Merrill O’Neal

Where are you from? I am originally from New Orleans, La and am living in Ruston, La where I graduated from Louisiana Tech University and just never went back home.

When did you start barrel racing? I went to summer camp in Arkansas when I was in the 7th grade and they had a camp competition that included barrel racing. One trip and I was hooked for life.

Are you involved in any other equine events? We have 3 stallions and we breed and raise colts for barrel racing.

Who or What got you started barrel racing? I’ve always loved horses and I liked the idea of a timed event where you were not dependant on a judge. I’ve always thought the judged events were sometimes unfair and the electric eye is the best judge I know. Barrel racing also gave me confidence and made me feel good about myself.

On the road sometimes things happen, do you have an unusual or funny story? A friend of mine gave me a pet raccoon named Buddy at a rodeo.  I had a pickup with a camper and boot to crawl through. We put Buddy in a cage in the camper. My girlfriend and I started home and I felt a hand on my shoulder. Buddy had escaped and was climbing into the front of the pickup. At the time I didn’t know him very well and he climbed on the dash and started running back and forth. We stopped the truck and jumped out and the truck was stopped in the middle of the road with a raccoon in it. Traffic was backing up and finally I got back in and pulled it off the road. It was scary at the time but Buddy turned out to be a wonderful pet and we had many years of fun with him.

What was the name of your favorite horse and tell us a little about it. This is a hard question because I had 4 favorite horses. I guess my first great horse is the one that really I have judged the rest by. Her name was Dawns Burst and she was a pretty chestnut mare that I won the Louisiana Rodeo Assn on 4 times. In 1973 she won the Houston Livestock Show and that was my first big win. She was a consistent winner and I have looked for one like her all my life. I had her in the 70’s and I loved every minute I was with her. In the 80’s I had Charlie who was a sorrel gelding and I won the Louisiana Rodeo Assn on 2 times and the Tri State Rodeo Assn on in ’86. He was another consistent winner and I won many Pro rodeos on him. He only hit 2 barrels in 8 years. In the 90’s I got Mr Ed and he became my best friend. He is very different from the rest of my horses cause he thinks he is a person and not a horse. He has no manners and is very spoiled. He has won 5 NBHA National 1D titles and is alot of fun to ride. My ’00 favorite horse is my stallion Reds Western Native. He is the most like Dawn of all the horses I have had. He is laid back and quiet and won the Houston Livestock show exactly 30 years from Dawns win. He also runs in the same hackamore as Dawn and no tiedown like Dawn and has a pretty head and eye like Dawn. He has that special disposition like Dawn and I was really lucky to find him.

What are some of the events that you have won (or races that stand out in your mind)?  My first National Championship in 2000. I wasn’t going to go because it was such a long drive to Montgomery, Alabama and my friend Micah Goins talked me into going. I didn’t think Mr Ed would do very well and I didn’t feel up for it. Micah went and helped me keep a positive attitude and Mr Ed got better and better with every run. There were 997 horses when it started and he won the title and I was really surprised and very happy

Over the years have you noticed any changes in barrel racing what are the good or bad you’ve seen? I think there is more money and opportunity now than there has ever been before. Futurities are paying alot and there are more horses running barrels than ever before. The 4 D barrel races has brought in more horses and more people are going because it is paying more places. At first when it started I didn’t like the idea but now I see I was wrong. I didn’t like the fact that if a 15.0 won the barrel race a 17.0 would win money when a 15.3 would not. That seemed unfair. Now I see how it has made barrel racing so popular and barrel horses so in demand

What is do you think of an equal pay out 4d? I think 1D should pay more than 4D. Anything other than 1D is strictly luck.

Do you think of yourself as a professional barrel racer? Yes that is my main income but I do have a Real Estate License along with a WPRA card.

Who is your favorite barrel racer or barrel racers? This is another hard question because I have so many favorites. I guess it is really easy to say Charmayne because what hasn’t she done? My favorite thing about Charmayne is her true love for horses and her teachings at her clinics about kindness and her intolerance of hurting a horse in any way. She is a true horseman and knows her horses inside out and besides that she is really cool and has such a great attitude.

Do you have any advice for anyone just starting out in barrel racing? Get a good horse and learn the right way from the start. It is easier to learn good habits than to break bad ones

Do you think barrel racing should be limited to women only? No, except for the WPRA. I think men have made a definite contribution to the sport.