Twenty-five years ago, Kelly Conrado started Conrado Barrel Horses, a business that focuses on training and breeding quality barrel horses for the sport of rodeo. But his passion for horses and the sport of barrel racing started much earlier in life. Beginning in 4-H and progressing through Little Britches, he developed an interest in cutting horses and then showing. It was watching a particular barrel race when he was just a kid, though, that let him know what he would choose as a career.
“I saw Jimmie Gibbs Munroe run her WPRA world champion barrel horse, Billy, at a fourth of July rodeo in Meeker, Colo.,” Conrado said, as he answered questions outdoors with his business partner Debbie Mikkelson. “I remember (the run) to this day. (Billy’s) style – it gave me goose bumps and I thought ‘I want to train a horse to do that.’ My mom still has the paper. When I was in the second grade, I drew a picture of a person on a horse turning a barrel.”
Conrado said that training barrel horses has always been a part of him.
“It’s been in me,” he said. “It’s been my passion, and the breeding has always been a passion. I liked the idea that the only partner you had was you and your horse.”
That passion won him an impressive convert at a young age.
“I made an acquaintance with Allene Gayler Mourne, who had been to the NFR numerous times in the 60’s and 70’s,” Conrado remembered. “She actually bought a horse I had trained. She said, ‘You need to do this for a living.’ It wasn’t my horse, but I had trained it when I was a kid and she bought it.”
That formative success encouraged him to make his dream of creating his own training business a reality. From its beginnings twenty-five years ago, Conrado, his family and his business partner Mikkelson (self-described as the “head cheerleader”) now oversee a property in Hudson that contains between thirty to forty horses at various ages and stages of training. Their initial plan did not include a stallion, but focused on breeding their own mares out to successful studs. As life teaches everyone, fulfilling a dream doesn’t necessarily follow well-laid plans. Especially when an x-factor like Darkelly comes along.
Darkelly is a stallion that immediately impressed Conrado. With looks and conformation to spare, a speed index of 110, and a pedigree that includes the outstanding Shawne Bug, Conrado was thrilled to modify his breeding plans when the opportunity to purchase Darkelly fell in his lap.
“It was just him,” Conrado said about Darkelly. “He’s stellar. When you see him, you know you are in the presence of excellence. He is just a stunning animal and you can tell he is a phenomenal athlete.”
Discussing Darkelly further, an enthusiastic Conrado explained what the stallion brought to their breeding program.
“One, his genetics,” he said. “One of the early proven producers of barrel horses is Shawne Bug. Darkelly is by Shawne Kate who is by Shawne Bug. He’s also by First Down Kelly. First Down Kelly is by First Down Dash and he has been a great paternal grandsire of barrel horses. It’s a mind, it’s an athleticism. Structurally, it’s easy for them. They move soft (and) they don’t hit the ground hard.”
Asked what kind of horse he wants to produce, Conrado had a confident answer.
“We want to produce a horse that is structurally very sound and has excellent conformation,” he explained. “There is just an athleticism that you feel in these animals. And that athleticism is something that seems (able to be), with certain bloodlines, replicated over and over. So we really focus in on bringing pedigrees together and heritage together that replicate that desire to move well, to be natural on their hind end.”
Recent production from their facility has been impressive as his daughter Paige earned 2013 championship round berths aboard a gelding named Bubba in both the high profile Cheyenne Frontier Days and Greeley Stampede rodeos. Also in the last couple of years, one of the young mares bred, raised and trained at Conrado Barrel Horses, CFour Tibbie Stinson, has won multiple futurity and derby competitions with daughter Ivy holding the reins.
On top of that, Darkelly continues raising their profile as one of his progeny that was sold by Conrado, five-year-old Kellies Chick, has earned multiple 2014 victories for top ranked barrel racer Michele McLeod and her daughters Kaitlyn and Lindsey.
Although the success is exciting, the daily work behind the scenes makes it possible. A typical day — when it does not include going to the vet or running back and forth to the breeding facility in Littleton — sees father and daughter Ivy ride up to fifteen horses a day (daughter Paige is currently working out of state). Each horse is trained an average of about an hour a day, depending upon what needs to be accomplished. While it may sound exhausting, time spent with the horses is their preferred part of the job.
“One of my favorite things is matching the mares up with Darkelly and getting to see the results,” Conrado said. “In the spring when the babies are born, that is very exciting to me. I like the process of starting these colts and developing their abilities and then taking them to the point of competing on them.”
Ivy also shared work day favorites.
“I just love being personable with them,” she said. “I think in this industry, people can kind of treat them like objects. It’s not like that at our house. It’s just on a personal level with them and I like that. That is my favorite part. We treat ours really well and try to give them the best chance we can. That’s why I like being at my dad’s and working there.”
“She has a fantastic work ethic,” Conrado complimented Ivy. “She’s got a real desire to be successful. In this industry you have lots of peaks and valleys. The older you get, the more you realize you are going to have great times and you are going to have hard times. When you don’t let either one of those affect your dream that’s when you really are able to move into a successful position of competing and accomplishing your goals and your dreams.”
For the Conrados and business partner Mikkelson, those goals and dreams are barreling full speed ahead. ❖
You can find Conrado Barrel Horses in Hudson, Colo. on Facebook under pages for Conrado Barrel Horses and Darkelly. You can also contact Conrado Barrel Horses at (720) 987-8213 or via email at KellyTConrado@hotmail.com.