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Barreling to the top

Brighton sophomore heads to rodeo nationals riding late grandfather’s prized mare
By Sarah Geyer 11/15/2018


Riley Lenagar, a 15-year-old from Brighton, and Brogan’s Play, her 20-year-old cutting horse, will travel to Las Vegas in December to compete for a national title in barrel racing at the Junior National Rodeo. – Photo by Sarah Geyer
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A decade-old photo and an upcoming event schedule hang on the refrigerator in the Brighton home Heath and Amy Lenagar share with their daughter, Riley.

For 15-year-old Riley, the two items illustrate her dream journey that began 16 months ago.

Until that time, the photo — of three-year-old Riley proudly sitting on Brogan’s Play, her late grandfather Mike’s prized cutting horse — was a sweet memory for the teenager. Having retired from cutting horse competition, Riley’s grandfather and grandmother, Charline, sold the 12-year-old mare in 2010. The following year, Mike passed away after a valiant battle with cancer.

At a young age, Riley began competing in Western Pleasure saddle shows, but her dream was always to barrel race— an event her parents thought too dangerous. But Riley wouldn’t give up, and by the time she’d turned 10, she’d changed her parents’ minds.

She had their permission; now she needed a horse. Her dad bought her a pony, but the speed and agility wasn’t there. Over the next four years, she tried two other horses without success.

Then fate stepped in. In April 2017, Charline received an out-of-the-blue phone call from Brogan’s Play’s owner. The Indiana horsewoman had been unsuccessful in breeding the high-spirited horse and decided to contact the original owners before selling her.

“She told me that Play had been through several owners,” says Charline. “And none of them could catch her or bond with her.”

The Tipton County native agreed to take back the mare — a decision that would change her granddaughter’s life.

“We were really excited that Play was coming home,” says Amy. “But we didn’t know if she’d be the horse we remembered or the one the other owners described.”

The answer was immediate, she says, when Play left the trailer and galloped happily around their pasture. And when Riley reached out, the mare came right to her.

“It was like we had an instant bond,” she says. “And that’s when I knew she was the barrel racing horse I’d been looking for.”

Riley spent about a month and a half conditioning the mare before she introduced the cutting horse to barrels.

“I ran her through the barrel pattern a couple of times and about the third time around she really took off,” says Riley. “I was like, ‘Whoa, this is fast. This is what the big people are doing.’”

Within the month, Riley and Play competed in their first show, placing fifth in the 3D division. The pair’s times improved with each run, and within two months, they were placing at the top of 1D, the fastest division.

“She just loves to work,” says Riley. “People can’t believe she is 20 because of her speed and her drive.”

Amy also credits Play’s performance to a nutritional program that includes Co-op feeds.

“We keep it simple — Co-op sweet feed (11% Sweet Horse Feed Coarse #327CO) and Pinnacle Energy Plus (#900498) are all we use, along with a little alfalfa and Bermuda [hay],” says Amy, who purchases all of her equine supplies at Stockdale’s in Covington. “Pinnacle Energy Plus makes a huge difference in her.”

Riley’s dream journey took a meteoric turn last December when she and Play competed in a Lucky Dog event in Memphis, racing against more than 700. They placed third and won the youth high money award.

“That was a huge moment for us,” says Riley. “The biggest of my life, really. Then a friend suggested we compete in the Junior National Finals Rodeo (NFR) qualifier for a chance to compete for the nationals. I thought she was crazy but decided to give it a try anyway.”

In January, Riley and her family traveled to Tunica, Miss., to compete in the NFR’s first qualifier of the year. Riley’s reins wrapped around the saddle’s horn during the first barrel turn, but the pair finished the run strong — winning second place — and the opportunity to compete for a national title.

With 11 months between the qualifier and the national championship, Riley might think it’s all been a dream, but a quick trip to the family kitchen proves otherwise. Hanging on the refrigerator is the Junior NFR’s Schedule of Events, with “barrel racing Dec. 11-15” circled.

Since the January qualifier, the pair has also snagged a wildcard spot for the 2019 International Barrel Racing Association (IBRA) national final and earned a chance to qualify at Fort Worth for the American Rodeo nationals.

“Being able to chase my dreams with my grandpa’s horse has made this whole experience extra special,” says Riley. “When I’m riding Play, it makes me feel close to him.”

For more information about Co-op’s equine feed products, visit

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