SMWC Equine student wins in national barrel racing competition

November 14th, 2016 | SMWC

SMWC student Ashley Harlan and her horse, Dakota
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) student Ashley Harlan and her horse, Dakota, earned top honors at the International Barrel Racing Association national open 3D finals. The contest took place on Oct. 3-8 at Cloverdale, Indiana.

By Dianne Frances D. Powell

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) student Ashley Harlan took home a championship prize from a national barrel racing competition early last month.

The senior, an Equine Studies major, was champion of the open 3D division of the International Barrel Racing Association’s national finals. The contest took place on Oct. 3-8 at Cloverdale, a town in Putnam County, Indiana.

The aspiring horse trainer had a really good year — winning four saddles at this year’s state and nationals combined — but the award at nationals was very special because she won it with a favorite horse: a bay quarter horse named Dakota.

“I got him when he was 6-months-old and trained him myself,” Harlan said, describing Dakota. “So it was a lot more special that I won it on him than any of the other ones that I won.”

“That was the first saddle I’ve ever won on him,” she said.


Equine Studies major Ashley Harlan and her horse, Dakota, emerged victorious at the International Barrel Racing Association's national finals open 3D division Oct. 3-8. They took home cash prize and trophy saddle, among other prizes.

A resident of small Indiana town, Waynetown, the 21-year-old has inherited her love of horses from her parents. She got her first pony on her 4th birthday as a surprise. As a teenager, she got Dakota and has been training the horse ever since. “We’re very close,” she said.

This passion for horses has been nurtured at the College these last four years. The education, training and relationships she formed at The Woods opened many doors, including a coveted internship to the Josey Ranch in Texas with professional barrel racer, Martha Josey. She completed the internship in the summer of 2014, only a year after beginning her undergraduate degree at the College, she said. 

Last year, she started her own horse-training business, A-K Performance Horses. She has completed the necessary requirements to be able to train horses on campus; she trains horses for the College and private individuals. She also gives riding lessons.

After graduation in May, she plans to continue the business. She said having the business while still connected to the College helps her build clientele. “And I get a ton more experience because I’m continually training horses while I’m here,” she added.

She believes the SMWC Equine program, the only one in the state of Indiana to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in equine studies, has given her the tools she needs to be successful. “It helped me be a better trainer and as a rider,” she said.