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Do It For Dad

Heidi Jo Dawson’s father unexpectedly passed away the day before she ran in the finals at the 2017 NBHA Open World Championships. She dedicated her run to his memory and came home with a world title.

Hardly anything about the 2017 National Barrel Horse Association World Championship Show went as planned for Heidi Jo Dawson. Her father, Dirk Henry Aissen of McHenry, Illinois, unexpectedly passed away at age 76 on November 3, 2017—the day before the final go-round. Knowing there wasn’t much she could do if she headed home, Dawson stayed in Georgia and ran Skips Gold Moocha in the finals. In return, “Xena” and Dawson were blessed with a time of 16.78 to win the 5D world championship title and $2,321.

“I’m overwhelmed to say the least, with everything that happened when I lost my father yesterday, and my son is up in Heaven also, so I dedicate the championship to them,” Dawson said. “There was nothing I could do when I got home so soon, because he was still in autopsy stage. I know my dad would have said, ‘You drove all this way from Wisconsin, you stay there and you go for it.’ My family also wanted me to stay.”

The NBHA and barrel racing community have played a close role in helping Dawson cope with family tragedies.

“I was also an NBHA State Director when my son died, so I was running my state show in 2012 when I lost my son, and that was hard too,” the Elkhorn, Wisconsin, resident said. “Tragedy is sometimes on your side.”
Dawson’s horses have been a special source of therapy and support.

“You can always talk to the horse,” Dawson said. “When you’re mad, sad, glad, the horse stands there and listens to you and gives you a hug back. They’re very soothing and quiet animals, and sometimes going down to the barn at night and hearing them chew their grass and hay is very soothing.”

In addition to 9-year-old Xena, who’s by GQH Skips Gold Zip and out of Zips Choclat Moocha by Zippos Eagle, Dawson also owns a 4-year-old appendix eventing prospect. She shares a special relationship with Xena, having owned her since the mare was 4.

“She’s my warrior princess,” Dawson said. “I can’t say any bad vice about her at all. She’s a super sweet girl, not a mean bone in her body. She has grown up with me. When I raise my voice at her she kind of stops—she does not like to get scolded.”

Dawson, who owns a boarding stable and Dawson Express transport company, is thankful for her family and friends who supported her during a bittersweet weekend.

“I’m on the road quite often, and then I do barrel racing. I’m very blessed not to have to go punch a time clock,” Dawson said. “I did have two boys who live in Texas and three grandchildren. I had family all over the U.S. watching the live broadcast, and my friend from West Virginia stayed behind to help me. I thank the Lord above for having my family look down upon me.”

By Blanche Schaefer, photo by