(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves) [Order this photo]
Luckily, the Bedford County native found that way home. He was recently named the new marketing and media director for the Celebration and Calsonic Arena.
Working with, around and for the horse industry is hardly new stuff to Barnett.
"We grew up with horses," he said. "My dad had a farm. He said he got it to raise his kids and teach them how to work."
Apparently his parents, Jim and Mary Lou Barnett, taught Dale, his brothers Duane and Larry and their late sister Carol Ann, how to work very well. Dale not only went on to get a masters degree in horse science, but his younger brother, Duane, is a veterinarian.
Dale got even more involved with horses when he joined 4-H and FFA, and he is quick to give his dad, former Extension agent David Gordon and FFA teacher Larry Moorehead credit for his own success.
"I owe all my horse endeavors to them," he said.
Barnett loves the Tennessee walking horses, but strives to be a horseman, going beyond breed.
"We grew up primarily with quarter horses, but I want the community and industry to know me as a horse person, regardless of breed or industry," he said.
The wide range of interests in all things equine is one of the qualifications that earned him not only this position, but the one he held before, as the manager of the Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex in Raleigh, N.C.
The Hunt Horse Complex is one of the busiest equine event facilities in the eastern part of the United States. The facility arenas were booked 50 weeks with 179 total event days during 2010.
Although there were some events that were not horse-related, as there are at the Calsonic Arena, most of them were. Walking horses, standardbreds, Arabians ... all manner of breeds paraded the Hunt grounds.
"Forty percent was show jumping," said Barnett.
Barnett also has a tremendous amount of judging experience. He judged various breeds and types of shows professionally throughout his career including National and World Championship shows in the United States and abroad. He has served on several breed association judges and rules committees at the national level.
Through collegiate team judging programs -- Barnett taught equine science for 12 years -- he met Doyle Meadows, CEO of the Celebration. When the marketing position became available, Meadows contacted Barnett.
"With my parents getting older, I was ready to move back home," he said.
"We are excited to have Dale join the staff at The Celebration," said Meadows. "He is a true horseman and has the love, respect and passion for all breeds, events and aspects of the horse industry. We look forward to the many great opportunities and challenges for Dale to further market and promote the Calsonic Arena and the TWHNC."
His wife, Liz, and his daughters, Jordan, 1, and Meagan, 9, are still in Raleigh, finishing out the school year. Barnett is eager to get them down here so they can start looking for houses -- and horses.
"This is the longest I've ever been without owning a horse," he said.
In the meantime, he's already diving into the job, studying the local market and seeing just what Calsonic and the Celebration can offer. Expanding the calendar of Calsonic is one of his goals as the new marketing director.
"My primary responsibility is bringing in more events that will be more inviting, and will bring in more people. We want to fill the seats as well as the stalls," said Barnett. "We encourage the community to come out to all the events and bring a friend or two."
Finding the right match of event to arena is also important.
"Some facilities like to be all things to all people, but that's not our goal," he said. "The footing is set up for certain activities. There may be certain types of horse shows that wouldn't be a good fit.
"We know what we do exceptionally well and we're going to be looking for opportunities for expansion. Not to be all things to all people -- unless we can do that exceptionally well, too."
Besides looking for better, Barnett is looking for bigger.
"We're looking for bigger horse shows, ones that call for 150 stalls or more," he said.
Barnett attended his first Celebration board meeting last week and said the thing that impressed him the most was that the board was not made up exclusively of horse industry people, but of community leaders. Community, he said, plays a vital role in the success of the arena and the Celebration and he is impressed to see that community played a vital role in its governance as well. The millions of dollars the Celebration has helped raise for charity over the years through the civic group concessions alone show how closely interwoven the Celebration is with Bedford County.
Barnett also welcomes community input.
"I really want to know what you want to see at Calsonic," he said. "E-mail me with suggestions, call me."
You can reach Barnett at email@example.com.