Family is the focus at Circle Bar C Ranch in La Grange

Story from Louisville Courier Journal – Click to see the video

Jason Cornett stands near the stables in the arena at his Circle Bar C Ranch near La Grange, watching a competitor on a quarter horse careen by after coming down the last obstacle in the Extreme Horse Challenge.

His wife, Ashley, is at work in the announcer’s booth, above the arena. His father-in-law is clocking the competitors, and his father is filling in by doing other duties around the facility.

For Cornett, the facility is a family affair — the “C” in Circle Bar C standing for “Cornett,” the “Circle” symbolizing eternity and the “Bar” representing the idea of keeping outsiders out and protecting the family.

And with help from them and other family members, he hopes the ranch will grow, with more events in his new 55,000-square-foot indoor arena and more horses being kept in his stables, which he plans to increase from 68 to 311.

“Everybody that is here is family,” said Cornett, 42. “Nothing is more important than family.”

Cornett bought what would become Circle Bar C, in the L’Esprit area of Oldham, in 1995 and started building facilities on the land a decade later.

But it was perhaps just after Thanksgiving that he was reminded again about the value of family.

On Nov. 28, the Cornetts’ four-bedroom home was engulfed in flames — a blaze that started in the chimney.

“It was a long, cold day that day. I had started a fire in the Buck Stove in the basement,” he said. “By 9:30, we were both asleep.”

They were then awakened shortly after midnight by the fire.

The couple got out safely, but their possessions were destroyed, along with the home. The bits and pieces of the foundation that remain can be seen from the side of the arena.

“Before I knew it my entire family was there,” he said of the night of the fire.

And the couple have carried on, living with family and searching for a new home builder.

He has tried to not let the tragedy dampen their plans for the arena. It was completed last spring.

“We can train here and compete 12 months a year,” he said.

Ashley Cornett, 26, was part of the impetus for the arena, which is one of the largest privately owned facilities of its kind in the state.

She is a competitive barrel racer, which involves speeding on horseback around sets of barrels.

And with the goal of going to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas — “the Super Bowl of horse events” — she needed a place to practice.

“I love the speed,” she said. “It’s just been addictive.”

With 100 horses to care for on the property, Ashley Cornett said she hasn’t practiced as must as she would have liked to, but she is looking forward to Charmayne James, an 11-time barrel racing world champion, coming to Circle Bar C in June to teach a clinic.

“That’s as big as it gets,” Jason Cornett said.

He hopes to hold one horse show a week in the arena and have at least one clinic a month. Several, including more Extreme Horse Challenges, are already planned this year.

“It’s truly an awesome arena,” said Lori Hoene, an equine feed specialist with Southern States Cooperative. “This is a really good local, central facility for the area.”

Don “Stick” McCarty, from Trimble County, came to watch the Extreme Horse Challenge and was happy to find such a venue so close to home.

“We go all over,” including to Tennessee, Illinois and Ohio, he said. “It’s a well-designed facility.”

The footing — the clay, silt and sand mixture on the ground of the arena — is also “some of the best” he’s seen.

The Cornetts spent more than a year formulating the mixture with a company in Texas so that the horses would have good traction while not being hindered by it.

More than 170 semi-truck loads of the footing now make up the floor of the arena.

“Anybody can build a pretty building, but what’s important is what the horses are working in,” he said. “That’s what makes an arena a great arena.”

Circle Bar C also includes more than 100 acres of pasture for horses to graze and more than 50 miles of trails to ride.

Jason Cornett had worked in the security and surveillance industry but then sold his company, Core Security, in 2003 to focus on the ranch full time.

“I said, ‘If you’re sure you love it. … You were so successful’ ” with the security company, his father, Ben, remembered telling him at the time. “He said, ‘That is a different type of success.’ ”

“There’s something to be said about the smile on your face every morning,” Jason Cornett added later.

And with his family around, that has even more come true, he said.

“It’s been my dream all my life,” he said.

Written by
Emily Hagedorn
The Courier-Journal