A state championship win is almost always a high point in a competition career, but when Kate Morgan and her horse SRS Jettin Bye won the 2018 National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) Virginia State Finals in Lexington Sept. 24, it was an extra special victory for the entire family. Not only did Morgan win the championship but she and SRS Jettin Bye won the Warren Morgan Award for the fastest time of the weekend.
The award has been given to the rider with the fastest time at the championship in memory of Virginia barrel racing legend Warren Morgan every year since his passing in 2007. It is very significant to Kate and her husband, Thomas, because Thomas is the son of Morgan.
The entire Morgan family is involved in barrel racing. Thomas and Kate ride and compete as does their daughter, Carlee and nephew, Hunter Collier. Thomas, a horseshoer by trade, also trains horses and learned the sport from his father. Kate too, comes from a family of barrel racers. She has been involved with the NBHA since 1998.
Thomas took his father’s death hard and backed away from the barrel racing scene. He said racing “just didn’t feel right” and just maintained the horses at their farm and took on a few training projects. One of those projects, SRS Jettin Bye, came for reschooling. Once a successful competitor, SRS Jettin Bye, or George as he is called at home, had fallen behind and wasn’t performing well. George and his owner came to the Morgan’s farm to get a refresher course. The talented but quirky young horse gave Thomas the push to get back in the saddle and Morgan took his time figuring out how to make George happy, sound and competitive. It was a second chance for both; Morgan had a chance to work through some of his grief and George became happy and competitive again. George’s owners recognized that he was happy with the Morgan’s, more than he had been for a long time, and offered to sell him to Thomas and Kate.
“We don’t normally get a horse like George,” said Kate. “Most of our horses we bring along from the beginning and when George was offered to us I thought there’s no way we can afford him. The owners realized that he was happy with Thomas and really wanted us to have him and worked out a deal for us. He was meant to be Thomas’ horse. In the beginning Thomas ran him. I rode him some at home, but he was Thomas’ competition horse. George was the one who got him back in the ring. Earlier this year, Thomas put me up on him.”
Like many great performers, George has a larger than life personality.
“George should have been a person,” said Kate. “He has opinions and ideas about everything. It’s almost like he can talk. Actually, if he could talk, I’m not so sure I’d like what he said!”
“George was going fine for me,” said Thomas, “but when Kate was on him I could see how happy he was. He just tried that much harder. George likes me, but he really loves Kate and I thought he would really run for her.”
And run he has. So far Thomas’ observation has paid off. Kate and George have been in the top five every time they’ve competed. The NBHA state finals were the icing on the cake. George gave the Morgan family the championship and the Warren Morgan award.
“We always try to win but for the past 11 years we’ve really wanted to win this [Warren Morgan award],” said Kate. “This year all the stars aligned, and it was extra special because it was on the anniversary of his death. His dad meant so much to him and George has done so much to help Thomas after losing his dad.”
“I’ve had a lot of good horses in my life,” said Thomas. “George is probably the best one. He is a once in a lifetime horse and we are so blessed to have him.”
“This has been our dream,” Kate added. “We are so blessed have good horses and to be able to do what we love as a family.”