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November 15, 2013

Baker shares passion for horses, competition

CLAREMORE — Rogers County property owners write checks to her. Kids of all ages love to see her dressed up to celebrate what she calls “Halloween-Hoop-La.”

She’s Rogers County Treasurer Cathy Pinkerton Baker. Some may not know that she is also a skilled and competitive equestrienne. A lifelong horse lover, Baker said she comes from a “rodeo family” and started riding at a young age.

A high school athlete, she played ball at what was then Claremore Junior College on a scholarship and continued to enjoy volleyball and basketball as a young adult. When “it got hard for me to get up and down the court,” she took up barrel racing “so the horse could do the running.”

For more than 20 years, Baker continued to let her horses do the running — around barrels in top level contests.

Then, in November of 2012 at the Lazy L Arena in Ochelata, her high speed ride ended with serious injury. As she and her horse, “appropriately named Rookie, ” completed their run, Rookie spooked at the sight of a closed arena  exit gate.

When he swerved into the cattle chute, his unbalanced rider went out of the saddle and into that chute. She sustained eight broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Baker spent four days at St. John Medical Center and another 30 staying with her mother “to rehab.”

She said the painful recovery put her at a “crossroads.”

“It would have been so easy,” she said, “to give up riding, especially in competition.”

 “It was by the grace of God that I could come back — to walk, to be back at my job, and to compete.”

She is grateful that she had her faith and her sustaining drive to get back on and ride. She calls her return to the barrel racing circuit “a slow comeback.” Her doctor probably disagrees.

She is now riding a seasoned 15-year-old Quarter horse named Gunner. He too, is making a comeback, after surgery to repair a broken splint bone.

This month, Baker and Gunner are racing Wednesday nights at the Expo Center in the Fall Frenzy Barrel Series. Dec. 5 they head to Tulsa for a big competition, and they are already qualified for another top event scheduled for April in Nebraska.

Cathy Baker isn’t just competitive in the arena. She smiled as she related her journey to the county treasurer’s office. After studying at CJC, she went to work for a microfilm company in Tulsa. When the Tulsa County treasurer wanted a microfilm library set up, she got the assignment.

Something about that setting must have intrigued Baker, she worked in Tulsa County for six years, then came back to Claremore and asked Rogers County Treasurer Loy Boyd for a job.

She worked in his office until he retired then headed back to school to earn her education degree.

Already holding as associate’s degree in accounting, she wasn’t sure if she would “become a teacher, a nurse or a politician.”  When she tossed her hat into the ring for Rogers County Treasurer and won, the decision was made.           

Baker has held the office since 1991.

October visitors to the office know Baker does love Halloween. Maintaining a more formal atmosphere in the new courthouse, the staff still wore costumes and had candy for trick or treaters.

All year, she celebrates her health and return to riding. Baker insists she is “blessed to have the horses” and share the love of them with her grandchildren. Her children, Jason Baker and Jamie Baker Dillard, rode as children. Her grandchildren — Azya, Quentin, Malakai, Malailib, Jaxon and Kason have opportunities to come ride with her. A recently acquired paint horse called King seems to be a favorite mount.

Does she encourage youngsters to get into barrel racing? Yes! She advises them to get into a 4-H program or join their local round up club and attend clinics, workshops and play days to gain knowledge and experience.

Baker also teaches her grandkids about the responsibilities of horse ownership.

“We haul hay together,” she said.

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