Barbara was born in 1913, the daughter of a mule skinner, at the Sunny Bank Farm in Nicholas CA. It has been said that her father could drive up to 28 mules on a jerk line, while riding the left wheel mule. At four Barbara was riding her own mule to school. At six, she was putting together her own teams of ponies, pulling her wagon behind her father’s larger freight wagons. Sometimes she would crawl in her wagon and sleep while her pony hitch followed along behind her father. The Great Depression brought hard times to her family as it did to all. Forced to sell part of their ranch, her parents chose to divorce. Barbara’s show winnings, even as a young girl, helped support her mother, until she remarried longtime horseshoer and friend, Bert Brown.
Barbara continued showing, and during the depression she brought her winnings home to help support the family. These earnings were compliled from every event she could enter; hunter/jumpers, polo horses, stock horses, 3 and 5 gaited horses, western pleasure, western riding, trail horses and endurance horses. Since her step father’s horse budget limited out at $200, Barbara was winning on horses that others had passed over because of lameness or attitude problems. An example was a horse named Frank Fallon. She found him at a horse show, when he flipped upon his rider, creating quite a scene. She knew an opportunity when she saw one, and promptly purchased him for the grand total of $225. When she got the horse home she found his mouth had been wired shut, and then wired to a standing martingale and caveson. His ears were so full of warts he could hardly accept the bridle. With care and patience, Frank Fallon became one of the most famous hunter/jumpers of all time. Barbara rode him for 11 years and when retired, he was considered the best conformation hunter in the nation.
As Barbara Worth grew into adulthood, she was a successful owner of her own stables and after a short courtship, she became the wife of fellow trainer Charlie Zimmerman. Charlie was dashing and appealing to judges and Barbara’s students. He took over lessons, and trained along side Barbara. Soon differences became apparent. He liked horses that fit his style, so the others went to Barbara. This was not a problem for her however, as she trained to suit the horse, and she was the one who was winning. World War II entered the picture and Zimmerman enlisted, hoping to make officer and become the commandant of the horse training facility at Fort Riley, KS. Barbara went to visit and stayed on for a time training horses and recruits, as well as riding Olympics mounts. Upon her return to California she continued to show, adding dressage, reiners, steeplechase, and hackney ponies to her resume. Eventually Zimmerman returned to California, but their differences drove them apart.
When the Cow Palace was built, Barbara and her horse Balbriggan made the jump-offs against the same rider 5 years in a row. She met a fellow named Don Dodge.
In a new era, Dodge and Barbara married. During their time together they owned and showed such industry legends as Poco Lena, Snipper W, Tivio Bar, and Mona Lisa. Although their marriage lasted only 8 years they remained friends for life.
Barbara eventually married one more time, and her union with Bill Oakford lasted over 3 decades. They were together to the end.
During her incredible career, Barbara Worth was: Horsewoman of the Year in 1962, All Breeds Awards Association Horsewoman of the Year in 1971, subject of the Pacific Coast’s Horse Shows Association video “‘A Tribute to Barbara Worth”‘ in 1994, and was inducted into The Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1994. She truly “‘won it all”‘. In her day, only cavalry men were allowed to ride in the Olympics, or perhaps a Gold Medal would have been part of her legacy as well.