Shelley Morgan and the late Short Go

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Five years after Shelley Morgan loses her beloved buckskin mare on a colic surgery table, her father steps in and finds her a beautiful 3-year-old dapple gray stallion named My Playboy Champ.

On the top side, the horse is a Doc Bar-heavy combination of Freckles Playboy and Jet Smooth, while his dam is a great granddaughter of Leo and Three Bars. His is not the pedigree of today’s barrel racing champion.

But the Morgans look at conformation over breeding, and his build is perfect. So they geld the horse, and Shelley’s husband, Rex, nicknames him Short Go to encourage his wife, still saddened by the loss of her last horse.

“With this horse, you’ll make every short go and win all the money,” he tells her.

Tricks of the Trade

Feed:  Alfalfa hay and Scamper’s Choice

Supplements: Platinum Performance

Other therapies: Chiropractic and veterinary checkups

Shoeing program: Steel rims every five weeks in summer

Saddle: Billy Cook

Saddle pad: Professional’s Choice

Leg gear:Professional’s Choice and Classic Equine

Sponsors:Muffler & Hitch Shop of Canton, Texas

Considering that only a fraction of the most phenomenal barrel horses or riders in the world ever win enough to reach the sport’s pinnacle—the National Finals Rodeo—there isn’t much chance what he says is true.

Nevertheless, Shelley puts Short Go into training and the colt takes to it so fast that she’s loping him around the pattern in less than a week. Within two years, they’re entering rodeos, and in late 2008 they’re dominating Texas amateur rodeos. Now Shelley, a teacher and basketball coach and wife and mother of two boys, recalls watching the barrel racers running down that NFR alley on ESPN.

“You think, ‘That would be so cool,’ but you never think you’ll ever be there,” she says, buying her professional rodeo card for the first time.

A million miles and 90 grueling rodeos later, she and Short Go must place at Albuquerque, N.M., to realize every barrel racer’s dream, and they do. Now the 8-year-old gelding and the 38-year-old first-timer are in Las Vegas in December, living the dream.

They win second in the first round and earn $44,000 over 10 days. Short Go is the eye-catching, hard-trying, barrel-skimming phenomenon that announcers love to talk about and fans love to watch. Shelley has the time of her life and Short Go loves the crowd even more than he loves the barrels.

Now it’s Feb. 27, 2010, and he’s still living up to his name, having made the short rounds at San Angelo, Texas that night and Tucson, Ariz., the next day. He likes being outside, so Shelley has taken him out of his stuffy stall and given him and her other horse an outdoor pen, then gone with Rex and Lisa Lockhart to eat.

Less than an hour later, Sherry Cervi calls Lisa to say that Short Go is hung up, and it’s bad. Both hind feet are lodged in the top of a large pipe panel, which has broken and crashed down on him, breaking both his hind legs above the fetlock. In the instant that Short Go is euthanized, so is part of Shelley’s life, forever.

“There was nothing anybody could have done,” Shelley says, choking on tears three months later. “But there were a bunch of barrel racers and ropers there helping. It’s amazing in a situation like that how fellow competitors react and help you.”

Shelley’s mom and dad drive seven hours with their stock trailer to pick up Short Go, and instead of going to Tucson, he goes home to Eustace, Texas, and is buried next to the arena under a little headstone.

As for Shelley and Rex and their two sons, they have the memories, the photos and the friends from the 2009 season, and they just hope Short Go is fondly remembered by all for what he was—one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses.

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Winning the 2009 Greeley Independence Stampede

Short Go won the round and the average with this run at Greeley on July 4th last year. I went into this round leading the average, so I knew I needed this to be a good, clean run. My goal going into arena was just to be aggressive and stay out of Short Go’s way.

He really likes to turn, so I tried to push his shoulder past the barrel before I sat down. His rein is pretty loose so that I don’t over-handle him into a barrel, and my toes are turned out pushing him all the way around the turn to keep his momentum, so he won’t pivot into the barrel leaving it.

I did carry an over-and-under to hustle Short Go home, but I usually didn’t use it between barrels.

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Clocking a 13.81 in the NFR’s eighth round

What an awesome picture. I like for my horses to be round in their turn with their shoulder up and inside hip up under them driving them around, and that is exactly the form Short Go has here.

He always kept forward motion in and out of his turns. My hand is forward, encouraging him to keep his momentum, while at the same time allowing him to do his job. The only time he usually hit a barrel was when he was working too hard and grabbed it as he came out the back of the turn, which is why I need to keep his momentum up.

I’m carrying my bat in my mouth because when it was in my hand, sometimes Short Go would catch a glimpse of it and not turn the first barrel very well. The NFR is such a small run that a bat is sometimes easier to grab than an over-and-under.

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Rounding second in the NFR’s second round

Short Go isn’t as low and round in this picture as he usually is because he got by this second barrel a little and is trying to get his hindquarters under him to pivot back and head to third, which is where I’m looking.

He uses his hindquarters a lot in his run, which is the style I prefer. I use rubber bands on my stirrups because a lost stirrup can sometimes cost you what was going to be a really nice run.

I try to help my horse by staying balanced in the saddle and not leaning too much one way or another, and also by keeping my hand in a position that’s not too high; not too low.

Short Go’s style was hustle, hustle the whole run, and he had lots of natural rate. I LOVE YOU SHORT GO, you’re missed GREATLY!