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Safe Harbor Battle in the Saddle: Murfreesboro


By Allison A. Rehnborg
Photos by Ryan Rehnborg

At many barrel races, the impact of that adrenaline-pumping trip around the barrels begins and ends with those fateful first and final strides across the time line. But at the Safe Harbor Battle in the Saddle, held at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum on June 27-29, 2014 more than 200 barrel racers were doing more than competing for prizes as they zipped around the barrels. They were racing to change lives.

The Safe Harbor Battle in the Saddle in Murfreesboro served as the second in a series of three barrel racing fundraising events this year, each designed to benefit a church ministry program called Safe Harbor. Founded in 1993 in Memphis, Tennessee, Safe Harbor is a faith-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation service with facilities in Little Rock, Arkansas; Memphis, Clarksville, and Nashville, Tennessee. Like many ministries, Safe Harbor was born when the members of a Memphis church congregation stepped up to meet the needs of their local homeless population.

“Our church, Lighthouse, started in 1986,” said Brad Bowie, president of Lighthouse Mission Ministries and a pastor at the church. “My father became the pastor in the late 1980s when I was still a young kid. Our church was in inner-city Memphis, and we started evangelizing to people under bridges and to other homeless people, inviting them into the church and feeding them. They would take showers and eat, but then every Sunday, we’d see them back out there on the streets again. We knew we couldn’t really help them if they didn’t have help for their addictions and the problems they were going through. We felt the Lord really tugging on our hearts to change who we were as a church.”

These days, Safe Harbor serves more than 3,000 needy men and women a year across its four locations, many of whom are homeless people, parolees, or first-time nonviolent offenders.

“They go through a six-month program at Safe Harbor,” Bowie explains. “We cover everything from recovery support, like 12-step programs, to relapse prevention and anger management. We also offer help with life skills, such as fatherhood, parenting, financial literacy, and employment skills. We also have a job program, called Reliable, where we go out into the community and find employment for those men and women. Last year, 1,750 of those that came through our program found employment afterward. One of the cool things about this program is that once those guys go to work, they become tax-paying citizens. Last year, over 1 million dollars were paid in payroll taxes by these men and women going to work. When these people graduate from Safe Harbor, they didn’t just get clothes and food or a safe environment. They got everything they needed to get back on their feet.”

While Safe Harbor is typically funded through its work program and other partners that donate on a monthly basis, other needs often arise that fall outside the norm, such as facility renovations, new roofs, and the purchase of vehicles for the program. That’s where barrel-racing producer Kenny Lane enters the picture.

“Kenny Lane oversees our job program, Reliable,” Bowie explains. “We were meeting one day, talking about fund raisers and how we’ve got projects and roofs that we need, and Kenny said, ‘You know what? I bet we could have a barrel race and raise some of these funds.’ I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ We held our first event last year in Memphis, and we raised $15,000 for the Safe Harbor there. After that, we decided to do three events in 2014, and we’ve got four scheduled for 2015. I’d like to have one to benefit every location.”

Approved by Better Barrel Races (BBR), the Safe Harbor Battle in the Saddle in Murfreesboro bustled with activity from start to finish, with training time, open jackpot classes for adults, and buckaroo classes for the 12-and-under crowd. Vendors populated the concourse, and Safe Harbor raffles and other contests were held throughout the weekend. Prizes for the first to fifth-place finishers – for both open and buckaroo classes – included hand-made buckles and hay bags.

“A lot of people show up for the barrel race, and then they hear about what we’re doing,” Bowie says of the exhibitors. “All of a sudden, they start buying raffle tickets and buying our T-shirts to help people, because they realize, ‘I’m not just here to run and win a check. I’m here to help someone who’s homeless; who might be addicted and hopeless; who doesn’t know if they’ll even be alive tomorrow.’”

For Laura-Lee Metzger of House Springs, Missouri, the appeal of helping others while taking a trip around the barrels was part of what drew her to the show.

“I love the ministry connection,” Metzger says. “It’s a different avenue to spread the word and feels less intrusive. Some people would have a hard time if you were to walk up to their doors and say, ‘Hey, I wanna talk to you about God.’ But this is, ‘Hey, come to a barrel race and hear about God.’ I had an aunt who once told me, ‘Whenever you’re in a position to give back, do it, whatever way it is.’ And I think this is an incredible way to do that.”

The show represented an important personal milestone for Metzger and her 16-year-old American Quarter Horse, Maverick, who have been together for more than ten years – ever since Metzger started riding.

“Maverick was in a trailering accident last year, and we’re just coming off not riding for a whole year,” Metzger explains. “We were hauling to our farrier, and someone pulled out crossways in front of me. I avoided a head-on collision, but the bumper pull trailer came off the truck, hit the nose, rolled over, and slid.”

After slamming her truck into park, Metzger jumped out of the cab and ran to the trailer, expecting the worst. But as she peered inside the mangled trailer, she found her horse miraculously standing on all four feet.

“He had pulled tendons in the front and had a lot of contusions,” Metzger remembers. “The bulbs of all four feet were chopped off, but there were no broken bones. It could have been way worse. When I jumped out of the truck, I didn’t even look when I crossed the street. I could have been hit by a car. When I got to the trailer, he could have been dead. When you process all that – the fact that we just had to take a year off was good by me. And now – he’s sound today. We ran 21 seconds on Friday and 19 seconds on Saturday, and I was like, whoo-hoo!”

Jenise Buchanan of Knoxville, Tennessee was both an exhibitor and a sponsor. A recent transplant from Wyoming, Buchanan owns Hope Ranches, which offer boarding, training, and lessons, as well as all-natural health care products for horses.

“We’re kinda new, and we’re bringing a lot of nice ranch horses and turning them into barrel horses and lesson horses; we’re just trying to get our names out there,” Buchanan says. “We’re a main sponsor and we have a booth up on the concourse. We wanted to help out, because we don’t know anyone here.”

Buchanan learned about the Safe Harbor program when she met Kenny Lane at another equine event in Alabama.
“I didn’t know much about Safe Harbor before, but I think it’s pretty neat,” Buchanan says. “I think it’s awesome that they’re taking people and bettering their lives. Who doesn’t need that? It doesn’t matter where you are, whether you have an addiction or not. It’s always great to have someone behind you, giving you that pat on the back and helping you get to a better place.”

Bowie couldn’t agree more. “We believe that there’s hope for folks who are addicted, and that there’s hope for the hopeless who feel like life is done. Usually by the time we get people, they’ve tried everything. Their parents have tried everything. They’ve been through many rehabs and thirty-day programs. We feel with all our hearts that the missing element is Jesus Christ. Without a strong relationship with Him, ain’t none of us gonna get very far.”

The Safe Harbor Battle in the Saddle in Murfreesboro raised approximately $8,000 in funds, which will benefit the men and women in the Safe Harbor programs in Nashville and Clarksville. The Battle in the Saddle season finale is August 1-3 at the Show Place Arena, Memphis, TN. For more information, please visit

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