Since 1980, Billy Jack Barrett has managed the Pine Valley Equestrian Center at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Growing up in Texas and hanging out around the racetrack, he developed a passion for racehorses and bloodlines, fueled by friendships with some of the industry greats. At times, he’s asked himself why he does what he does when his friends have experienced such great success in the horse world, but it was AQHA Hall of Famer, Walter Merrick, who told him, “Adopting children and taking care of those military families is more important than standing in the winner’s circle.”
Over the years, Billy Jack and his wife, Ann—also an accomplished horsewoman—raised four of their own children and adopted five more. Waiting to begin his family until he was in his forties, Billy Jack says, “God had a plan for me and I was going down that path whether it was my plan or not. I finally figured if we were going to be riding double, I better let him sit in front and have the reins.”
The family lived in a 1904 farmhouse until 2005, when they were chosen for the then-popular TV show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. When the crew showed up in July of that year to perform the project, 6,000 members from the community showed up, as well, signing waivers to volunteer—a surprising turnout by cast and crew standards, who didn’t imagine that kind of response from such a rural area. Billy Jack was less surprised, saying, “Basically, it was a lot of people all from the livestock industry.”
It’s an industry Billy Jack has put to good use in his time as ranch manager, using his resources and horses to create programs like the Warrior Wellness Program, in which veterans and their families can get horseback at no cost.
“I’ve known for years that a lot of people’s sanctuary is on the back of a horse,” Billy Jack states. “One thing I’ve noticed is, you can ride a horse and be concerned, but you cannot ride a horse and worry. When they bring these warriors here, they reunite horseback on these trail rides, or working cattle, and they bond. You’ve got warriors that have never met and they’re roping and dragging cattle to the fire.”
Despite this time of relative calm, Billy Jack remains focused on his role as a member of this great country: “There’s a lot of dedicated young men and women that are willing to sacrifice their lives and I feel like that’s our mission now—to take care of those that contributed so much.”