaelee and her mother have been wowed by Kola. While it may not be the mount of choice for most riders and competitors where they live, they are now lifelong fans of off-track Thoroughbreds.
“There's such a need to recycle and repurpose Thoroughbreds, and they are so good at so many things,” explained Misty.
“I've never been one to do what everyone else is doing,” said Kaelee. “We are in Texas in the heart of Quarter Horse country. You don't have to do things with just one type of horse, and we've proven that on a few occasions.
Name: Kipling's Red Bird (a.k.a. “Kola”)
Born: April 19, 2009
Color: Dk b/br
Sale History: Sold as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton's Texas Summer Yearling Sale in 2010 for $4,000
Race Record: 28-3-4-3
Race Earnings: $31,468
If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos.
Jen Roytz is a freelance writer and marketing and public relations consultant for various entities, both equine and non-equine. She can also still be found on the back of an OTTB most days.
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