Sixty-seven-year-old Carolyn Maddox Merrell is not your typical grandmother sitting around, knitting or solving daily crossword puzzles. Instead, the Midlothian resident spends many of her days in a much more exciting and active lifestyle.
Horseback riding — specifically barrel racing.
Carolyn said riding transformed he life after she rode for the first time as a teenager and that her love for riding hasn’t diminished. Even after five decades of horsemanship.
“It relaxes me, I love the comradery of the aspect of being one-with-the-horse, and I still have a very competitive spirit and like to win,” she said after being asked why she enjoys riding so much.
During her illustrious riding career, which has spanned over five decades, she has collected numerous ribbons, trophies, saddles, buckles, blankets, and other awards.
Carolyn said she is very proud of a prestigious saddle she won in 2014 while riding Sid, her 16-year-old American quarter horse — the only one she still owns.
Through pit stops on hardwood floors and tracks and a chance meeting — and marriage — with her high school sweetheart Davey Merrell, Carolyn's love for the art of horse riding never waned.
Born in Hazel, Kentucky in 1950. she tried horseback riding as a teenager and found that it was something she enjoyed doing. Her father bought her first horse when she was 14 years old.
Scared that she might get bucked off and injured, her father demanded she learn to ride her new friend “bareback” for a couple of months before strapping on the saddle. Despite the delay, the bareback horse-riding teen evolved into a cowgirl of monstrous proportions.
She became a permanent fixture at local horse shows, where she performed her horsemanship skills in “Western Pleasure” and “Western Equitation" categories — competitive divisions strictly
graded on correct posture and the horse’s comfortable free flowing stride.
A taste for winning led Carolyn to become more involved in competitive 4-H shows, playdays, rodeos, county fairs, and
parades. As she blossomed as a rider, her mother began taking her to shows throughout Kentucky, and even branched-out into other horse events in Tennessee and Illinois.
Her first ride sparked a fire that burned brightly into her 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond. That passion didn't wane despite a love for orange balls and circular hoops in an era where girls basketball was in its burgeoning stages.
Carolyn said she loved riding but naturally drifted toward the hardwood of local high school gymnasiums since she was raised in Kentucky — where basketball was king.
The tall, slender and athletic girl longed to be part of her local
high school girls’ basketball team when she entered Calloway County High School as a freshman. It wasn't a possibility because, during the 1960s, Kentucky had banned the sport of girls’ basketball after the death of a teenage girl.
Gone were Carolyn's hoop dreams, fading in the distance after the death of the athlete during a school-sponsored basketball game. It, however, led her to track — and about the only other sport offered to
girls at that time.
She did very well in her new-found sport. In fact, she lettered in track all four years of high school. Alive still, though, was the girl riding bareback through fields and valleys.
Carolyn's marriage to Davey in 1970 led her from Kentucky to Texas, where they raised three children in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They finally found their permanent family home in the northern section of Midlothian in 1983, a ranch house with land.
Carolyn still resides in the home.
Through her children's participation in the Duncanville Soccer Association in the 1980s, Carolyn's athletic passion resurfaced. She decided to try-out for the Ladies’ Adult Soccer Division,
and then became a part of several different teams playing out of Duncanville.
And while this sport took up much of her time, she couldn’t seem to quit the horseback riding. She said it was still too important to her.
She did switch specialties in the 80s, opting to become a barrel-racing — which pairs man and horse in a competition that asks them to complete a clover-leaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time — contestant instead.
That barrel-racing path led her to local associations like the DeSoto Riding Club, the DeSoto Wagon Wheel Saddle Club, the Waxahachie Riding Club, the Ellis County Riding Club, and the Cedar Hill Saddle Club, of which she is a current member.
Throughout her years of child rearing, she enlisted her husband until his death in 2007, one of her daughters and her son to join her in some of her horseback riding events. The urge came from the thought Carolyn could pass on a legacy or at least use it as a way to share family time together.
Three of those children, April, Daniel and Kelly, are part of respective Midlothian and Maypearl communities.
When Carolyn retired from the Dallas' Army/Air Force Exchange Service in Dallas in 2010, the fire and passion for riding was alive and well and pointed toward a very specific goal.
“I can’t quit yet," she said. "I still want to win the High Point Competition at finals.”
Those finals and the Sept. 4 Labor Day weekend are quickly approaching.
While she waits for her shot at the finals she continues to compete and enjoy her time on Sid's back and using precious time to pass her passion on to her six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, Danielle — the owner of a mini-horse Carolyn bought her a couple of years ago.
Recently, Carolyn began taking her to a 7-year champion trick rider, who broke Danielle's new horse in. The trainer has already started teaching 3-year-old Danielle to ride her horse.
From the outside looking in, it seems that horseback riding is in the blood of the Merrell family.
And while Carolyn confessed she would be happy one day to ride off into the sunset, leaving behind her legacy and her love for horses with her family that she loves so much, she isn't ready yet.
Until then, she said will cherish doing what she loves to do best — spending time with her horses, her children, and her grandchildren.