Chloe Gray didn’t just show up and win the aggregate at the Southeastern Circuit Finals over the weekend of November 10-13, 2023—she absolutely dominated the barrel racing competition from start to finish, and was trailed closely by her longtime friend, Taylor Carver.
Carver and Heavenly Red, a 2016 mare by JL Dash Ta Heaven and out of Reneoni by Rene Dan Jet, won the first, second and third rounds of competition in Davie, Florida, at the SECF, and banked a combined $12,550. Her time of 43.59 seconds on three runs put Gray over one-half of a second ahead of her friend and hauling partner, Taylor Carver, who finished second behind Gray each round and in the aggregate to earn a combined $9,413. Thanks to their efforts, Gray and Carver finished No. 1 and 2 in the year-end circuit standings, as well, meaning both Georgia horse trainers will represent the Southeastern Circuit in 2024 at the NFR Open in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
After Carver laid down a solid run in the final performance of the event, she came back to sit with Gray until it was time to run, and after Gray beat out her time, the girls high-fived and cheered together, knowing they gave themselves a major leg up on the 2024 season.
“I am so excited for Colorado,” Gray said. “My family, (the Godspeed Performance Horses and their family)—everybody’s already planning on going out. I want to try to make the rodeo run this summer and stay on the road a little. I prayed about it and knew I had to do this to get into bigger rodeos. We’re super pumped. But if we take Taylor’s truck, I’m going to have to tell her to get new tires first.”
Yes, tires. Gray and Carver made the trip to Davie together in Carver’s rig, but managed to blow multiple tires while en route. Unfortunatley for Carver, her US Rider membership had recently ran out, so the two had to use their mechanic and quick-thinking skills to locate and get oversized tires on the truck in the middle of the night, somewhere around the Florida/Georgia line.
The joke in the truck was that the two cowgirls would have to win enough to pay down their tire bill in Davie, but they covered those bases quite well.
How’d Chloe Gray dominate in Davie?
Coming straight off the NBHA Open Worlds in Perry, Georgia, Chloe Gray wears all types of hats in the sport of barrel racing. The longtime trainer, open show and rodeo competitor has to ride the constant line between her conservative efforts on young horses, the cutthroat aggression of the open barrel races and the grit, upright turns and adaptations to various setups that the rodeo circuit requires.
“At the barrel races you can’t have a foot out of place during your run,” Gray said. “I wanted to keep (Karma) sharp for the barrel races, but there’s variables when you get to a rodeo. I wanted to get around (the barrels) and knew she’d be quick if we did. I’ve been nebulizing her before her runs and that’s been a game changer. Then I try to keep her calm to save her energy for the run.”
While Gray had to keep her young mare calm, she also had to keep her own nerves and mental game in check.
“I woke up with butterflies in my stomach on Sunday,” Gray explained. “I knew I had to get around the barrels.”
Gray identified that “safetying up,” or changing your riding with the main goal of keeping barrels standing in mine, during a run is something that can be more hurtful at times than helpful in barrel racing, so she knew she had to find that balance when she was entering the final run of the weekend with a landslide lead on the pack.
“I’ve been in that situation multiple times at slot races,” Gray said. “I’ve hurt myself two different times by riding safe and trying to just get around barrels. There’s two ways it can hurt you: you can try to get past a barrel and end up clipping it, or you can not run hard enough, then you’re too slow and too safe, and that doesn’t get the job done. Plus, you overthink it. Overthinking your game plan and changes you need to make can hurt you.”
The safety game nearly cost Gray, when she overshot the tight first barrel in Davie and went a stride by it, then had to move “Karma,” over to avoid from crashing into the first. After that, it was game on and she snapped back into her normal jockeying mode.
The 2023 SECF marked both Gray and Carver’s first since 2018, and Gray was quick to give credit to those working hard to constantly improve the circuit and finals.
“They’ve been adding more money and improving the ground at circuit rodeos,” Gray said. “That makes it easier to justify going. And I applaud the committee and arena in Davie—the ground was the best I’ve ever seen it there. It made it so fair and a top-notch barrel race. They just made us feel special all weekend long. We got to go to the casino for the award presentations each night, they pulled us for interviews right after we won, it was just a ton of fun.”
Horse PROFiles: Heavenly Red, “Karma,”
Gray didn’t originally plan to ride Karma at the SECF, but when an injury took out Guys On Firewater, Gray’s great gelding known as “Cross,” the rodeo green mare got the call.
Karma has been in solid hands since her start—trained by decorated Southeastern trainer Craig Brooks, then ridden by NFR qualifer Margo Crowther for a period before Godspeed purchased the mare and put Gray on board. The entire crew at Godspeed Performance Horses is looking to Heavenly Red to become a pillar of mare power in their up-and-coming breeding program, and as their jockey, Gray is pumped to see her upcoming babies by The Money Depot and The Goodbye Lane, plus future crosses.
“I can’t even call her a backup anymore,” Gray said. “She’s exceeded every expectation I have. I’m excited for her to make some ornery, sassy babies, too!”
Southeastern Circuit Finals Barrel Racing Results
First round: 1. Chloe Gray, 14.51 seconds, $2,789; 2. Taylor Carver, 14.65, $2,092; 3. Ashley Rogers, 14.76, $1,394; 4. Erin Wetzel, 14.78, $697. Second round: 1. Chloe Gray, 14.43 seconds, $2,789; 2. Taylor Carver, 14.66, $2,092; 3. Sarah Waguespack, 14.84, $1,394; 4. Margo Crowther, 14.92, $697. Third round: 1. Chloe Gray, 14.65 seconds, $2,789; 2. Taylor Carver, 14.76, $2,092; 3. Emilee Jackson, 14.94, $1,394; 4. (tie) Kristin Hanchey and Erin Wetzel, 15.01, $349 each. Average: 1. Chloe Gray, 43.59 seconds on three head, $4,183; 2. Taylor Carver, 44.07, $3,137; 3. Erin Wetzel, 44.89, $2,092; 4. Ashley Rogers, 49.44, $1,046.