By Katherine O. Rizzo (first published in the March 2021 Equiery)
If you had asked Barbara Kirchner Magrogan as a child if she wanted a career in the horse industry, she would have said yes, even before ever sitting on a horse. Even as a toddler, she would beg her parents to head over to Golden Horse Shoe, the local hack stable on Layhill Road in Montgomery County, with her older sisters to go for a ride. “They just wouldn’t let me because they said I was too young,” Magrogan explained. But then, when she was around seven, her parents gave her a package of five riding lessons with Dorothy Viera of Weathervane Stables in Spencerville as a Christmas present. That one present has led to a 50-year career with horses.
Becoming a Rider
Magrogan and her eight siblings grew up in the Kensington area. She would often head to Wheaton Park Stables to trail ride with her sisters and friends using money she earned from babysitting gigs. When Viera sold Weathervane, Magrogan followed her to her the new Marshwood Stables and continued to take lessons, as well as starting to show horses for the farm.
Making lifelong friends along the way, Magrogan dabbled into horse ownership when she started working with a friend’s horse named Flower Power in the 1960s. “She was owned by a friend but I rode her a lot and we kept her off of Norbeck Road,” Magrogan remarked. “But it wasn’t until later that I got my first horse of my own.”
It was February 1969 when she bought a horse in Virginia and needed a trailer ride back to Maryland. That is when she met Richard Mills, who recently passed away. Mills picked up her new horse and Magrogan began boarding at his Millhaven Farm. “That’s where I met so many lifelong friends like LuAnne Levens!” Magrogan said smiling. Soon after arriving at Millhaven, she fell in love with an off-the-track Thoroughbred Mills had brought in on consignment. “So I sold my first horse and bought this mare instead. She was a pistol for sure!” Magrogan stated.
After a few months of not-always-successful rides with the mare as she became increasingly unwilling to work, Magrogan sought the advice one of the area’s newest veterinarians, Roger Scullin. Dr. Scullin examined the mare and declared she was in perfect health and would be foaling within a week. “I couldn’t believe she was pregnant and I knew nothing about foaling,” Magrogan explained.
With the help of her newfound Millhaven family, a little brown colt was born on March 17, 1971. Magrogan named him Winning Spree and called him Benedict for short. After he was weaned, she sold “Momma” to a young man in Virginia and moved her colt to Bazy Tankersley’s famed Al-Marah Arabians’ Poolesville location, where Magrogan was working as her private secretary.
Magrogan broke Benedict herself and showed him in hand and on the flat. “I hated to jump so I got Marlene [Allen] to show him for me,” she explained. “He’s the horse that really made a name for me,” she said about Benedict, adding, “and he was the only Thoroughbred at the all-Arabian breeding farm!”
Becoming a Judge
While she started bringing Benedict along, Magrogan was still showing horses at Marshwood Farm. “That’s where I became so impressed with judging,” she said. “I don’t really know why I was drawn to it.”
Magrogan was 21 years old at the time and timidly walked up to show judge Edna Lytle one day asking if she could sit with her to learn how to be a judge. “Edna was so happy to help and took me under her wing,” Magrogan said. “She told me the secret to judging was to keep really good records.” Magrogan and Lytle continue to be friends to this day. “She really became a mentor to me and is still a best friend,” Magrogan added.
Magrogan also shadowed Bruce Fales and Chris Brighoff while watching videos by George Morris, Rodney Jenkins and more.
A few years later, Magrogan was ready to start judging on her own. “My first big show on my own was at the Fredrick County Fairgrounds,” she said. Her judging career started out at the local level and steadily grew from an average of 10 to 12 shows a year in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania to an average of 35 to 40 shows a year all over the United States and Canada. “I really had a hard time saying no to people,” she said with a laugh.
“My sister was big into endurance riding and I got to judge 100 mile rides in Florida and Vermont,” Magrogan said, pointing out that she never restricted herself to just one discipline in terms of judging. “I’ve judged pretty much everything you can think of… except dressage, because I never really had the time to learn enough about it.”
As a side note, for 22 years, Magrogan was also a volunteer fire fighter and often was both the judge and EMT at local shows. “Only at shows with one ring going,” she explained. She created Medical Standby Services specifically to supply EMT services to horse shows as well as festivals, music events and more. “It was a great side gig for all of us volunteers and I’d hire EMTs and such when they had weekends off,” she said. Magrogan retired and sold the company in 1999 due to personal injuries that prevented her from continuing as an EMT.
In 2019 Magrogan judged the Canadian National Pinto Show saying, “It was up near Calgary and man, where those really long days. But it was a super cool experience.” It is experiences like these that Magrogan remembers fondly. “I’ve gotten to do so much through being a judge and it’s been so much fun,” she added.
Breed shows are probably top on the list in terms of what Magrogan enjoys judging most. “I’ve judged almost all the breeds you can think of!” she said, explaining that she even has a Welsh judging certification that allows her to judge Welsh shows anywhere in the world. “I judged the Welsh big national show in California a bunch of times.”
While in California, or wherever judging takes her, Magrogan makes new friends, connects with people she doesn’t get to see that often and even takes in a local concert or two. That’s life on the road for a horse show judge!
“I have to say, I hate judging leadline and love judging leadline at the same time,” she said laughing. “It’s just so hard to pick a winner but I love giving the kids a tip or two.” The educational part of judging is also why Magrogran enjoys working 4-H shows. “It’s basically like giving the kids a mini clinic. I love to teach them something.” She added, “those kids are really eager to learn, and their parents are also eager to learn. You know they walk away having learned something.”
“But it’s the Thoroughbreds I love judging most!” she exclaimed. Magrogan has had a strong connection to Thoroughbreds all her life and says one of the highlights of her judging career was being a judge at the All-Thoroughbred shows held at Pimlico a few years back. “I get goose bumps just thinking about all those good looking Thoroughbreds!”
This March, Magrogan celebrates her 71st birthday as she heads into her 50th year of judging. “I was going to retire last year but with COVID, there just weren’t a lot of shows to judge at so I really wanted to give it another year,” she explained. But at the same time, Magrogan said she is ready to move on from the show world.
Photography is a huge passion for Magrogan, and she’s looking forward to having more time to concentrate on wildlife photography, especially birds. Magrogan, who has been living in Leondardtown with her husband, Mike since 2007, pointed out that not judging in 2020 gave them more time to explore their own community. “We did a lot of walking along the water and in the parks,” she said. “I can’t wait for the ospreys to start nesting again! I really love capturing them in pictures.”
She added, “Mike and I are planning a cross-country road trip once all this COVID stuff is more under control. And that also means lots of taking photos!”
Magrogan does not plan to leave the horse world completely as she still loves meeting up with riding friends, taking photos of morning workouts at the tracks here in Maryland and in Aiken, South Carolina, and helping friends at shows. “I’m just ready to enjoy life in a different way and do things at my own pace,” she said. “It’s been a good life and I can’t complain. I’ve done a lot of stuff!”
The Secretariat Connection
by Barbara Kirchner Magrogan
Barbara Kirchner Magrogan has always had a soft spot for Thoroughbreds. From owning and showing a few to photographing morning workouts at the track, she feels the Thoroughbred will always be the love of her life in the horse world. She shared with us a story about her connection to Secretariat and his people.
In 1973 I attended the Preakness with a bunch of friends from Marshwood Stables. We bought general admission tickets that day and went inside the grandstands to try and find a spot. By the time we stopped and by the grace of God, guess who was standing next to me? Jim Nabors who happened to be singing the National Anthem that day.
He and I struck up a conversation and he was happy to have someone local talking with him because he knew no one and was on his own. We chatted for a while and then they called him down into the paddock to head out on the track, so he says to me, “’Come along with me.” So I did, and all my friends thought I was nuts, but I headed down into the paddock. I went right behind Jim because they all thought I was with him and he pretended like I was!
I went to stall #3 with him and it was then I got to actually pet Secretariat and met Penny Chenery, Ronnie Turcot & Lucian Laurin. Then as suddenly as it started, it was over and Jim went outside and I headed back up to my friends. Of course they all were so jealous!
I followed Secretariat the rest of his racing days but it wasn’t until 2010 that I reconnected with the group on the occasion of Secretariat’s 40th birthday celebration at The Meadow in Virginia. I got a private meet and greet with Penny, Kate Tweedy (Penny’s daughter, who now runs the Secretariat Foundation), Ronnie and Charlie Davis (Secretariat’s exercise rider who went everywhere with him) that night and our friendships took off from there. They took me into the fold because of my wonderful story and the rest is history as the saying goes.
From that moment on and even today, I am part of the Secretariat.com group and have traveled with them all over the country. Charlie and I became very close friends and I ended up being his caretaker, I guess you call it, and would travel with him to the events to make sure he got there safely. Sadly as everyone knows, Penny, Charlie & Bill Nack (the reporter who wrote the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, which was turned into a feature film by Disney) all passed away within months of each other a couple of years ago.
COVID put a stop to all of our Secretariat events last year and looks like this year so far will also have canceled events. We all are a close knit bunch and look forwarding to seeing each other one day again.
Charlie was born in South Carolina and got his start with racehorses when he was about 16 years old. I brought him over to Aiken, SC, in 2013 to meet Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stables. Campbell’s last great racehorse was Palace Malice, who won the Belmont in 2015. These two icons had never met each other and I was privileged to facilitate that meeting. They became fast friends and Charlie visited Aiken several more times over the years.
So that’s my Secretariat story in a nutshell. Not too exciting, except to me!