Ashley Schafer on Why Left is Right for Aged Event Champions Derby and Albany

Leading barrel horse trainer Ashley Schafer explains why aged event standouts Born On Derby Day and Famous Cash Can have benefitted from switching to the left barrel first even though both mares had already notched major wins running to the right.

Photographs by TK210 Photos

Leading barrel horse trainer Ashley Schafer explains why aged event standouts Born On Derby Day and Famous Cash Can have benefitted from switching to the left barrel first even though both mares had already notched major wins running to the right.

Barrel racers in the midst of successful seasons aren’t typically inclined to switch their horses to the left after winning lots of money running to the right. But looking for every possible edge to gain, Brock, Texas trainer Ashley Schafer did exactly that with both 2022 Colorado Classic Futurity champ Born On Derby Day (“Derby”) and Maturity winner Famous Cash Can (“Albany”). Schafer earned more than $40,000 with the full siblings at the event held in Montrose, Colorado, June 16-18, so clearly she is doing things right—even if it’s to the left.

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Schafer rode Born On Derby Day to the fastest time of the 2022 Colorado Classic with a 15.295 in round two.

“I futuritied Famous Cash Can as a 4-year-old last year and I won $105,000 on her last year as a 4-year-old futurity horse,” said Schafer, who won the first round of the 2021 Colorado Classic on her. “She is a phenomenal horse. I switched her to the left pretty recently, which sounds pretty crazy, but I switched Derby left after she won the Kinder Cup (in February) and then she won the Elite (in March) to the left right after that. I switched Albany kind of because of how well Derby took it.”

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Schafer says she’d always had an inkling that Albany would be well-suited to run to the left barrel first, but was hesitant to mess with what was working.

“She actually broke an arena record at Oklahoma City in Barn 6 running to the right and then a week later I switched her to the left,” Schafer said. “It wasn’t because we had big issues or anything, but I talked to Joe and Carla Spitz, the owners of Albany, about it and I just told them she really feels like she needs to go left. Joe said, ‘whatever you feel like, do it.’ I’ve ridden for them for 10 years and they trust my judgement, so I decided to try it and she placed seventh at the Royal Crown in Waco the week after I switched her.”

The transition took a little more time for Albany than it did for Derby simply because she’d run longer than Derby to the right and was a little more set in her ways, according to Schafer.

“I’ve kept with it because I can just tell that it’s the right thing for her,” Schafer said. “And what it is with her is I was having trouble getting a real consistent left turn. Usually, it was my third barrel that I’d struggle with, but I won second on her at the BFA Futurity [watch the run] and she blew off the third barrel bad both rounds, and so I felt like I’d been battling it and trying to figure out how to fix that third barrel. Sometimes I would nail it, but it wasn’t consistent, and to me, I could tell that if I switched her to the left I could have more consistent second and third barrels. I feel like you can kind of get away with a little stiffer first-barrel turn, but at your second and third barrel it’s a struggle, it’s a different turn and for her it helped her a lot. Her third barrel has been literally amazing every time running her to the left.”

Be the Best Version of Yourself

When a trainer of aged event horses shows out to the degree Schafer did at the 2022 Colorado Classic—as she has consistently done this entire futurity season—it’s validation for all the hard work and for constantly looking at ways to get better. For Schafer that means getting input from her peers.

Schafer transitioned 2022 Colorado Classic Futurity winner “Derby” to the left even after notching major wins like Kinder Cup Futurity to the right.

“I say this a lot, because I get help from people too,” she said. “If I’m struggling with a horse, I go ride with somebody and get help from them. The Darkelly stud Makin Dark Money that I’m running this year is really a nice horse, but he’s a different style than I’m used to. Kelly Conrado has helped me a lot with him. He owned Darkelly, rode a lot of them and he’s been super instrumental in helping me get that horse to where he is.”

Schafer encourages other barrel racers to constantly seek ways of improving their riding and training, and offers insights via the instructional site Betweenthereins.us, in partnership with Joy Wargo and Jolene Montgomery.

“I don’t feel like you should ever be like, ‘okay that’s good enough,’ you always have to strive to be better,” she said. “It isn’t about being better than other people, it’s about being a better version of yourself and getting your horses to be a better version of themselves. Like with Albany winning $120,000 running to the right, I’m like ‘I think she can better to the left,’ so I switch her.”

Schafer says that confidence in her judgement as a trainer is something that’s evolved and become less of an internal struggle over time.

“There was a time when I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that. I would’ve just thought ‘don’t mess with it.’ Even Albany and Derby’s mother, she needed to go left but I had won $100,000 on her to the right,” she said. “I didn’t have the confidence in myself at that point to do it. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I felt I could make the change effectively and be okay with it. I always tell people if you feel something that you need to do, try it, you can always go back. I can always switch Albany back right if it doesn’t work to the left.”

Famous Cash Can and Born On Derby Day are full siblings and both products of the wildly successful Spitz Quarter Horses breeding program.