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Castle Farms, Beyond The arena: Part #1
In the river bottom lands just outside the small Texas town of Seguin, nestled along the Guadalupe, is where Castle Farms has made it’s home for the past 22 years.
Against a back drop of oak trees that are hundreds of years old, knee high grass pastures, roaming cattle, and the river, is where you will find one of the best hidden gems in the barrel racing industry.
The barrel horse breeding and training program developed by sister team, Bonnie and Laura Castle, has been a lifetime in the making.
Originally from Lake Charles, Louisiana, Bonnie and Laura’s father, Ken Castle, would relocate them to Seguin, Texas, in 1996. The Castles would leave behind a crawfish farming business to take on full-time cattle ranching. First generation barrel racers, their introduction to horses came by proxy to their father’s cattle operation. Barrel racing would follow later after their move to Texas.
We started out really slow, because our dad’s first priority was making sure we knew how to ride” – Bonnie
“My dad always had horses, because we had cattle, but we got our start in barrel racing after we moved to Seguin. He took us to the play days, and then we graduated to better horses and bigger events from there. He always had a really good eye for a horse. He didn’t buy us nice barrel horses, but he always bought well broke, well trained horses that were good for us to learn on, and really let us grow as riders,” Laura explained, “ when we moved, I was 9 and Bonnie was 7.”
“What drove us to Texas was my dad really wanting to get into cattle, so that was our first discipline with horses,” Bonnie added, “they were used for working cattle first. It evolved into youth rodeo from there.”
However, the love of horses for both sisters has always been there though, and was never a question.
“I have always been fascinated with horses from a young age, even when we didn’t have any when we were really little,” Laura added, “They always had my attention.”
They would keep both girls attentions for many years to come.
Learning The Ropes
“From a competitive perspective, we didn’t really start competing until four or five years after we began riding. We started out really slow, because my dad’s first priority was making sure we really knew how to ride. He didn’t buy us high powered horses, but he always made sure we had good horses,” Bonnie said of their beginnings, “we were really involved with AQHA, hauling to world shows all over the United States, and then we did high school rodeos as we got older.”
With a solid foundation underneath them thanks to their father, the Castle sisters would continue to succeed at the high school rodeo, amateur, and professional rodeo level as time went on. They would continue to raise and train their own horses, cultivating a honed eye for talented equine athletes from the very beginning.
Of course, as time passes, some things change, a reflection of the river they lived beside. Bonnie and Laura would eventually be carried in different directions.
“At one point our paths differed,” Bonnie recalled the time she and Laura set out on their own separate ways. “After I graduated high school, I tried to rodeo professionally for a year, but I was in college at the same time.”
“What I realized at that point is that I wanted to pursue getting a degree, having a job as a safety blanket to financially secure myself. I stopped riding at that point, and really focused on becoming a certified public accountant and having a career doing that.”
As many barrel racers often encounter, sometimes the dream has to be put on hold. It was the kind of decision that no girl, or barrel racer for that matter, would ever want to make. In the end Bonnie determined that it was necessary for what she wanted to accomplish in the long run. The horses would have to wait.
I wanted to keep going with the horses, because that’s where my heart always was” – Laura
While Bonnie was finishing college, and focusing on her career, Laura was finding her own place in the world. Juggling the difficulties young twenty-something’s often encounter with the tasks of tackling college and a career, Laura differed from her sister in that the horses were never far away.
“When I started college, I was doing what I would call half and half,” Laura laughed, “I was juggling my time going back and forth between school and home, but I really knew that I wanted to keep going with the horses, because that’s where my heart always was. It was my passion, but I didn’t feel that I had enough knowledge to pursue riding at the professional level that I wanted. So I made the decision to take a hiatus from school and barrel racing, because I knew I wanted to be a better horseman, and that I would have to find that outside the barrel racing industry first.”
“I craved to know and learn and find out how these other disciplines created these broke, confident horses, especially growing up watching so many different styles of training at AQHA shows when we were kids,” Laura remembered, “so the first thing I did was I took a summer job working for a cutting horse trainer.”
“It was saddling, loping, hard, long work and hours. There was nothing glamorous about it.”
Hard work aside, you can hear Laura talk about the experience with genuine intensity, and how clear it is even now that her heart was invested in young horses from the very start.
“I got to watch the trainer work his two year olds, and I knew if I could learn to get horses to work like that, running barrels would be nothing. I really wanted the knowledge and the horsemanship they had to offer, and I rode with a few different people before coming back to my roots; barrel racing.”
Armed with experience, and the determination to continue learning as much as possible by watching and riding with her peers, Laura began the process of growing her own training program with their home grown foals from Castle Farms.
“We had so much invested in our horses even at that point, I brought all the knowledge back that I had gained and tried to put that into them. I never stopped learning though, every time I ever had a chance to ride and learn from someone who knew more than me, I took it.”
During the time Laura spent learning, training and honing her horsemanship skills, Bonnie had graduated college and was an established CPA working in the Dallas area.
However, the 90 hour work weeks and the fast pace demands of her career began to take their toll. Despite her tremendous success, she found herself slowly being drawn back to their family’s riverside ranch in Seguin.
I didn’t feel like I could really understand what it took to make a barrel horse unless I could do it from start to finish.” – Laura
Timing could not be more fortuitous, but maybe it was by some greater design. Several years after Laura had returned to training barrel horses, and after they already had several foals on the ground, Bonnie would finally make the decision to step back from being a full-time CPA and move home.
It was an inevitable thing.
When you fall in love with horses, eventually they find you again.
Touch Of Moonshine
“It all started with our first mare, Touch of Moonshine, a daughter of Marthas Six Moons.”
You can hear Bonnie and Laura smile when they talk about this mare, the foundation of their breeding program. Moonie, as she is affectionally known, was a proven competitor under Laura before moving to the breeding barn. Sadly she sustained a career ending injury at the age of 9, but everything happens for a reason.
“I wanted to start a colt from the ground up,” Laura stated, “I didn’t feel like I could really understand what it took to make a barrel horse unless I could do it from start to finish.”
Laura’s ultimate goal set things into motion. Moonie’s first foal was born in 2009 by the legendary Dash For Perks, and it would be the first barrel horse that Castle Farms would raise and train from beginning to end.
“Throughout the years before that first colt, I’d only started a few from scratch. He was the first one I really felt like I knew what I was doing,” Laura recalled, “He was a good colt, really easy about everything, and because I felt like I did a good enough job with him, we bred three mares for the next year.”
“Of course there were different challenges that you encounter, but the goal was to get these babies all the way to the finished project,” Laura explained, “and we accomplished that.”
In 2010 Moonie would have another colt by Famous Bugs. Both geldings would mature and grow under Bonnie and Laura’s care, and go on to be competitive 1D barrel horses in Texas.
Fast forward to 2015. Bonnie had officially relocated to Seguin, and and the Castle sisters began to plan for bigger, better things.
The Game Plan
Bonnie took her skills that made her a successful CPA and applied them to their home grown operation. Calculated, cool and undeniably talented at planning for the future, she used her knowledge from her corporate workforce background, and turned it toward the thing she loved most; horses.
“It’s such a long term investment with these barrel horses,” Bonnie explained, “but I realized, being business minded, that we had something here. With Moonie’s first baby we turned a horse that came from nothing into something, and I knew that we could be good at it.”
“Laura has done a really good job at training these horses, she always has, and I don’t have that gift,” Bonnie praised of her sister, “I was more of a competitor in the arena, but when we decided to really pursue making this a business, I could see the bigger picture when Laura couldn’t, and that’s where I really became involved.”
Playing their strengths against one another, Bonnie and Laura have cultivated a breeding and training program that has already yielded results. Laura heads the training side, specializing in breaking their young horses, while Bonnie is the mastermind behind the business plan and keeping their broodmare band managed. When time allows, you’ll find them at their local barrel races, preparing their next generation of winners for the arena.
With Moonie’s first baby we turned a horse that came from nothing into something, and I knew that we could be good at it” – Bonnie
Staying the course and diving right in, Castle Farms began taking outside horses and training for the public, building upon an already well established reputation. They also strengthened their broodmare band with another Marthas Six Moons daughter, Toast To Martha. The future was and is bright.
“Laura does this full time on the training end, and I don’t do my part full time yet, but that’s the ultimate goal,” Bonnie explained of their long term plans.
“The idea is to use our strengths and turn this into something successful. It’s a long term investment. Of course nothing happens fast when it comes to horses, so we aren’t making money now, but five years from now the investments we’re making today with these mares and these babies will hopefully pay off.”
Humble, hard working, and determined, the two Castle sisters are definitely stronger together, but Laura will be the first person to tell you that she couldn’t do it without her other half.
“Without Bonnie, I don’t know what I would do,” there’s no hesitation in the oldest Castle sister’s voice, “I would be lost.”
Marthas Six Moons is a foundation bloodline at Castle Farms. They’ve had great success crossing their daughter Touch Of Moonshine on sons of Dash Ta Fame, from Famous Bugs to Firewater Ta Fame. Adding Toast To Martha to their lineup was icing on the cake.
“I really love that cross,” Laura said, “I like the way the babies are, they’re always so easy to start. With each set of two year olds I learn something new. They’re all different, with different styles, but all of them have consistently had the natural ability to be barrel horses.”
“I agree with Laura,” Bonnie echoed her sisters sentiments, “but along with our personal favorites, we are always watching what other people are riding and breeding to. The end goal is to be able to sell and market our horses to performance homes, horses that people will want to ride. We are always studying the market for the smartest, most successful crosses, and it’s always changing.”
Both sisters agree that studying, preparing and studying some more play a huge role in the success of your breeding program. They watch for the current hot stallions every year, and what mares are producing against what bloodlines. It’s sometimes hectic, but necessary to keep up with the times. Each breeding season is a carefully calculated formula, hoping for success the following spring when the next crop of babies hit the ground. Mare power plays an important role for the Castle girls, and they won’t hesitate to tell you that.
Mare power plays an important role for the Castle girls, and they won’t hesitate to tell you that. Some of their broodmares include daughters of Dash For Perks, Prime Talent, and of course Marthas Six Moons. Bloodlines built to make barrel horses.
“What really determines a studs success is who is behind it, promoting it, and what mares they are crossing him on,” Bonnie stated, “that is what will make or break your stud and whether or not people will breed to him, and we really pay attention to that.”
Looking back over the years, both sisters will tell you that while many people have played important roles through out their journey, they both come back to their father, Ken Castle, as being their driving force. It has always been a family affair, then and now. They credit him with their start, from mounting them on horses that taught them the most, to purchasing the mares the would later be the cornerstone of their breeding program.
All of these years I’ve spent riding has been a quest for knowledge, taking bits and pieces from every person I’ve ever learned from, and putting it together” – Laura
“It all started because of him, we have him to thank for buying Moonie as a yearling from the breeder. My dad has always had a tremendous eye for horses,” Laura said, “not only that, but he hauled us all over the country, we have so much to thank him for.”
“We learned how to ride those horses and make them into something, and our dad made sure we built our confidence,” Bonnie added, “he made sure we got put in the hands of trainers who could teach us to be better horsemen.”
Castle Farms is decades of blood, sweat and tears in the making. For all of their success, both Bonnie and Laura are well aware of the work and time it took for them to get where they are today. Looking back, being first generation horsemen, it makes them appreciate the journey even more, even if their perspectives are different.
“It’s hard for me to be patient sometimes,” Bonnie laughed, “that’s probably my biggest struggle through this entire process. I have to remind myself that we are playing the long game, and that it will all pay off.”
“I think one of the hardest things I’ve encountered is that being a first generation horseman, I didn’t have the same opportunities that some girls did who’s families had established trainers and professionals in the industry,” Laura recalled of her earliest insecurities.
“All of these years I’ve spent riding has been a quest for knowledge, taking bits and pieces from every person I’ve ever learned from, and putting it together.”
But in this business, you never stop learning, and Laura is always seeking the best way to hone her skills to give her young horses the best chance possible.
“There are so many ways that people do things, and methods, and you have to take all the information and figure out what you can make work for you. So I’ve constantly been evolving because of that, and I think my two year program is a great example of it paying off, because it’s grown tremendously because of everything I’ve managed to learn.”
Sometimes opportunities of a lifetime present themselves, and Laura will not hesitate to tell you that her biggest learning opportunity came when she got the chance to ride for Bill and Deb Meyers, of Meyers Ranch.
Every day is a rewarding moment for me. Every time I get on a two year old, and they ride better than they did the day before—that’s what keeps me going” – Laura
Nestled in the Black Hills of St. Onge, South Dakota lies the home of the immortal Frenchmans Guy. Laura would help break two year olds for the Meyers’ yearly sale attended by barrel racers and performance horse prospect hunters from all over the country. Meyers Ranch is, without a doubt, home to one of the most prestigious horse sales and two year old training programs in the United States.
“I picked up a tremendous amount of knowledge when I was there, it’s arguably the best two year old programs in the nation, it’s really outstanding. Bill Myers is an incredible horseman, his timing and feel on a horse is something I’ve never seen before. I hope someday I can be half the horseman he is,” Laura said with sincerity.
“I learned an tremendous amount from Brandon Myers too, he puts a lot of the start on those colts, and working side by side with him I learned so much. I am so grateful for everything the Meyers did for me, and I love them like family.”
The training game is always changing, there are always new ways, new methods and new things to try. What works for one horse might not work for another, but it’s the constant change, the never ending hunt for knowledge, that Laura finds most rewarding when she steps back and looks at her two year olds and how far her own program has come.
“Every day is a rewarding moment for me. Every time I get on a two year old, and they ride better than they did the day before—that’s what keeps me going.”
Every big dream starts with a small idea.
When asked what advice they would give to other barrel racers who want to take the leap and make their dream a reality, Bonnie and Laura will tell you that you should start small.
“Find out what you’re good at,” Laura said, “Our situation really worked well. Bonnie is excellent at the business aspect of what we do, and I’m always working at being a better trainer, we focus on what we do best.”
“Definitely figure out what you’re good at, and what you like to do most,” Bonnie emphasized.
“There’s so many different parts of the horse industry you can get involved in. Maybe it’s breeding, or training, or even producing events. You figure out what you’re good at, capitalize on your skills, and start small, because starting with quality first on a small scale will set you up for success. You never want to grow too fast before you’re ready for it.”
Bonnie and Laura are the kind of exceptional individuals whose actions speak louder than words. From sharing the details of their breeding and training program, to staying involved with their young horses and going above and beyond to help their clients, to joking about the woes of barrel racing—there isn’t a topic that these two can’t engage you in.
Competitive, driven, kind and with a sense of humor to match their passion, there’s no doubt as to why the people that know them love them.
More importantly, there’s a genuine love for the sport, and an unconditional love for their horses, that radiates when they talk about them.
G.F.R is proudly partnered with Beyond The Arena
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