The Nolan Watters Memorial Barrel Race was created to raise awareness and help open up conversations about suicide and depression.
Becoming the largest two-day race in the state of California was not what he had in mind when founder David Renier came up with the idea. After he lost his life partner Nolan Watters to suicide in October of 2015, Renier made the decision to host an event which would bring awareness to mental illness and suicide, as well as its prevention. “It was beyond anything I had ever first imagined…the response was amazing,” says Renier, about the event. From what was first an idea for just a simple one-day jackpot, blossomed into the Nolan Watters Memorial $16,000 added Epic two-day Barrel Race. “Thanks to the support from key sponsors like Forco, Embee Performance, The Rowdy Rose, Renew Gold, Boot Barn, Professional Choice and Crown Royal Farms, we were able to offer a race like no other in California,” exclaims Renier.
Held at Riverside Rancheros in Riverside, CA, on October 8th and 9th, 2016, the event boasted close to 800 entries over the two days. It paid out $70,405 and gave away over $32,000 worth of awards. Each day, division champions were awarded a beautiful Bob Berg buckle. All five divisions paid to 15th place and prizes were awarded down to tenth. Additionally, each day had $5,500 added, with $5,000 added to the average. The cause was certainly enough to bring in the crowds of people but the awards and money were an added bonus.
There was certainly no shortage of love shown, at what is now planned to be an annual event. “Love and be loved” was the theme of this weekend, as those were the last words Nolan said to his partner, David Renier. Nolan’s loving and caring nature was evident all weekend as people remembered their friend as well as others that lost their fight against depression.
Sydni Blanchard and her horse, Famous Heartbreaker, were the winners both days, with a blazing time of 15.514 on Saturday, earning her $1143.00; and a 15.350 on Sunday, winning $1121.00. She also set the average, winning over $812.00 in the process. Blanchard ran four horses over the course of the weekend, and took home several checks and prizes; but when all was said and done, she was generous enough to make a significant donation back to the cause.
The Nolan Watters Memorial partnered with the “With Hope Foundation”, which, are both nonprofit organizations dedicated to suicide prevention through improving mental health support services and education throughout our community. “With Hope” provides services such as programs for school-age students to educate about mental illness.
“This is a charity that is truly saving lives,” board of director’s member and event coordinator Denise Munson says. “We raised $30,000 this weekend and it feels awesome knowing that all our hard work will help so many,” says Munson. Some of the money raised from the event will also go towards therapy for people who are unable to afford the help they need. “There were several instances where Nolan was turned away but needed help,” says Munson, who agrees with Renier when they stress the importance of helping those who suffer from mental illness or depression, but may lack the necessary resources.
There were many activities throughout the weekend that added to this Epic event. Not only did exhibitors get to run their horses at a phenomenal venue, but other happenings made the occasion even more exciting. Saturday evening after the race, Bernardo Winery, owned by Selena and Rick Roberts, hosted a social party. Festivities included a taco dinner and wine tasting. Saturday from noon until 8:00pm, a silent auction was held and coordinated by volunteer, Jeannie Malone, who had spent a year gathering up items. She did an amazing job setting them all into a beautiful presentation to help earn money for the cause. The silent auction made over $12,000, while live auctions were held for the two biggest items of the night: a breeding to Slick By Design, donated by Highpoint Performance Horses and purchased by Missy Tuck for $2,850; as well as custom painted barrels which were used during the race, donated by Dawn Colwell of AAA Paint and Body, and sold for $2,000.
In addition to a barrel race, the Nolan Watters Memorial featured other fun challenges for competitors as well. The “Renew Gold Pick Your Time” event was held on Sunday, where competitors got to choose what they predicted their time would be the night before. Closest to run their picked time on Sundays run, won a beautiful Martin saddle! Renew Gold generously donated a saddle to both a winner in the Open division of this event, as well as one for the Youth division. Masyn Powers was the proud recipient in the youth, barely missing her guessed time; while Missy Buchanan won the open division by guessing her exact time!
An event of this scale is in no way possible without a board of directors. Munson says, “It was a lot of blood and sweat, but the whole event ran like clockwork and everything went amazing.”
The Board of Directors included David Renier, Denise Munson, Virginia McClintock, Tana Castro, and Jamie Harris. Working like a “well-oiled machine,” as Munson says, the board was the driving force behind the event and assured that it went off without a hitch. Similarly, the volunteers who assisted in all of the “behind-the-scenes” action made an event such as this one possible. Shaun Sandoval was in charge of the ground which was fast, but equally good, as there was not a single slip or fall over the whole weekend.
Sandoval and his tractor crew of Rick Roberts, Are Stohmenger, and Blaine Manthey, allowed for 45 runs to be made per hour and donated all of their time. Eric Munson, Dave Dahlberg, Mike Warren, and Landon Black were the rig-parking crew. Parking everyone with detailed thought, they worked for three straight days to ensure the mood of the race was appropriately set, based on the parking situation. Other volunteers included Barbara Patton who coordinated the camping spots and stalls, as well as Missy Buchanan who ran the Time Onlys, Mark Blakely who volunteered his time to take pictures over both days, and Adam Horde and Nicole Rivers who kept things moving smoothly in the office.
Past the times, checks, and awards, this event was one solely produced for the greater good of a cause that effects so many people. Renier says that just talking about suicide prevention and awareness because of this barrel race, really opened the door for more conversation, especially those who may be struggling but had never been able to express it. “It was something that needed to be done, nobody was talking about it (suicide awareness),” he say. That fact became even more apparent when participants joined in the conversation.
Audra Macfarlane says that she and many close to her have all been effected by suicide and adds “…you never know what inner turmoil somebody might be going through…thank you from the bottom of my heart for everyone’s hard work…” Several competitors on the weekend had numerous praises for the event. Just to show how meaningful an event like this can be to someone, Winter Guesman, another attendee, says “Beautiful race…the cause behind this race is very close to my heart, I have lost friends and family to suicide. Everyone at this race was so wonderful…” For those who put the event on, they say it was made extremely special by those who attended, both as competitors and volunteers. According to Renier, the weekend was “…friends making my dreams come true…without them, it wouldn’t have been possible to that magnitude.”
Thank you to our Epic Sponsors: Forco, Embee Performance, The Rowdy Rose, Renew Gold, Professional Choice, Boot Barn, Bernardo Winery, Kathy’s Silver, Crown Royal Farms, AAA Arroyo Air, CnC Barrel Productions, Finish Line, We Got Hay, Troxel Helmets, Carter’s Hay & Grain, Summit Equipment, Kimes, Creekside Vet, Exact Equine, Oxy-Gen, Diamond C Tack, Equerry’s, Forefront, FourFlex, County Line Clothing, Diamond Bar Arena, Horseman’s News, CR Ranch, Cushin Socks, and American Family Feed.
Plans are already in the works for next year’s Nolan Watters Memorial Barrel Race. For additional information, visit the Nolan Watters Memorial Barrel Race page on Facebook, the web site www.NolanWattersMemorial.org or contact Denise Munson at (800) 817-7259.