From Local Arenas to Vegas Lights

Lake Gibson Teen Finishes 7th in Nation in American Quarter Horse, Qualifies for Run for a Million


In the fast-paced world of equestrian sports, few stories shine quite as brightly as that of local 17-year-old Kinley Hardee of Lake Gibson High School. Recently finishing seventh in the nation in the American Quarter Horse competitions, Kinley has not only shown the world her formidable talent but also qualified for the Run for a Million, the most famous event in the history of reining, cow horse, and cutting. 

This year, the event will be held at the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, from August 12-17. But the event isn’t the final goal. Instead, for Kinley and her family, it’s a celebration of all the hard work she’s put into the arena thus far. 

Her story isn’t an ordinary one, and it starts at the young age of 3.

A Lifelong Passion for Horses

Kinley reflects that horses have been in her blood for “as long as I could remember.” Her parents bought her first pony when she was just 3, the age when most kids are just getting the hang of riding a tricycle. 

It wasn’t until she was 7, though, that things really started to take hold. That’s when her parents bought her a 4-H show horse. She started by competing in barrel racing in local rodeos, but she admits that at first, her goal wasn’t zipping around barrels as quickly as possible at first. “I just wanted it to look pretty,” she admits. “I was very scared of going as fast as the other girls my age were going on their horses.”

Fortunately, her grandmother Nancy Hardee, who had shown horses earlier in her life, along with her mother, Taryn, took Kinley under their wing. By the age of 11, Kinley had built her confidence and was both riding and showing one of her grandmother’s reining horses, YOLO, in 4-H. 

Just one year later, she found herself showing at national shows. 

The Journey to Excellence

For Kinley’s family, it wasn’t a big surprise that she became so successful in equestrian sports. “Kinley works hard in everything she does,” Taryn Hardee says. “It is a blessing to watch her find a passion and work on it on a daily basis.”

Kinley has now ridden her horse SHR Banjo Lenas Kid, aka Ducky, for a full year. 

“The growth they’ve accomplished in just one year amazes me,” she continues. “Kinley has worked very hard to finesse her riding skills in each maneuver as she works on her goal to improve in the National Reining Horse Association Rookie classes.  She makes us proud every time she steps into the arena.”

Kinley maintains the same intense focus outside of the arena, as well, with a rigorous schedule that balances school, work, and after-school lessons with her trainer. She rides her horse at least three days a week after school as well as on Saturdays.

Often, her commitment to riding comes at the expenses of “regular high school activities” like attending football games, but Kinley is okay with that, Taryn Hardee says. “She’s determined to be a better rider, so she sacrifices those activities.”

Kinley strives to do well in school, taking a full course load that includes an AP class, an online college Algebra class, and even a dual enrollment class. She supplements her schoolwork with tutoring every week to make sure she’s caught up amidst a busy travel schedule for national shows.

That hard work has paid off, and she reached a major milestone early in 2024.

Qualifying for the RUN FOR A MILLION

Kinley finished seventh in the nation in American Quarter Horse, an incredible feat that resulted in her qualifying for the Run for a Million. This highly competitive event welcomes 16 of the most accomplished riders in the world of reining to compete for a purse of $1 million. This isn’t your everyday 4-H event; it’s a major national competition. 

Despite her lifelong achievements in the equestrian world, Kinley admits she was surprised to discover she had even qualified for the event. It was the first year she’d ever shown in a class where she was eligible to qualify. 

“Me and my horse still have a lot of learning to do together, so having a well thought-out ride, and keeping a good score for my ride, is my goal for this show,” the Lakeland teen says. 

Equestrian sports demand a deep connection between rider and horse, and Kinley has worked hard to cultivate this with Ducky. “Staying loyal to your horse will help them build trust in you. I’m not only teaching Ducky, but he is also teaching me.”

Overcoming Challenges and Looking Forward

Kinley cites her biggest inspirations as her grandmother, her parents, and her brother. All of them have pushed her to do her best in different ways. “I truly would not be anywhere near where I am today without the support of my amazing family,” she says.

So what’s next for this budding young equestrian? Kinley is considering a few colleges that have offered her spots on their collegiate equestrian teams. Her short-term goal is to win the Rookie of the Year at the NRHA Futurity in Oklahoma City, but after that, she’d like to pursue her degree. She wants to focus on building her career before she goes back to showing reining horses, but she says she wouldn’t dream of quitting riding.

“Being around horses in general, no matter what type of event or breed of horse, is truly one of the best blessings that can come into someone’s life. I have learned so much just by spending time at the barn, and they teach valuable lessons through your years. They are truly my best blessings.”

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