When Barbara Brooks first met her husband, country superstar Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, in Maine in 1979, she couldn’t have predicted the wild ride her life was about to become.
“I’m from Boston, but I moved to Maine after college and had a fabric store there. Kix was there, having left his native Louisiana to help his sister and brother-in-law at their fledgling ad agency,” Barbara recalls.
Kix left Maine the following year to pursue his musical career, but their relationship survived the separation, and she followed him to Nashville a year later. They married in 1981, and Kix settled into life as a working songwriter and singer. Kix spent a decade as a songwriter before rising to stardom in the early 1990s as half of the duo Brooks & Dunn with No. 1 hits like “Brand New Man” and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”
Meanwhile, Barbara was at home raising the couple’s two children, Molly (now 28) and Eric (26), and pursuing her own interest – horses.
“I’ve been horse crazy since birth, but my parents never had the money to support that,” she says. “Kix gave me my first horse, a Paint mare named Angel, for my 40th birthday.”
Realizing An Equine Dream
That was 1994, and before long, the couple was searching for a second horse for Kix so they could ride together.
“There was a big sale in Oklahoma, and Kix sent me to look for another Paint mare with the idea that we would breed them both and make some babies,” Barbara says. “I took a girls’ trip to Oklahoma on the tour bus and had a ball. And that’s when I saw a cutting horse work for the first time.”
Her excitement about that cutting horse turned their second Paint mare into a Quarter Horse gelding, and Barbara’s passion for the sport of cutting began. Soon after, they hired their longtime horse trainer, Brad Mitchell.
Within a few years, Barbara began breeding Quarter Horses at the couple’s 550-acre Painted Springs Farm in Williamson County. When the horses are 2 years old, they start training for cutting, an equine sport in which a horse and rider select a single cow from a herd, gently guide it away from the herd, and with fast starts, stops and turns, prevent it from escaping back to the herd. In competition, cutting is a test of intelligence, training, breeding and skill, and the horse and rider have to work together as a team.
“Historically, cutting comes out of a rancher’s need to separate one cow from a herd in order to wean it, vaccinate it or whatever they need to do,” Barbara explains. “It goes back to a cowboy going into a herd to get a single calf out, and keeping it separated from the herd until it could be roped by another cowboy.”
Over the years, it’s been stylized and made into a competition with rules and plusses and minuses given for how well the task is accomplished.
“The speed and agility of the horse as it reacts to the cow’s moves make it like the best carnival ride you’ve ever been on,” Barbara says. “It’s totally addicting. Once you’ve been on a cutting horse, you’re going to want to do it again.”
Barbara competes in cutting horse competitions and has won more than $300,000 in her career. From 2001 until 2010, Barbara and Kix hosted an annual cutting horse competition in Franklin called the Music City Futurity, which brought competitors and their horses from all over the United States and Canada. In its 10-year run, the Music City Futurity raised $1.5 million for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.
“Shows with a charitable component always meant more to me, because there was a true connection to the community,” Barbara says.
In June 2013, Barbara became president of the National Cutting Horse Association, which puts on three shows in Texas each year, as well as one in Jackson, Miss. and another in the Western U.S. She served until June 2014.
On Kix’s Music
Speaking of music, being married to a celebrity has had its rewards, as well as challenges.
“Thankfully, Kix has always been focused on our kids and family,” Barbara says. “But when he was touring really heavily in the ’90s, it was hard. Our kids were little and I quit my job to be home. Kix and Ronnie [Dunn] were on a bus and didn’t get to come home often.”
Though Barbara never had any musical ambitions herself, she always had faith in Kix’s talent.
“It was always fun for me to introduce him to my friends and see them get excited when he played a few songs,” she laughs. “He’s always been an entertainer. He can grab hold of an audience, whether it’s three people or 30,000.”
Barbara has always enjoyed going on the road with Kix, and during the summers when the kids were young, she and the kids went along as much as they could.
“It was always fun being on the road. The kids loved it because they were never more than 45 feet from us, and I loved it because, other than them, I had no responsibilities,” she says, smiling. “There was no laundry, no dishes to wash and all the meals were catered.”
Despite being in the spotlight, the couple have managed to stay married – and in love – for 33 years. For their 25th anniversary, Kix gave Barbara a mare from Colorado.
“It was really special,” she remembers. “I immediately fell in love with her.”
Agritourism is another interest of the Brookses. They own Arrington Vineyards in Middle Tennessee with winemaker Kip Summers and entrepreneur John Russell. The winery opened in 2007 and quickly gained a loyal following. Making the winery a destination for Nashvillians and tourists alike was Kix’s brainchild.
“The winery is fun, but I know as much about wine making as Kix knows about horse-breeding,” she jokes. “Kix is really involved in it. He’s at the winery frequently. I enjoy spending time there with friends because it’s such a beautiful setting.”
Initially, their ambition was to sell 2,000 cases of wine per year. Today, the winery has reached sales of 20,000 cases a year. An events center was added in 2013 to accommodate weddings and corporate events.
“Red Fox Red, a blended red wine, continues to be a best-seller,” Barbara says. “I also love the K.B., named for Kix. It’s comparable to a French Cabernet. I like the Chardonnay a lot, too.”
Open for tastings year-round, Arrington Vineyards hosts a free “Music in the Vines” jazz event on weekends April through November, where visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic and enjoy the vineyard grounds.
When they aren’t on the road or at the winery, Barbara and Kix can be found on their farm loving on the horses. Barbara is recovering from a ruptured disc, so she isn’t riding now but hopes to saddle up again soon. Her favorite pastime is riding the trails through their property with Kix.
“He’s a natural rider,” she says. “One time we were out on the trails, and Kix was on the black horse he rode in the ‘My Maria’ music video. My horse hadn’t been out much yet, but he was really enjoying himself. We were riding side-by-side, and our horses were just egging each other on. It was so fun. So we just let ’em go.”
Few things make Barbara happier than seeing her horses out in the pasture.
“I love the little ones when they spend their days playing,” she says. “But it really gets exciting when they grow up and start their training. There’s nothing like watching a young horse learn new skills and figure out his job.”