By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (March 30, 2016) — The rodeo and barrel racing communities are mourning the loss of a legendary horseman.
Ed Wright, renowned barrel horse trainer, clinician and even author, passed away at his Erath County home Monday. He was 69.
A memorial service is set for 10 a.m. Friday at Cowboy Church of Erath County. Visitation for friends of the family is 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the church.
Stephenville resident Casey Doebbler has worked with Ed and his wife, Martha, since graduating from Tarleton State University in 2004, but she first met the awe-striking horseman at a clinic in Sinton, just north of Corpus Christi, 10 years prior.
“I knew who Ed and Martha were, and I was just excited that he would be the instructor at my first clinic,” said Doebbler. “It was 1994 and I was in junior high and I remember being intimidated by him and just in awe of him.”
Ed Wright was a steer wrestler in his younger days, winning a National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association championship. He continued steer wrestling into the 1980s.
Martha won an NIRA barrel racing title and went on to make two trips to the National Finals Rodeo. She won six of the 10 go-rounds at the 1971 NFR.
But the Wrights, owners of Slash W Barrel Horses, are best known for their training, taking two-year old racing quarter horses and turning them into barrel racing champions, as it says in their biography at EdandMartha.com.
So what set Ed – and Martha, too – apart from so many other successful horse trainers across Texas and the country?
“He had so much patience and such unbelievable timing,” Doebbler explains. “He knew just when to put physical pressure or mental pressure on a horse, but he also knew just when to back off and release that pressure, which is just as important.
“It always amazed me how much of Ed would rub off onto the horses. The horses seemed to propel themselves forward with the same positive energy that Ed and Martha instilled in them, and I still don’t know how to ingrain that into a horse the same way he did.”
She may not be able to replicate Ed’s ways, but Doebbler has found the perfect way to explain them.
“Horses are kind of like kids, and Ed was the perfect parent,” she said. “He was really kind with the horses, and always had the horses’ best interest at heart.”
That passion led to a busy schedule for the ultimate clinician. Busy as in 40-45 weekends a year away from home at clinics across the country and in Canada, Doebbler says. Ed and Martha even spent weeks teaching barrel racing in Italy in the 1990s.
“He got invited to go to Brazil, Australia, all over the world. Everyone knew he was the best,” Doebbler said. “But he didn’t want to travel that far. After Italy, they just went around the US and Canada mostly.”
Doebbler said there is no way to estimate the number of barrel racers from amateurs to NFR qualifiers who can contribute at least some of their success to Ed and Martha.
“It didn’t matter if you were struggling in a rodeo in Eugene, Oregon. You could call Ed up and tell him, ‘My horse ducked the first barrel, what do you recommend,’ and he would help you the best he could over the phone,” she said. “Anyone who loved horses or barrels or both, Ed would help them any way he could.”
Over 22 years of acquaintance with Ed including 12 years working for the Wrights, Doebbler was blessed to get to know not just the trainer, but the man.
“He was always very motivated. He meant what he said, he didn’t sugarcoat things. That doesn’t mean he was brash, he was just honest and called things the way he saw them,” Doebbler explained. “He didn’t really have many hobbies because horses were just his thing. He did enjoy old western movies and reading books.”
But movies, books and just about everything else always came second to training the next great horse.
“He loved horses. Animals were his true passion, and of course horses were his absolute favorite,” Doebbler said. “I always believed he did the schools for the horses, so that people would be better with their horses and learn how to treat them and train them correctly. He never did it just so ‘Suzy’ could win more buckles.”