Person of Interest: Barb Hall


There are many adjectives you could use to describe Barbara Hall; simple is not one of them. Multi-faceted as any gem, she shines in her own right.

Barbara Frey Hall is the “First Lady” of harness racing in the state of Florida. At the time of her application, women were not allowed to be licensed in this state to race, be it the flat track or harness and she was denied. However, after a legal battle ensued on the behalf of another woman destined for the flat track, the state decided to change its position and grant both women a license to participate in a sport known mostly to men. 

Though impressed with her title of “first”, after meeting with Barb on several occasions I am more impressed by the culmination of the total person. I can truly say I have never met anyone who “lives life” more than Barb.

Barbara Hall was born and raised in Athens, Ohio. Unbeknownst to her father who worked in law enforcement and owned a motorcycle shop, Barb bought her first horse at age 13. Though her father had promised her a motorcycle she was pursuing a different kind of horsepower.

Working nights and weekends as a drive-in restaurant carhop she saved her hard-earned cash and started the pursuit that continues to this day, a life with horses.

Boarding her horse at the local fairgrounds, she rode horses for other people as well as her own. Then she started training harness horses and eventually made her way onto the track at Northfield Park in Ohio. Fast “track” to Pompano Beach, Florida where she decided she wanted to drive as well as train. Even though her adventure in Florida got off to a rocky start, she prevailed. It was reported that when she was given her silks for her first race she wasn’t satisfied with them. So she went home and made her own.

That in itself pretty much sums up Barbara Hall: If you want something done, you just get out there and do it.

Not that life has always been easy for her. Barb has three daughters, one of whom passed at 11 years of age due to a tragic horse-riding accident; life is never the same after the loss of a child.

Eventually, she met Mabrey Hall and according to Barb, they both had cattle ranches so they merged the cattle and became one…ranch. She also has a sense of humor, right?

Mabrey retired from Chevron Oil and assisted Barb with her training of harness horses, some of which they bred and owned. With decades of racing and many wins, Barb was successful in a sport that she made history in. When Mabrey became unable to assist her due to his health, she made the decision to hang up her silks. It was a decision made in his best interest.

With that done, they moved to Sumter County and have resided in Oxford to this day. Though Mabrey passed a few years back, Barb has continued to thrive and live a very full and horse-centered life.

She has bred and raised and trained Standardbreds, Quarter Horses with a few other breeds thrown in. At this time she owns 9 horses, most of which she has trained herself. She has ridden trail (still does), worked cows, broke and trained horses (still does) and competed in various disciplines.

Her animals love her. A colt named Rojo who was foaled by Doll, one of her own mares is hanging around the backside of the “Music and Cowboy Church barn”, also known as Barb’s Barn. She calls his name and he immediately walks over to the fence where she cups his nose in her hand and gives him a kiss.  A colt less than 5 months of age who immediately approaches when called has been more than just handled or trained. He knows and trusts completely. A trip to Georgia was recently made to buy him a buddy to hang out with after he is weaned. According to Barb, “so he will have someone to grow up with and not be lonely”. She understands the herd mentality and his need for that companionship. Not only does she understand it, but she also supports it. She walks the walk.

Two small dogs, Gia and Izzi, shadow her as she walks from building to building. Both are rescues; Gia has only one eye. Peacocks roam as well as chickens. A feral cat who only tolerates the attention of strangers at a distance has made Barb her best friend.

Then there are the snakes. A good friend and self-proclaimed chosen daughter, Marise Flippin, laughs as she recalls a recent visit to Barb’s, where she was enlisted to help remove a couple of rat snakes who had taken up residence in the chicken coop. Barb pulled them out of their lair (these aren’t small snakes, they are strong!), stashed them in pillowcases and then proceeded to relocate them. It just proves, at least to me, that Barbara Hall is one awesome lady.

A few years ago, Barb befriended Kenny K Rogers, a musician and a minister who would hold “Cowboy Church” and jam sessions where he resided in his neighborhood. Complaints from residents due to parking issues resulted in an “eviction” of he and his band “The Country Showmen”. With no complaints from Barb, he casually announced that from that time forward they would hold the jams at Barb’s Barn.

What started out as a structure intended to house farm equipment became a meeting place for those in the area who enjoy and participate in country music, whether singing or playing. Pot luck is also available with different participants bringing food as well as Barbara cooking as well. Money is not requested but donations are welcome to cover expenses.

The barn itself has grown in dimension and became air-conditioned as well as decorated in true country style since the beginning of the jams. Rows of chairs are lined up for all who wish to attend. Winter months bring the largest attendance when at times having over a hundred guests in the audience.

Sadly, Barb lost Kenny Rogers this past year due to illness. While his death has most certainly left a void in her life, their friendship created an ongoing presence that cannot be denied. And in doing so also created an atmosphere of love, joy, and serenity for those who find their way to Barb’s Barn. 

The Wednesday I attended the jam session, the audience sang along at times, guest singers appeared and a neighboring Pit Bull named Pug sat beside me in a chair and then reclined in my lap. Ever so often looking up at me with liquid brown eyes that would melt the heart of the most reserved. Apparently, the owner drops him off because the dog loves socializing, music and just jammin’. Smart dog.

Also at the jam session was a vain male peacock who continuously admired his reflection in the window situated at the back of the barn. Entertainment for him, while he entertained those of us inside watching him display and peering inside with an occasional peck on the window pane.

And then, of course, Sundays find a certain type of people gathering to worship. People who belong to a group that feels more comfortable around barns and horses and yes, cowboys and cowgirls. They all meet to pray and sing and find comfort together as Christians.

A volunteer band plays and sings gospel familiar in most churches; a number of the band have never played or practiced together previously. Guests are welcome and encouraged to take the stage or to sing along. Dogs roam the aisles or sit next to their owners.

Training clinics and shows are held on the property by guest clinicians and trainers. In some cases, attendees remain overnight due to distance traveled.

With all the attention that a ranch or farm requires, Barb does most of the work on her 35-acre spread and her love of the land and all that reside there is obvious. We take a walk to the back of her property where a small lake fills what used to be a limestone quarry.

The water sparkles blue and with boulder type rocks lining the area, it gives all the appearance of a landscape you would find in a different locale. Horse tracks are evident along with a sense of the surreal like you are completely transported to someplace other than the sunshine state. Yet the moss-draped oaks and bright summer sky (and yes the humidity) bring you back to a reality that is truly Florida. We walk back to the barn that has become the center of so much activity and touches so many lives. And it truly does.


Whenever Barb Hall’s name comes up in conversation, there is always a positive response. Many are willing to tell you how she has helped them and others in the past, present, and future. Then there is the shared passion for music and all things horses.  An atmosphere that resonates with so many and gives them the opportunity to “belong”. All are welcome, no matter their age, gender or lifestyle.

Perhaps Barb Halls’s greatest legacy will not only be the first lady of harness racing in Florida but also her reputation for being kind, generous, a good friend…and of living life each and every day to the fullest.

All excellent reasons for Barb Hall to be our very first “Person Of Interest” for Horse & Rider Living. Thanks Barb!

Barb currently resides in Central Florida with her three horses; when she’s not writing or riding for HRL, she loves to read and travel.