In a sea of loping quarter horses, their toned haunches gleaming at the Arizona Sun Circuit Quarter Horse Show, it’s not difficult to pick out Brad Barkemeyer and his golden mount, Trigger. The tall cowboy smiles on top of the palomino stallion, whose ears are pricked and nostrils flared under a bosal bridle, always searching for a cow.
At that first glance the pair exudes all the ideals of the old West; a working cow horse and dutiful wrangler, perfectly in sync against a mountainous backdrop. It’s so much deeper than that though: Brad has been starting colts since he was 12 years old, and horses like Trigger don’t just happen over a cool desert night.
A Lifelong Journey
“I grew up on the family ranch in Montana and started just by doing ranch work, getting involved in 4-H, and hanging out at rodeos,” Brad says as he brushes Trigger’s pearly mane. He was enjoying his horse during a moment of rare downtime in between show pen appearances, client training, judging, and riding. It’s a busy ten days for him and his crew at Barkemeyer Performance Horses.
“My dad was instrumental in developing my horsemanship. He taught me that we weren’t just using the horses as tools to get work done, but we were approaching them as horsemen, which meant caring for them and being stewards for their health and well-being. I ran with that and started my own training business when I was in eighth grade.”
That’s young, but Brad was committed to the horses and showed great promise in horsemanship early on and his career took shape from there. “I’d start colts for neighbors, and help people get their horses put to work,” he remembers. “It turned into a nice little job and gave me something to do.” It’s still a nice little job; his ranch currently holds 25 horses, all under his training.
Brad trained extensively between now and then, working with top horsemen such as quarter horse legends David Avery and Al Dunning, both of whom Brad regards as mentors. He’s picked up a lot of knowledge along the way, much to the benefit of his students. “I try to always keep good relationships with other trainers in the industry and even across disciplines, and pick up different techniques from them,” Brad says. “The breed and the styles of riding are always developing and changing, so it’s really important to stay progressive. We don’t want to get trapped in our own little circle.”
It’s paid off, too. Brad has seen much success in the competition arena and has led many students to achieve their dreams as well. He has earned top honors as a rider and trainer in American Quarter Horse, National Cutting Horse, National Reined Horse, and World Series Team Roping Championship events.
Brad thinks back on all the lessons he’s learned through his time in the saddle and smiles in gratitude. “It’s been a lifelong journey, this horsemanship game,” he says, turning to a patient Trigger. “You never stop learning and getting new ideas. I love it.”
Down at the Ranch
Home is just down the road from the showgrounds in Scottsdale, where Brad and his family own and operate Barkemeyer Performance Horses, LLC. His wife, Mindy, and sons, Bryce and Zane, can always be found nearby lending a hand with barn chores or riding around themselves. “There’s no way I could do this without Mindy and the support of our family,” he says with a big smile. “She is instrumental in all aspects of the business and I’m so proud of her accomplishments as a wife, mom, and horsewoman.”
Brad is happy to have everyone involved; there’s a lot going on at the ranch. “We are extremely blessed to have an excellent supporting cast here at Barkemeyer Performance Horses,” Brad says. “Riley Page is our assistant trainer and valued asset to our program. We’re also grateful for our families, veterinaries, farriers and so many others who play a vital role in ensuring continued success.”
Clients are like family, too, and Brad treats each horse as if it were his own, always getting excited about each new prospect or project. Barkemeyer Performance Horses specializes in a variety of disciplines including cutting, reining, working cowhorse, team roping, tie down roping, and more. He’s worked with horses that have gone onto success in barrel racing, ranch horse versatility, and western pleasure. Brad likes to keep things diverse and learn from every approach.
“The foundation is very similar for everything,” he explains. “When I’m working with a new horse, I get a feel for what his strengths and weaknesses are, and see what he’s naturally good at on his own, and how much he’s willing to let me intervene. That will determine what kind of rider he needs and what event will suit him best.”
Trigger is still standing patiently as Brad sets a heavily tooled saddle on his back (the fender reads “2011 NRCHA HACKAMORE CLASSIC OPEN CHAMPION”) “He’s a cow horse,” Brad says. “Trigger does great with the herd work and the rein work and goes down the fence well.” He’s showing great promise at just four years old, and it’s clear Brad enjoys him.
That appreciation for his horses is what makes Brad an excellent trainer. Winning is always a priority, whether he’s the one in the saddle or it’s one of his students, but nothing comes before the health and happiness of the animal. “We’re going to try and win anytime we can, but we’ll never sacrifice the well-being of the horse to get there.”
We’re always happy to hear that attitude, and Trigger is pleased too, especially as Brad gives him a final shine with a ShowSheen® spritz. “I really like using ShowSheen®, especially at the shows,” Brad says with a smile. “It puts a nice luster on the hair and repels all the dust, plus it keeps manes and tails tangle-free in the show pen.” ShowSheen® looks particularly good on Trigger, that golden coat sparkling in the Arizona sun.
Enjoying the Ride
Mounting up, Brad is ready to show off a little in a nearby warm-up pen. Trigger goes quietly along in his bosal, even as other horses get excited and whiz by one another in traffic. Brad gives him a nudge and he springs into action, demonstrating spins and sliding stops.
The two are a treat to watch, as all Brad’s experience and collected knowledge of his trade manifest in a deep connection between horse and rider. He may be at a horse show, but ribbons, trophies, engraved saddles, and silver spurs aside, it’s clear Brad is just having fun.