Morgan Harrington, a fifth-year college rodeo competitor and biochemistry graduate student at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, has always been a fierce competitor. She has battled the stopwatch as a barrel racer and breakaway roper, winning first-place buckles and trophies by competing against other rodeo riders on the circuit. She is always pushing herself to be the best and her hard work paid off in an unexpected way when she was recently offered the chance to audition for a rodeo-themed movie to be filmed near Dallas. In 2022, she found herself competing against 22,000 young women, all auditioning for the same role in a barrel racing-rodeo movie. The resulting movie, “Heart of a Champion,” was released in February, with Morgan playing a supporting role.
To her own surprise, she got a part playing Madison Farnsworth, a mean girl in the movie. Harrington’s character competes against the star of the movie, Charlie, played by fourteen-year-old Ya Ya Gosselin, in a state barrel racing competition.
Harrington's love for horses started at a young age. She grew up on a 400-acre farm near Casa, Arkansas, population 109, where her mother, also a rodeo competitor, brought her to the barn at two days old. One night, when one of the horses was struggling with giving birth, the family spent the night giving the horse a helping hand. From that moment on, Harrington has been around farm animals.
Harrington's passion for horses and rodeos continued into her high school and collegiate years. She is wrapping up a successful rodeo career at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and biology last fall with a 3.9 GPA, but continued her education as a biochemistry masters student so that she could continue chasing her rodeo dreams. Harrington’s specialties are barrel racing, break-away roping and team roping.
Harrington was able to film "Heart of a Champion" around her real-life rodeos. Filming took place in March and April 2022, just as she was getting ready for spring collegiate rodeo competitions.
"It really just fell into my lap. Someone from home saw it; they sent it to my mom. My mom was like, 'Oh, Morgan, you should do this.' And I was like, 'I'm not going to get that. They only want girls from Texas. I'm not going to get it.'
Harrington said, “ I auditioned on the very last day that it was possible to audition.” Her initial audition was sent in on a self-made video from her phone. “A couple of days later, I did my callback. They called me after that, and they were like, 'Hey, we picked you. By the way, we picked you out of 22,000 girls,’” said Harrington.
"Heart of a Champion" is a heartwarming family film that tells the story of 14-year-old Charlie, who is going through a difficult time in her life. Charlie is coping with her parents' divorce, starting at a new school, and experiencing typical teenage growing pains. However, her life changes when she finds a lost horse and decides to care for and train it for a state barrel-racing competition.
Harrington, who is 23 years old, plays 14-year-old Madison Farnsworth in the movie. Harrington said she thinks her 5’0” height helped play a convincing 14-year-old. Although Harrington plays a villain in the film, her friends describe her as a "nice" girl. Harrington relished the chance to play a different kind of character. "It was so fun to play the mean girl," she says. "My character is the rich girl; I barrel race, and I'm very good at it. My family puts a lot of pressure on me to be good at it. My family is the wealthy family of the community. Charlie starts liking the boy that I like, and he starts liking her back. So, therefore, I no longer like her. I am mean to her, and I even plant evidence to get her expelled from school.”
As a real-life barrel racer and breakaway roper, Harrington's experience in the rodeo world helped her bring authenticity to her role in the film. While Harrington is used to performing in front of rodeo crowds, acting and performing is a new experience. "But it was also a really great experience to try something new.", said Harrington
Harrington has more big achievements ahead. She has been accepted to medical school in the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine at Fort Smith and starts classes in July. Harrington said, “but I am really pursuing the acting. I got professional headshots; they gave me a demo reel; I recently accepted the lead role in another movie where I play an undercover cop .”
Harrington says she will return to UAM and collegiate rodeo training as soon as the practice arena dries out. She hopes that will be sometime next week. You can see Harrington compete in Monticello at the Weevil Stampede Rodeo, April 6,7, and 8. You can see her acting now; “Heart of a Champion” in select theaters and can also be purchased or rented from Amazon Prime, YouTube movies, or Apple TV.