By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
It took a while for Dwayne Crane’s mind to match his body because at 62, he was still barrel racing even though his back and hips were saying “no, no, no.”
Hard as it was, the decision to retire was made. A dinner with the Crane family’s fellow horse association friends was had and the last two barrel racing horses were sold. Matt Lee, general manager of the REACH centre in Clinton where the Cranes have raced for years, said “you should do a story on this barrel racing family.”
So I chatted with Dwayne’s son, Derick, and he said the family doesn’t normally do things like this, even though they’ve won about all there is to win in the barrel racing circuit. Nevertheless, he saw it as a tribute to his dad, which is why he went back to the sport seven years ago.
“My dad grew up with horses and has been barrel racing since he could walk,” recalls Derick who lives in Ingersoll while his parents live near Embro. Derick and his brother Chris have been involved with barrel racing off and on over the years while his mom has been a secretary and treasurer of the Ontario Barrel Racing Association. His dad has been both president and a long-time director of the OBRA.
“My dad always had horses. At one time we were up to nine horses but my mom said we had to downsize,” says Derick. Showing ponies until they were about 10, the lure of dirt bikes, 4-wheelers and getting paid for work took the brothers away from the racing circuit for many years.
Then, seven years ago, Derick wanted to spend more time with his father. Since his dad’s passion was barrel racing, Derick got back into the sport. It was a great seven years but with his father’s health issues and his own desire to move up in his career and spend time with family, it was time to step back. Their last show together was in October.
“We went to the Crane Classic and that was my dad’s last time going down the chute,” says Derick. Dwayne rode Flawless Frenchman, aka “Boon” with whom Dwayne has won a few futurities. Boon has been sold to the Catulli family who will continue to race him. The families are friends so the Cranes can go visit him when they want.
Derick says his dad has “got more buckles and trophy saddles” than I could ever dream of. “He is a very accomplished rider.” Dwaye learned from his father, who learned from his father, who learned from his father before that. Horsemanship is in their blood and racing a passion that took them to over 45 shows a season.
Chatting with Dwayne next, he says his grandfather was the one who started the Thames Valley Riders in North Perth. “We grew up with horses. Back in the 1970s the other kids had mini bikes and we had horses, so that is what I spent my time with.”
Horses are special animals, says Dwayne. “Horses are very responsive and my way of looking at it is you can drive a fast car or motorcycle, then you shut it off and put it away. But a critter has to be looked after. More than half of my time is spent looking after the horses….it’s companionship is what it is.”
When asked if he’s had a favourite horse over the years, Dwayne said “They’ve pretty much all been tough runners. I had a little quarter horse who made money every time he went in the pen but every horse I’d run has done well. The last three horses over the past 12 years have been strong runners and that last fella, Boon, runs in the top 15 or 20 out of the 300-400 barrel racing horses in Ontario.”
When choosing horses, he always looks for a soft eye. “If it has a soft eye, it is compassionate and easier to work with. I also look at size and coordination. Really, I just sit back and look and I like what I see, I proceed to work with it.”
For Dwaye, it was always barrel racing. He says he’s not a “bulldogger” or into rodeo. “My grandfather and dad, well, they barrel raced so you follow along.”
Plus, it’s such a rush! “That first 90 feet is amazing. There is nothing like it,” he says. “You go from zero to 40 miles an hour in a few steps and it is crazy fun. The rest of the run is fun too but if you don’t get that first good barrel, you don’t get a good run.”
Dwayne also enjoys pleasure riding and says it’s important for the horse too. “They need to do something else besides run, run, run.” He admits the last two horses haven’t been the greatest pleasure horses because they were “bred a little hotter” for more speed but the family had some great trail horses over the years.
This year will be the first time in his life he has been without horses. “If I didn’t hurt so bad, it would probably be different,” he admits. But a youth spent riding and playing all-star hockey, plus a spirit that wants to go, go, go, has caught up with him.
“He is very hard on his body,” says Carol, who has been adding commentary in the background of this phone call.
I asked him if he wanted to get some mini horses or something to ease the transition.
“Hell no!” he said. “No minis. Because for the first time in all these years we can come and go as we please.”
It’s clear the couple is looking forward to retirement, without being tied down and spending all season driving to shows. “We just want to do more things ourselves. See Ontario even. Yes, we have traveled to horse shows but we haven’t gone much farther than the horse show,” adds Carol.
Both have loved Dwayne’s barrel racing career and the barrel racing community which Carol calls “one big family” which was proven at the retirement dinner where everyone had a chance to say goodbye. Dwayne said when they started barrel racing they were the “babies” and now, “we are the older ones.”
It’s been a good long ride. ◊