In 2020, Sue Collier and her gelding Hurricane Hoss (aka Buddy) won so many buckles for barrel racing that they won’t even fit on one belt. They reigned supreme, taking many of the year-end awards including: Ontario Barrel Racing Senior 1D Champion, President’s Cup 1D Reserve Champion, and Northern Star Equestrian Centre’s Summer Buckle Series 2D Champion.
These feats are even more amazing when you consider that Collier, who lives in St. Thomas, ON, is 67 years old. She and Buddy began working together in 2017, and even though the 12-year-old buckskin gelding is what she calls “exceptionally lazy,” 2020 was the year they gelled and made it work in the barrel pen.
Their incredible year almost didn’t happen. In the spring of 2020 during lockdown, Collier had planned to hang up the spurs and limit her saddle time to trail riding. “Throughout the lockdown, with the borders being closed and the likelihood of barrel races being non-existent in Ontario for the year, I thought this must be a sign it was time to retire.”
Then she saw a glimmer of hope for speed competitors on the horizon: “Northern Star Equestrian Centre was going to hold a summer buckle series following all the COVID-19 protocols. I had been riding my horse, Buddy, almost daily so he was fit and I was excited to go anywhere off my small farm, as I’m sure most were. To my surprise we won the 2D and that was it, not time to retire LOL.”
A close friend of hers, Wayne Longfield, the Rule Director of the Ontario Barrel Racing Association, says, “Sue’s riding like she did 10 years ago.” He adds, “I consider her one of the top riders and she has won numerous awards both in Canada and the USA. She’s always been a tough competitor.”
Collier credits comments like these for keeping her inspired at her age.
They are a “dynamic duo,” says Bobbie Burris, a fellow speed competitor, “Sue is an amazing horsewoman, an inspiration for everyone from young to old, and for barrel racing in general.”
Diane Smullen, a western coach and owner of Bilby Ranch in Uxbridge, ON, says “She is a legend, the one everyone wants to beat.”
Riding since the age of two, Collier recalls her first spoken words ‒ in order ‒ as “Mom, Dad, and Pony.” Though retired from her day job now, she’s worked her entire life as a horse trainer, riding instructor and owner of a boarding barn. An accident nearly took it all away, when she was hired to train a horse for a western pleasure client. “This was a very nice horse but took a bad step at a jog and in a blink of an eye we were on the ground.”
The horse tripped and fell sideways, pinning her underneath it. As the horse scrambled to get up, it stepped on her and the ground was exceptionally hard. “I was very fortunate to only have a few cracked ribs but felt like I had been through a meat grinder.”
She lost her nerve a few times in her career. She recalls one incident that almost ended her desire to compete. “I was at a barrel race when the horse I had went wide on the first barrel and into the loose ground, lost his footing, and fell on me. Luckily, the ground was loose and soft. It left my impression in the ground but other than being shook up and bruised I was fine.”
But little did she realize the impact it had on her mind.
“I had never felt this way before. I was afraid going to the first barrel; it wasn’t his fault but I tried and couldn’t get over the fear of it happening again.”
She had to sell the horse. “You need to be confident and if you can’t overcome your fear it’s time to move on. In my opinion, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We are all human.”
When asked how she manages to overcome her setbacks and continue riding successfully into her late sixties, Collier advises, “The first rule of safety is being prepared. You need yourself and your horse in top physical and mental condition. Accidents are more likely to happen if you are both not in shape.”
Liz Heffernan, a fellow senior competitor, says, “I was happy to see Sue and Buddy coming on so strong last year. It takes so much dedication and hard work to get to that point and I’m glad she decided to come back last year.”
“It’s also about mental confidence as well, if you ride with confidence your horse will react more positively. If you are not mentally in the game don’t expect your horse to be on his game either.” ~Sue Collier
Heffernan was also considering retiring at the beginning of last season, and says that Collier “was a great support to me when I had to make such a huge decision about my horse. It was wonderful to have Sue to talk to because she truly understood what I was dealing with. That is a true champion!”
Collier tells an interesting story about turning a setback into success, “I qualified for the NBHA World Championships in Augusta, Georgia in 2006. On the Saturday night, just after 9:00pm I tipped the third barrel. If that barrel had stayed up, I would have won the senior world title.”
She was devastated, but not ready to quit, “My heart sank, but there was another barrel race tomorrow, so I had no time to waste. I’d been invited to the Royal Winter Fair Invitational Rodeo in Toronto, Ontario.”
The two events were almost 1,000 miles apart, “We loaded up and drove all night to make it with less than an hour to spare. My horse, Roll Out the Money, has an exceptionally huge heart, after being in the trailer for over 15 hours she warmed up quickly and headed into an arena we had never seen.”
The arena was so crowded, Sue recalls it was standing room only. “It was electrifying! We won that performance by half a second! Never lose faith, there will always be highs and lows.”
The true secret to her success is the mind game. She explains, “It’s also about mental confidence as well, if you ride with confidence your horse will react more positively. If you are not mentally in the game don’t expect your horse to be on his game either. I now take the ground into consideration after having a bad fall; if I feel it’s dangerous I either safety up or draw out. No barrel race is worth injuring my horse or myself. There’s always another barrel race!”
After the year she had, Collier is happy she didn’t retire from competing and hit the trails for good last summer. She advises other riders: “Do it because you love it. Respect your horse and treat him like your partner and that you’re both equally responsible for the outcome. Whether you’re riding a 1D [Division 1, the fastest times] horse or a 4D horse, we are all enjoying the same sport. Be kind and remember congratulating someone after their run whether it’s a 1D or 4D time always makes that person feel special.”