How to Give Up Micromanaging and GAIN a Horse that LOVES Barrel Racing!

How to Give Up Micromanaging and GAIN a Horse that Loves Barrel Racing!

One of the biggest problems we face when it comes to micromanaging horses, is that we don’t often know we’re doing it.

When that’s the case, we also don’t know that the reason we’re doing it is because our horse isn’t taking responsibility, and down the line even further – we may not realize that it’s OUR responsibility to teach the horse theirs.

So I’ll begin by not-so-anonymously stating that my name is Heather Smith, and I’m a “recovering micromanager.” My gelding Pistol is one of my four-legged partners, AND enablers.

If you’re also a micromanager, and would like to start on the road to recovery – welcome to the club! You’re in good company. VERY good company.

One of the first steps is admitting there is a problem. The primary symptom of the problem may be that you’re not clocking in competition as you would like to. The next step is a willingness and desire for change.

The best way I have found to truly test yourself and test your horse, not to see whether you are micromanaging – but HOW BAD (because we ALL tend to do it to some degree), is to remove what’s in the way of making it obvious.

A few years ago, I started to become aware of my own and my horse’s tendencies in this area. I was just too active with my hands in general and seemed to make a lot of adjustments in a run. A friend and mentor pointed out that perhaps I was making those adjustments because I felt the need to – my horse wasn’t taking responsibility, which made him fairly tricky to ride in a run.

Of course, there’s always room to improve our riding ability, but let’s not forget – that it IS also possible to develop our horses in a way that makes them easier to ride!

All those years ago, in an effort to curb the habit of being so overly active with my hands, I had a great idea! I spent a few rides putting a bridleless “handle” on Pistol, meaning in a relatively short period of time I was cruising around the arena doing some pretty fancy looking stuff without anything on his head.

(If you’re over active or erratic with your hands in a run, it could also be a balance problem. Look for exercises to address this in “The First 51 Barrel Racing Exercises to Develop a Champion” – coming soon!)

Surely if I could ride Pistol hands free, the problem would be solved, right!?


I simply went from micromanaging with my hands, to micromanaging my seat and legs, which didn’t provide a real solution. I was still having to make a lot of adjustments.

There are several contributing factors that made this micromanaging rut so easy to fall in to. The first is my gelding’s kind, obedient, tolerant nature. He’s so laid back, that I don’t think he minds too much if I do everything FOR him, which is what he had become accustomed to.

What made this problem more difficult to detect was that when Pistol didn’t take responsibility for direction, he was subtle about it – he would nonchalantly drift here and there, sometimes just a step, in a way that’s barely noticeable. Naturally, I fell into habits of continuously correcting him that were subtle and not very noticeable as well.

I used to think that he just wasn’t taking responsibility, but in reality, he was making his own choices all the time – but he was such a gentleman about it that it was easy for his “volunteering” to go under the radar!

Micromanaging was also an easy rut for me to fall into because I’m a bit of perfectionist. I’m always striving to make things better – tweaking, training, tuning, and as a result, doing for my horses what they should be doing for themselves.

Bridleless barrel racing.

Teaching a horse to be responsible, means letting go of the illusion of perfection created by “holding” them in place, to build a higher level of quality communication and movement that they actively participate in and maintain on their own in the long run.

It’s easy to fall into these habits, and spend our whole life comfortably unaware, but not clocking was NOT comfortable for me at all. So over the years, I kept searching and searching, and it wasn’t until I dove back into bridleless riding with Pistol recently, that I really discovered something that has and will forever change how I instill responsibility in horses. It’s helped me not only become even more aware, but also helped me nip my micromanaging habits, AND Pistol’s lack of responsibility, in the bud once and for all.

It all started when I set out to teach him a cloverleaf pattern, but not the one you’re thinking of – a four leaf clover pattern. Just like on the barrel pattern, my intention was to teach him precisely where to place his feet, while remaining willing to respond to any adjustments. I again spent a few rides preparing him before we went sans headstall, but when I did – boy was I disappointed!

I started by simply asking him to follow my focus on the pattern, but he zig zagged all over the place! For every adjustment I made, he would over correct and go way too far the other way – again and again. I’d use my body language and focus to turn a corner and WHOOPS, we’d go right by it (a lot like he used to sometimes go by the first barrel) – I just wanted him to stay on the pattern!

I spent most of that first “test ride” giving him the benefit of the doubt, and making numerous, subtle corrections to get on track, but I thought to myself – “These corrections aren’t going to hold – he’s not engaged mentally, he’s not thinking for himself, he’s not responding to my focus, seat and body language very well, and he’s not motivated to stay on the pattern!”

Here’s the thing – horses don’t become more genuinely motivated to do something through not being give a choice, ie. when we MAKE them do it. Surprisingly, having reins in our hand, and constantly using them in ways we’re not aware of to micromanage them is an out of control epidemic in the horse world. If Pistol was comfortable with me micromanaging him like a puppet, I had to make a change that motivated him to want to think for himself.

Bridleless barrel racing.

I figure we have three options – we can scare horses into doing what we want, so they operate out of fear of what might happen if they don’t, we can keep holding, preventing, correcting and nagging, without ever really engaging their mind and truly having a conversation, OR the best option, is that we give them options – which causes them to get mentally engaged, and take responsibility for gait, direction (patterns) and body shape, by convincing them that it’s the easiest, most comfortable and appealing thing to do.

While it’s important to give consideration to their ideas, we essentially must cause our ideas to become theirs – it’s a way of getting a horse to do what we ask, and do so gladly!

I realized that I needed to apply more discomfort when Pistol veered off track, and give him more comfort when he stayed on the pattern. It’s not that Pistol wasn’t educated to understand what I was asking with my body language, he just wasn’t taking responsibility for doing what does know. In some cases, even with older, advanced, horses, they really DO need more education also, in addition to more responsibility.

To do this, the next time I saddled up I put my headstall back on, “glued” my rein hand to his withers in an effort to use it as little as possible, and each time Pistol veered off the four leaf clover pattern, I used my spurs to steer his hindquarters like a boat rather than my hands to steer him like a bicycle. If he started drifting to the left, I used my right leg to push the hindquarters to the left so the front end headed back on track, then released. I wasn’t too picky about form at this stage because we were primarily working on responsibility for direction.

I let him make mistakes and get off track, but then made the wrong thing even more difficult (though not impossible), and the right thing even easier. The greater the discomfort a horse experiences when they veer off track, the more they will learn to crave the comfort of staying on track and being left alone – and learn to LOVE staying on the barrel pattern like it’s the best thing in the world!

Teaching responsibility is a matter of getting in and getting out, then putting them on the honor system rather than constantly holding and preventing them from not maintaining direction, gait or shape.

Pistol had a pretty well established habit of not taking responsibility for direction, and he also has a pretty high tolerance for discomfort. Unlike Dot Com, Pistol is not an especially sensitive horse. I had to be more firm, and use more repetition than I would if I were doing the same with Dot Com (who by the way struggles more with taking responsibility for GAIT – which I’ll address next week).

I had to make the discomfort, caused by the busyness in my body and bothering with my spur more exaggerated – kind of like a swarm of bees had come in and stung his sides and caught him by surprise. It wasn’t quite enough to scare him, but it was certainly motivation to find relief as quickly as possible. The contrast between discomfort and comfort has to be enough to provide incentive.

I only used my reins if necessary to block any excess forward motion but not to steer, and when he’d get back on the pattern, I relaxed and comfort instantly returned. When he veered off again, I got busy in my body and bothered him with my leg until he was back on track, then I instantly released and let him go on. Once he started to get engaged and made an improvement, I’d stop and let him rest on the pattern. For Pistol in particular (the “energy conservationist”), getting to rest is great motivation.

It’s up to us to set our horses up to find relief in doing what we ask, always making that the most appealing option. In the process we lessen our dependence on the reins, by encouraging our horses to use their brains!

In training Pistol to take responsibility for the pattern, you could say that he was training ME to leave him alone, and THAT is what motivates horses.

Remember, when your idea and your horse’s idea are not the same idea, you’ll run into problems on the barrels. If you want your horse to use himself very specifically and efficiently at speed, his brain must be engaged – he has to be invested the conversation and taking responsibility to do his part.

Teaching responsibility for direction (following a pattern) is a HUGE part of causing your horse to LIKE, if not LOVE barrel racing. A lot of people mistakenly believe that some horses just “don’t like barrel racing.” While it’s true that some horses have more aptitude for the sport than others, it’s usually us humans that don’t often understand #1. The importance of properly preparing a horse before introducing the barrel pattern, and #2. Doing so in a way that actually makes it appealing!

This technique can be used motivate a horse to take more responsibility, and it’s great for horses who are burnt out or have developed a negative association to the barrels. We have the power to cause our horses to want to stay perfectly on the barrel pattern, and actually make training enjoyable for them.

Horse training is simply a matter of applying comfort and discomfort, or pressure and release, but what makes it both a challenge and an art, is the way, and the timing in which we apply it.

Bridleless barrel racing.

In a matter of days, Pistol was aligning with my body language and honoring his responsibility to stay perfectly on the four leaf clover pattern. He did not volunteer to go off path and when I redirected my focus and turned in my body, he turned in his. If necessary, I could use a little leg pressure for back up, but because our communication system is highly refined and he’s also taking responsibility, head gear wasn’t necessary, and micromanagement was no longer a temptation for me.

You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. Had I not chucked my headstall over the fence, and set out to reach some specific goals without it, I may have never realized just how much I was micromanaging, and how little Pistol was taking responsibility, until the main tool I had used for years to do so, was no longer within reach.

There is certainly a lot of lessons and benefits to be gained from riding bridleless. If it’s something you aspire to, always make sure you prepare your horse well with headgear first (remember Pistol is emotionally balanced and very advanced in his understanding and response to my seat, legs and focus), and take safety measures before you remove the reins (I often ride with a neck string in an arena at first as a safety net). As a starting point, it can be very valuable to ride with your rein hand held at your horse’s withers, which allows you to test yourself and still use the reins if needed.

What all this comes down to is whether your horse is coming wide out of the turns, not clocking as fast as you want, dropping his shoulder, or displaying any other kind of problem on the barrels, either he doesn’t understand what you want, or isn’t taking responsibility for doing what he does understand.

In all cases, it can be traced back to what we’re doing or not doing to cause it.

Being as fast as possible on the pattern means we must be very precise, and any correction, even a minimal one, will create a delay. Developing a horse that is mentally engaged and gladly takes responsibility for staying on track is not only how we can eliminate delays for even faster times, but is also a big part of how we can cause our horses to actually enjoy running barrels.

Next week, I’ll be sharing the second part in this three part series on the subject of taking responsibility for maintaining GAIT (Dot Com’s problem area).

So I’m curious, are YOU ready to join me on the “road to recovery” as a micromanager?

I’d LOVE to read your thoughts in the comments below!

Learn, Earn, Turn & Burn – How to Create a Lifestyle That Supports Your Barrel Racing Dreams

Learn, Earn, Turn & Burn!

Not all, but most weekend warrior barrel racers would love to ride, train, travel and compete full time, if only… they had the right horse, more money, etc.

Today’s post was written to remind YOU that the barrel racing lifestyle you’ve always dreamed about IS indeed possible, AND more readily achievable than you might think.

I really believe in all the mushy business, summarized best with quotes like the one below by Jackson Kiddard…

“Life doesn’t give you dreams and aspirations for you to turn away and say ‘not for people like me.’ Your dreams are your real self-yearning to be followed with a courageous heart and unbending intent.”

Now at the same time, I’m not necessarily an overly emotional, sentimental person, but I do have to admit that during my first full winter here in Texas, I’ve gotten swept up in the moment on numerous occasions.

When surrounded by cool, crisp (but NOT COLD) air, and dry ground, I’ve had to fight off the overwhelming urge to drop to my knees and cry, then kiss and roll around in the GRASS beneath my feet – all in gratitude for the fact that there is no longer snow and ice beneath my feet – something that had seriously gotten in the way of MY dreams most of my life, but doesn’t anymore.

Although I’ve been in Texas since the spring of 2013, for the last seven years, I have been working from home full time and enjoying the flexibility to do what I love with my horses, when I want to.

It’s not that I don’t still run into limitations or experience challenges, or that I don’t have many more professional goals and things I aspire to, but the flexible lifestyle I’ve created that both supports my barrel racing obsession, and IS supported by my barrel racing obsession, isn’t something that happened overnight and it certainly didn’t happen by accident.

I can assure you though, if I can start where I did, and get to where I am, then you certainly can too. But if YOU want to blow your current popsicle stand and transition from a 9-5 job, it takes much more than a phenomenal horse or a sugar daddy!

Below, I’ve explained ten key insights that have made all the difference throughout the stages of my career, in hopes that you can learn from my mistakes, and my success, to create a life you love – full of fast times, fun and freedom!

1. Have a Long Term Action Plan – “Going pro” in a way that is sustainable long term isn’t something that “just happens” while you wait on the sidelines. You can’t reach your dreams without a specific, long term plan. To get what you want, you have to KNOW what you want (and why) with great clarity, and you have to commit to it. As you work your plan, it’s important to be open and wiling to receiving divine guidance and redirect your course as necessary. At the same time, don’t get distracted by what you want right now and lose sight of what you want most.

Be honest about motives – if your desire to be successful running barrels is really a way to prove your worth (to yourself or others), it’s going to be a long, frustrating journey. I recommend you start by really reflecting on your priorities, and give some deep thought to what’s really important in life. Specifically, how do you want to FEEL? What must you DO to create those feelings now and into the future?

Actually write down certain dates you want to accomplish your desires and get your barrel racing “ducks in the row,” including the smaller steps necessary to make it all possible. This might include a transition to part time work, investments in your horsemanship education, the purchase of a truck or trailer, a different horse, etc.

There are certain terms I want to compete on, that being that I am never put in position to push myself or my horses to such extremes that would be damaging to our health, and that I’m not willing to go into debt to stay on the road. Define your own terms as part of your personal plan, and most of all, make sure you’re motivated by the right reasons.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

2. GET REAL – Seriously! – If your dream is to rodeo professionally, you’ve got to be realistic. Unless you’ve made a few long trips with a one ton diesel and a loaded living quarters trailer recently, you might need to be reminded that a cross country trip can cost $1000 or more in fuel alone.

When you have a couple (or more) pro horses that need high level care and maintenance, expect to visit the Vet. regularly just to make sure they’re healthy, and don’t expect to leave without spending in the four figure range to keep them that way.

When it comes to rigs, the best kind you can travel in is one that is completely paid for – freeing you up to invest any earnings back into your travel and competition expenses, which make no mistake – IS A LOT (both the cost of a rig and travel expenses).

I don’t recommend you expect your dream horse, another person, your winnings or sponsors to pay your way. Each of these may play a part, but I believe in having a source of income, or multiple streams of income (preferably passive income that doesn’t tie up a ton of your time) that will help you stand supported on your own two feet. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

This will help create some “cushion” for getting through the inevitable slumps. As you plan for the future, dream big, but be prepared to EARN big as well and have a plan to foot all the expenses. Don’t let these realities discourage you, let them inspire a massive action to create financial freedom, starting now.

“You know what you can do when you don’t have any payments? Anything you want.” – Dave Ramsey

3. Find the Right Bridge Job – A bridge job is something you do that is a stepping stone to what you REALLY want to do. What is the “right bridge job” for an aspiring pro barrel racer? I figure you basically have two choices – one is to find something that appeals to you where you can make as much money as possible, that still allows some flexibility to enjoy your horses, OR you ride for the public or take a job working under a horse training professional, neither of which is likely to pay a whole lot, but will provide a lot of value in the way of learning experiences. You could also consider a combination of both.

You may be able to find a well-paying job that you enjoy with somewhat flexible hours or at least very good benefits without a college education, but I always support going to college to increase your odds. What I don’t recommend is selling your soul to work a job you don’t enjoy only for the money. A perfect bridge job might be one that allows you to work as you’re available, or one that allows you to have summers off, or three day weekends for example.

It’s also important to acknowledge the value you bring to the table. Your net worth is directly connected to your self-worth – don’t sell yourself short or mark yourself down when shooting for a well-paying work that will support you. Educate yourself, go out and get experience that is valuable to others, then have high standards as you offer your expertise to the world.

“Money is an echo of value; it’s the thunder to value’s lightning.” – Bob Burg

4. Expect the Unexpected – I started out my professional career as a licensed Vet. Tech. which I didn’t initially intend to be a bridge job. Turns out that the pay was low and the vacation time was virtually non-existent. Most of the gals I worked with were married to their career. I had many interests outside of the Vet. clinic, and I wanted to be married to a MAN some day – so after a year in the field, I moved on to office jobs that offered great benefits, and plenty of paid vacation. Over time, I got promotions, I negotiated more flexible hours and made a ton more income than ever would have as a Vet. Tech. – it was a huge step forward in achieving my barrel racing dreams.

I will never regret getting my college education, I gained knowledge and experience that I continue to use every day, but it didn’t take long to figure out that my chosen profession wasn’t working out like I expected. I’m not dissing the Vet. Tech. profession necessarily, it does pay better than it used to and perhaps not all clinics keep chains on their employees like the ones I worked at, but do your homework.

Do your best to be sure you’re investing in something that will support your long term goals, and by all means dive in whole heartedly! Remember though that things aren’t always what they seem. If you find that out the hard way, like I did, be honest with yourself, and willing to make a change to get out while the gettin’ is good!

“It is easier to correct motion going in the wrong direction than it is to get started.” - Norman Schwarzkopf

5. Start Your Own Business – Lots of folks get all starry eyed about the thought of starting their own business, but I’m here to tell you, it’s not as dreamy as you might think. In addition to creating, for over ten years I have owned and operated my own web design business. Before I went full time, I worked evenings, after my full time job + riding horses, for YEARS to build my business up to a level that would eventually support me.

For the first three years or so after going full time, I didn’t sleep for more than five hours a night. I simply refused for my business to be anything less than successful, and it certainly has been, but I admittedly turned into a workaholic in the process (I don’t recommend that part). Although I suppose I had a little more flexibility than most 9-5 people, I was working an obscene number of hours. I’m not saying that this is what owning your own business has to, or will always look like – I’ve traveled a huge learning curve over the years.

Although you may very well have more flexibility, it’s for the most part unrealistic to think that you can expect to have more time when you start your own business, especially at first. Even to this day, I spend much more time in my office than I do horseback, it’s a ratio I’m always striving to adjust. Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everybody, but if you’re feel called to head in that direction, don’t do so thinking you’ll “get rich quick,” OR suddenly have lots more free time. By all means if you have a valuable gift to offer the world, and you offer it well, you’ll get there eventually – but in the labor of love there is A. LOT. OF. LABOR!

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross lies your calling.” - Aristotle

6. There Will Be Neigh-Sayers – Every so often I receive a message from someone saying they have all these grand barrel racing dreams but that their spouse or parents, or someone else in their life doesn’t believe in them or support their dreams – like that’s an excuse or reason not to follow your dreams anyway!? Ffffftttt!

Other people’s limitations ARE going to be reflected onto you, but that’s not your problem – it’s theirs. Maybe others are legitimately questionable about your plans. While you should be considerate of those who will be directly affected by your decisions, outside of that, who cares? My husband is the most supportive, loving guy and even he wasn’t so sure about me transitioning to my web design business full time. Let’s just say he doesn’t doubt me anymore. The most important thing is that I didn’t doubt myself.

The whole driving force behind my business was to have the flexibility and freedom to do what I love with horses – there was NOTHING that was going to stand in the way of that. I had dreams of rodeoing with my husband (a team roper) and typing away on my laptop in the trailer while we traveled. My web design business was a way to receive income for serving others, while doing something I enjoyed (training horses for the public never appealed to me), while competing with my horses – which required flexibility. If someone didn’t else see the possibilities and have the passion and determination I did, that wasn’t my problem. There are going to be times in life when you just gotta put ear muffs on, and say “Watch me!”

“We have enough people who tell it like it is. Now we could use a few who tell it like it could be.” – Robert Orben

7. Manage Your Time Well – You don’t become a professional barrel racer by developing a close relationship between your butt and the couch. I am and always have been very particular and protective of how I spend my time. In fact, my husband and I don’t have TV. We have a big, beautiful entertainment center that came with our house, and it’s all decorated with knick knacks in the shelves, even an actual TV inside, but we do not have cable – on PURPOSE.

There are three ways you can choose to spend your time – on something that adds value to your life, something that is neutral, or something that takes away from your life. Watching Jerry Springer would take away. Surfing Facebook? Mostly neutral. You’ll know how to categorize your daily activities by how they make you feel. It’s critical that you intentionally structure your days to include mainly things that add to your life and put you closer to your goals, and make you feel good about yourself.

You’ve got to prioritize the things that are important, even when all the urgent stuff seems to take precedence. Small, daily improvements are the key to staggering long-term results. Don’t let the craziness of life’s seemingly urgent tasks knock you off course. There will always be seasons in life when our barrel racing gets put on the back burner, but remember that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself, and even for others, is to chase your own dreams.

“If you want to be good at something, you have to work at it every day. If you want to be great at something, you have to live it every day.” – Dusty Lubbock

8. Don’t Stop Dreaming – Speaking of dreams, while I also recommend having a serious dose of reality when considering and planning your future (see tip #2.), don’t squelch the dreamer within. As cliché as it sounds, sometimes you just have to “dream BIG, have faith, and BELIEVE.”

When my gelding Pistol got hurt in 2012, if you would have told me how many Vet. visits his recovery would require, how many miles I would travel, and how much it would cost, I would have been a blubbering mess – wailing in tears that there is just no way we could pull it off. But we DID pay for his MRI, and stem cells, and everything else miraculously without going into debt and today he is sound. Looking back, I can’t even tell you how, but sometimes you just have to press forward without a plan and PRAY – a lot!

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were preparing our tax documents and as he was looking over some paperwork, he turned to me and asked, “Do you know how much our move to Texas cost?” “How much?” I replied. I almost choked. Some how yet again, we did it without going into debt. Now there’s a time and place to pay detailed attention to the numbers, but I’m not sure I want to in this case. As far as I’m concerned, it was a miracle! What’s meant to be will come to pass when the time is right, and we can’t always bog ourselves down with “the reality” of it all.

There WILL be legitimate obstacles that you’ll need to acknowledge and work toward dissolving, but there will also be things you just have to turn over to a greater power. I dreamed about moving to Texas for years, and was so excited when a door of opportunity opened that pointed us down south, but if I would have had a dose of reality before we started packing, even I, “Miss Positivity,” might have thrown my hands in the air. Sometimes, a little bit of ignorance can be bliss.

“Attitudes are more important than facts.” – Karl Menniger

9. Never-ending Learning – So, I’m a little… different. I’ll admit it. I LOVE learning, even back in the day, I actually liked school. And here’s the thing – I’m not just interested in horses, I’m borderline obsessed. Everything about them fascinates me, I want to learn more and more and more. They bring me so much joy! The love I have for horses pratically makes my heart explode! In fact, the reason I didn’t initially dive into a career directly related to training and competing, was so that I wouldn’t get burned out – I wanted to protect my love for horses.

When you combine an intense passion with a burning desire for learning, you have a great combination. When you’re passionate about something, you’ll find ways to do it even in less than ideal circumstances, and you’ll find ways to learn how to do it better every single day. Learning doesn’t stop when you’re finished with school – it just begins because you can now focus completely on what you really want to learn most! Learning also doesn’t stop when you’re advanced or have achieved a fair amount of success – it’s a never-ending commitment.

So go to clinics, ride with experts, ride as many horses as possible, take lessons, read, watch training DVD’s, and especially get busy putting it all to use where the real lessons will take place through experience. Invest in your education, invest in your horses, invest in yourself. YES, it costs money, but ignorance can cost a lot more! Don’t make excuses for not learning. The TRUTH behind “I don’t have time,” is really “It’s not important enough to me.” Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, make mistakes, and then fix them. Be secure enough to admit that you don’t “know it all.” It’s better to have failed greatly, than never tried.

Nothing compares to real, in the flesh experience, but don’t underestimate the power of learning opportunities in the form of books, DVD’s, etc. Educational resources are available now days that would blow your mind if you just sought them out. Whether you’re a hard core learner by nature or not, get obsessive about being progressive - it’s all part of preparing yourself for when the other stars (financial means, the right horse, etc.) line up. Make sure you’re ready!

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

10. Sensualize Your Desires, then Get to WORK – I was born into an environment that just didn’t resonate with me in more ways than one. I got closer to creating a life I loved when I went to college, then got even closer yet when I left south east North Dakota and moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, with a rusty two horse trailer and a dream, but now, I feel like I’m HOME. There were times in my life where I had to endure circumstances or conditions I didn’t like, they affected me no doubt, but deep down I always knew they were temporary… I kept my blinders on and held pictures in my mind of what I wanted for my life – THEN, I worked my butt off.

In my dedication to personal development, I’ve created vision boards, studied sports psychology, AND of course, prayed for help and guidance to create the change I wanted. I’m not sure if my ability to drown out what’s not working and keep focused on what is, and what will be, came to me naturally, out of desperation, or as a result of all the inner work I’ve done, or a combination thereof. What’s most important is that it works, which is why I encourage others to do the same.

I don’t mean only the inner, mental, personal development aspect, but the physical one also. Creating a barrel racing lifestyle of fun, freedom and flexibility will require massive action and plain ol’ hard work as well. No amount of wishful thinking without sweat will get you there, and no amount of hard work without rock solid belief in your heart will either – you’ve got to have both.

“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

Creating a barrel racing lifestyle is likely to be the most challenging and most rewarding journey of your life. It will require you to think outside the box, get comfortable being uncomfortable, and get your hands dirty.

You’ve got to know with clarity what you want, and be prepared to tune and tweak as you go – “you gotta learn and earn, if you wanna turn & burn!”

I know with each passing day I’m getting closer and closer to living the life that I was put on this earth to live. My passions and my purpose are merging together in ways I never initially imagined or intended.

As you create your own version of the perfect “barrel racing lifestyle,” most importantly remember that your talent is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift back to God. If He put a desire in your heart, He will help you get there.

I dare you to look the 9-5:00 status quo in the eye and tell it where to go (unless of course it’s a good bridge job), and make YOUR ideal barrel racing lifestyle a REALITY!

“The key is to listen to your heart and let it carry you in the direction of your dreams. I’ve learned that it’s possible to set your sights high and achieve your dreams and do it with integrity, character, and love. And each day that you’re moving toward your dreams without compromising who you are, you’re winning.” – Michael Dell

In the comments below, tell me where YOU are on the path to creating a life of fast horses and freedom?

What has been your main challenge, what has worked well?

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll LOVE…

In Search of SPEED – How to BE Explosive on the Barrel Pattern!

In Search of SPEED - How to BE Explosive on the Barrel Pattern!

SPEED. We breed for it, we condition for it, we train for it, we feed for it, yet getting the most of it that we can out of our barrel horses remains on many levels – a mystery.

Until now, that is.

Today I’ll be sharing some interesting observations I have made about speed, and unconventional tips for creating it, especially when all other avenues have been exhausted.

Many years ago, I was told by a judge in a competition (where I had to ride an unfamiliar horse), that she thought I had a calming effect on horses. That really stuck with me. For a long time I was proud of that comment. It was a little “feather in my hat.”

However, as “my eyes” became better developed, I began to notice other people that had that same calming effect – they were great with nervous or young horses, but when it came to running barrels, these people (and their horses) were S-L-O-W.


THEN – I observed changes in a person I knew who had been in a serious horse accident. She was back riding in a few months, but something had changed on the inside, and it was affecting her riding. She safetied up a bit – hesitated. Her legs might have been kicking and saying “GO,” but her subtle energy communicated “Don’t GO” to her horses, and it certainly affected how they clocked.

Then one day I was helping set barrels at a barrel race and had a really good view of a particularly successful barrel racer as she came down the alley. I will never forget the look on her face – her eyes bulged out (mine were also at this point), she looked vicious – like she had rabies! The energy in her body was intense, and her horse picked up on it (I did too!)… her horse matched that energy and they WON the barrel race.

No kidding!

What I’ve learned is that horses pick up on things as we ride them, subconscious messages within us that sometimes WE aren’t even aware of. Sometimes our horses seem like they are not in tune with us, and granted, sometimes they aren’t, but on many levels, they really are – much more so than we realize.

Horses are GOOD at getting in sync, because it’s how they’re wired to survive. It’s their natural tendency to take on the energy of those around them. Like when one horse spooks and runs in the pasture, and they all think they have to do the same – “Save your life!”

A few weeks ago, I noticed a drammatic change in my barrel horse when I put my 70 year old Dad (who is not in the greatest of health) on him for a spin around the pasture. Pistol didn’t just “take it easy” with my Dad, I mean he shifted into S-L-O-W motion, like one. foot. in. front. of. the. other.

It’s not uncommon to see that special connection some horses make when they have a child on their back, but the connection Pistol made to meet my Dad where he was, and take care of him, was really extreme (and of course, appreciated)!

I connected the same dots, when I realized that when I jump on Pistol bareback, he feels like a dud. Perhaps it’s because on a subconscious level I don’t feel quite as secure as I do in the saddle, and perhaps he not only reads into this, but he also probably feels a subtle, but legitimate lack of security physically, and adjusts to fit the situation based on the feedback coming from me, whether I’m aware of it or not.

Horses FEEL things, they notice things. They are ultra aware and so much more sensitive than we give them credit for. We would be wise not to overlook this in our search for speed.

If we want to understand horses, become excellent at communicating with them, AND achieve unlimited success, we must strive to develop a level of heightened awareness that goes beyond words and conscious thought.

I may get frustrated at times that Pistol seems so pokey, but the truth is, horses are like computers – they may not do what we want them to do, but they always do what they are programed to do!

One of the most important steps toward developing “positive programming” starts with removing what’s in the way of it, this starts with awareness – of ourselves. When I think about WHY I have this calming effect on horses, I can’t help but reflect back on the many terrifying runaways I had on my pony as a kid. Regardless of whether I ended up bloody, bruised, or just lucky, I never hesitated to get back on, and never have… consciously anyway.

Later in my youth, I had more nightmarish experiences on my next childhood horse. I certainly learned a lot of problem solving skills, and adapted a “never give up” attitude in the process, and it’s by no means something I dwell on. I’ve certainly had many, many positive, confidence building experiences in the years since then, with many horses in all stages of development, and in competition. But perhaps there was still something deep down inside ME that saftied up a bit, held back, and subconsciously communicated to my horse “Go, but don’t go,” even though I don’t remember EVER having a conscious fearful thought?

Because the placings at rodeos barrel races come down to tiny fractions of a second, it’s so important to open our mind, and put effort toward noticing these little details with the same great depth that our horses do. The speed our horse’s display on the pattern depends on it. We can’t be “superficial” by just jumping on, thinking a good nylon massage is going to override what we’re REALLY telling our horses.

These observations are right in alignment with the feedback I received a few years ago when I submitted a couple videos of my runs for World Champion barrel racer Kristie Peterson to critique through

“My first thoughts after watching your runs, is that you need to trust your training. You ride very good and it looks like your horse is really well broke. I suggest you get wild!!! Do not over train or over think. Have fun!! and get crazy!!!”

I laugh when I read that to this day, because I’m a left brain introvert. I dig details, processes, perfection, thinking… ALL which ARE very valuable qualities in the training stage (which I DO tend to get stuck in). However, this also makes it necessary to intentionally create balance by busting out of those ways of being to let ‘er rip in competition.

How do we do that?

With practice, of course!

One way we can simply just learn to “let loose,” OR help overcome what could be subconscious fear of speed and losing control, is by putting the pedal to the metal more often (unless you DO have legitimate reasons to fear losing control, in which you should address that first). As a teenager, I was a wild and crazy and so were all my friends – we were adrenaline junkies! Although I certainly DO NOT recommend doing things that jeopardize your safety, it’s interesting to consider that these days I actually catch myself harping at my husband to SLOW DOWN when he’s driving!

What the…!?

The truth is, I’m not as comfortable at speed in general as I used to be, because I don’t spend as much time enjoying it. It’s an easy rut to fall into if you’ve ever taken a break from competing, or if you start colts and find yourself in “training mode” a lot.

So the next time you’re tooling around on the 4-wheeler doing chores, head down the gravel road and open ‘er up. Get in line for the wildest rides at the county fair – go on a roller coaster every change you get. Have a race track tilled up in your pasture so you have good, safe ground to breeze your horses, or finally answer to that big hay field that’s been calling your name since forever and sprint through it already!

Fall in love with speed!

It’s so important to let go of any subconscious fear that may be holding you back, and get more comfortable with “turning loose!” Your horse isn’t likely to do so, until YOU do!

Beyond expanding our comfort zone, there is also much to be said for exercising our bodies and minds in specific ways that help us respond much quicker, and thus ride more effectively and efficiently in a run.

The subject of improving timing is one that I’ll save for another day, but look for it to be addressed in “The 51 Barrel Racing Exercises to Develop a Champion” – coming soon!

The next stage of awareness for increasing speed, comes in considering our individual horses.

You see, even outside of the influence I have over Pistol, by nature he is one laid back dude. He was BORN confident and relaxed! If he receives what might be a subtle suggestion to slow down or stop, he’s on it! He’s not as quick to accelerate on the other hand, while Dot Com is the opposite.

Now this doesn’t mean two “laid back, thinkers” can’t be a successful barrel racing team, it just requires extra awareness, willingness and effort to address and balance each of these areas completely and individually to increase our aptitude for the sport and chances for success.

There IS plenty I can do to help a horse like Pistol be the best he can be on the barrels – yet another topic I plan to dive in with more depth in the future!

In the process of removing obstacles blocking the expression of speed on the pattern, next in line to self(and horse)-awareness, is that we must do everything we possibly can to take advantage of a horse’s instincts so they work for us vs. against us.

We can enhance any horse’s natural tendencies to match our energy more consistently and precisely through training. We do this by teaching them specifically what to pay close attention to and connect with, and what to ignore. It’s when we inadvertently do the opposite that we run into trouble.

At all times, we are either teaching our horses to pay attention to the subtleties and specific meaning of our actions, or we are teaching them not to, for the better or worse. It’s so critical to be particular and purposeful about this so we can bring out ALL the speed our horse has to offer.

This ensures that when we DO turn loose, that our horse will too! Remember, horses naturally seek to connect with us, but the degree to which they do depends heavily on how we have developed them and enhanced their natural inclinations.

I’ve gone into great detail on HOW to do this both in my book, “Secrets to Barrel Racing Success,” and other articles here at

A good barrel buddy friend and I have laughed over her collection of more than a dozen different types of whips and over & unders hanging in her trailer. Now part of being understood is being effective, and certain tools and equipment helps us with that, but there’s so much more to speed than whipping and kicking.

If barrel racing were easy, everyone would do it, right!?

In this article, I’ve only touched on just a few of many areas we must consider and develop if we want to optimize SPEED. In fact, I could write a whole book on speed alone, which is what I did in “The Barrel Racer’s Guide to Speed Development,” a free e-book where I shared specific steps for developing strength and coordination in horses – the TWO foundational elements of speed, in any athlete. It’s your gift with the purchase of “The Secrets” which you can get here.

I hope that what I’ve shared today, what I have shared in the Speed Guide, and what I will continue to share in the future, will help ensure that you continue to dissolve roadblocks in the way of you AND your horse’s greatest potential.

It’s true that most people don’t realize they are holding their horses back. Gaining objectivity can be the hidden key that unlocks loads of barrel racing success! The “search for speed” can be a challenging one, no doubt, but I hope today’s article gives you some leads.

As you prepare for the summer season, keep in mind that if you’re not really communicating from the depths of your being and riding from the depths of your being, your horse probably won’t RUN from the depths of his.

Asking for what we don’t really want is confusing to horses and frustrating for riders. So before you expect your horse to leave it all in the arena, make sure you are prepared to do so too.

When you can truly RIDE YOUR HORSE FAST from the inside out – he’s more likely to CLOCK FAST! This requires both inner AND outer work on behalf of ourselves and our horses.

You’ve got to crave and desire SPEED, and RUN FEARLESS to draw out every bit of try and heart your horse has to offer. This comes from the INSIDE. When you get that right, it will certainly be reflected in your results on the outside.

I’d love for you to put all this into action just in time for BIG RESULTS this summer!

I can’t wait to hear all about it, AND I’ve love to hear your thoughts on SPEED right now in the comments below!

Here’s that link again to get your copy of “The Barrel Racer’s Guide to SPEED Development,” sent to your inbox within minutes (how’s that for FAST!?).

Solve (and Prevent) Barrel Racing Problems at the Source for Lasting Solutions & Success

Last Friday evening, on my final exhausting walk from the barn to the house, the annoying sight of the crabgrass I have tried (unsuccessfully) to get control of over the past few months was finally too much for me to take! I stopped dead in my tracks, leaned over and started ripping it out by the root with my bare hands.

To my pleasant surprise, when I addressed this stubborn “broad leaf weed” at ground level, I realized that the big fluffy bunches of overgrown grass looked much worse on the surface. The roots were in fact, small in size and small in number, in comparison to the bushy tops.

Pulling a few plants out by the root cleared huge areas of the lawn, leaving a much more uniform, beautiful appearance. Because I enthusiastically attacked the problem as its source, I know it will require much less work to keep it that way.

It all reminded me of what it’s like to troubleshoot problems with barrel horses. If we just put everything on the back burner and with great intensity and enthusiasm go straight to the source, we might find that the problem wasn’t so bad after all.

But if we just keep “mowing over the top,” it’s likely to keep coming back to haunt us. If we ignore or neglect the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist – it’s almost guaranteed to get worse. If we just spray chemical on the weeds, it might damage other areas, or only make things look better temporarily.

It’s no different with horses.

One of the foundational messages I’m passionate about sharing, is that problem solving is never about “making your horse stop ___(fill in the blank)___.”

I receive so many questions from well-intentioned barrel racers asking how they can get SYMPTOMS to stop showing up in their horses.

The truth is, no matter what the problem is, it’s not about the symptoms. Instead, if we go to the root of a problem, and instead cure the cause (the “disease”) – the SYMPTOMS tend to disappear!

There are many ways horse people mask over symptoms, some of them even seem to be quite effective, but it doesn’t mean the source, the root of the problem, has been thoroughly addressed. A quiet, obedient horse can seem on the outside to be perfectly well-adjusted, but like a duck’s feet paddling fervently under the water, sometimes there is more going on under the surface than what meets the eye.

This goes for physical issues as well. If your horse’s hocks get sore, maybe you do need to get the inflammation under control ASAP, but it’s worthwhile to also dig deep under the layers and try to solve the problem at its source rather than mask it long term with anti-inflammatories.

For example, a horse’s chronically sore hocks could be connected to the way he is ridden, saddle fit, or the way he’s asked to move and use himself, etc. We can all take Ibuprophen for a fever and feel better, but it doesn’t create a long term solution if we keep getting sick because our immune system is not functioning optimally due to our diet.

If we keep trying to train and run barrels when our horse is not emotionally fit for example, and until we learn how to develop and maintain that emotional foundation in horses, we’ll always be spinning our wheels to some degree.

Browse through any tack store and you’ll see that it’s become normal to seek mechanical means especially, to artificially sooth our horse’s symptoms.

Consider how barrel racers are generally obsessed with #1. Tack and #2. Supplements. They have their place, no doubt. But a healthy, happy horse with a solid educational and emotional foundation is the very thing that has the power to cease all the desperate chasing for the extra edge that we’ve been looking for in the wrong places for all along.

We could all benefit from turning our obsession in another direction.

Instead of trying so hard to prevent your horse from tipping barrels, think about WHY he’s doing it to begin with. Then ask yourself “WHY” again. You might be able to pull hard enough to keep your horse off them for a while, but that’s not usually permanent, lasting solution.

By all means, certain equipment can really enhance what is already going well, but it’s not meant to create something that isn’t already there. An educated, well balanced equine athlete doesn’t depend on mechanics (OR chemicals) to hold him together like duct tape. With a strong, all-around foundation, there is no need for it. Taking barrel horses to their peak, and giving them an edge, IS possible without excessive leverage, and without “artificial additives.”

Something within us needs to change first for this to happen. That foundation comes from the inside, it’s something that must come from within us that we give to our horses. It means we must take it upon ourselves to instill in them, not what is “just enough to get by,” but something so strong, that there’s no way we can lose.

We all know in reality, that’s no guarantee, but I do believe it’s how we can put the odds most in our favor. Sure, it requires an investment initially, but in the long run saves so much more.

Do I use certain, carefully thought out and selected bits or equipment to enhance my finished horse’s performance? Yes. Do I support my horse’s well-being with supplements? Yes. Will I end up treating the lawn with something to help keep it beautiful? Most likely. I’ll be the first to admit, I need to learn more about how to keep my new Texas lawn looking great.

One thing I know for sure – there is nothing that compares to drilling down to the root and dealing with issues at their source, especially when a problem has gotten away from us, like the crabgrass got away from me. The same idea applies to developing a young horse from the very beginning, or putting the little finishing touches on an advanced horse.

Learning how to lay down and maintain a solid mental, physical and emotional foundation takes a lot of study and work. It requires a big investment in both time and expense to build our knowledge and skills, but this dedication also tends to result in a HUGE leaps forward in the results we achieve.

Once you learn and experience something, no one can take that away from you. Sometimes major positive change just requires getting your hands dirty, and it might not require as much time as you thought, when you focus on solving a problem without diluting it with other things that keep putting you two steps back for every one forward.

Don’t expect to ever officially “arrive,” of course. This is an ongoing process. In fact, just this past weekend, in addition to sprucing up the lawn, my husband and I also built some fence in the pasture. My Australian Shepherd, Tess was in the back yard and barking at us pretty incessantly. Instead of just thinking “I wish she would shut up!” I actually caught myself getting curious about why she was barking.

Creating lasting solutions to challenges requires a complete shift in our perspective, which often happens little by little, with bigger “Ah ha!” moments sprinkled throughout. I’ll admit, I still catch myself at times wanting to ease symptoms as quickly as possible. I suppose it’s human nature.

If we really want to be successful with horses though, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. It requires a way of thinking that puts us in “the horse’s shoes.” When we have reverence and respect for them, and do our best to understand and meet their needs, and devote ourselves to learning how to be very clear in our communication, it’s just unreal what they will give in return.

I encourage you to always seek the truth, even if it’s not easy to see, and even if there’s no guarantee you’ll always find it.

The more I dive into understanding horse psychology and biomechanics, the more things that used to challenge me, become so obvious. You wouldn’t believe the “Duh,” moments I have on a consistent basis over what used to drive me to tears in frustration, and ultimately lead me to damage the connection with my horses.

The more problems completely and effectively we deal with, the better we get at preventing them. As the barrel racing season gets started, and you’re faced with challenges, as we all are from time to time, I encourage you to go about addressing them in a new way. Remember the difference between masking symptoms, and creating lasting, permanent solutions. Most importantly, don’t be tempted to believe that because everyone else seems to be masking symptoms, that it’s best for you and your horses.

So many people and horses are not reaching their potential because they don’t know any other way. There IS a better way – a way of developing high level performance horses that prevents a lot of common frustrations, and solves problems both quickly and in a way that is both lasting and authentic, and I believe, is in the horse’s best interest.

There WILL be times when you might never completely understand the exact reasons WHY your horse has a certain problem on the pattern, or a certain physical or emotional issue. There are some things that may always remain a bit of a mystery. But it’s no excuse not to try.

Ask yourself “How can I get my horse to stop WANTING to ___(avoid the gate, drop his shoulder, etc.)____,” instead of just getting the symptom to stop.

By all means, don’t allow your horse to keep repeating, practicing and getting better at what you don’t want, but most importantly – get curious about why he’s like that. Ask yourself “why?” then look under that layer, and ask again!

Usually there is something in their education that is missing, or an emotional imbalance – they may not be doing what they know to do, because of how they FEEL. When a horse is educated and when he FEELS GOOD physically and emotionally, he will DO GOOD.

I ask a lot of my horses, and nothing we do with them is truly “natural.” However, I feel as though it’s my responsibility to make their lives as performance horses as stress free, happy and comfortable as possible.

Get on the same team with your horse. Instead of blocking opposition with a firm hand, or meeting resistance with more resistance, figure out how you can inspire a willing partnership instead. Instead of causing a horse to choose the lesser of two forms of discomfort, present an option that actually provides some relief. How can you cause your idea to also be their idea? Think about what it means, and what it would take, to motivate your horse to perform based on desire instead of avoidance.

Other thanks asking the right questions, the first action step to jump start this different way of thinking and being with horses, the place to invest your time and resources, is in your own education and skills with horses. Make it a priority.

I understand that we all just want to run barrels and WIN, but that’s the point. What I’m describing is a way to get there faster, AND achieve more consistent positive results.

This route isn’t always easy, and it’s definitely the path less traveled. But I know with confidence that it’s the only path for me.

I challenge you to be more than a barrel racer. I invite you to join me in the journey to becoming a horseman. This web site, and my book series are packed full of the lessons I’m constantly learning, and there’s so much more to come.

I encourage you to BE the kind of person that gives your horse every reason to want to work together with you.

I promise that you’ll be amazed by where it takes you, and I’m confident you’ll fulfill all your barrel racing dreams as a result.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Quality is No Accident! How to Reveal Your Horse’s Greatest Athleticism

Since achieving my goals with Dot Com at liberty last fall, he’s been enjoying a well-deserved vacation.

Lately, I’ve been back on the little grey powerhouse in preparation for him to be featured in my new book, Barrel Racing Exercises to Develop a Champion.

It’s been a great time to start applying many of the techniques I’d learned last summer, that I hadn’t had the opportunity to put into action yet. In only a handful of rides, his progress has been amazing!

If you’ve been following, you’re already familiar with Dot Com – an extremely talented horse who came to us in need of a more solid emotional foundation.

Like many timed event horses, over the years he’d developed a habit of hollowing out his back, raising his head, inverting his neck and carrying tension throughout his body. Despite being built like a bulldog, Dot Com is actually quite flexible. However, his sensitive nature combined with his previous experiences, had resulted in mental blocks that got in the way of his flexibility and contributed to stiffness.

Dot Com moving more like a reiner and less like an ostrich.
Dot Com moving more like a reiner and less like an ostrich.

You might wonder – WHY all this obsession with “quality movement?”

That’s an easy one…

I’ve been choosing to focus specifically on it, because I know that instilling habits of moving with balance in our horses is not only good for their soundness and longevity, but is essentially what creates POWER – which in turn, creates SPEED!

Any high level athletic maneuver can be performed better and FASTER when a horse gets really good and moving and using himself well!

A HUGE part of inspiring Dot Com to carry himself with good posture and move with quality, has been rewarding relaxation, as well as instilling more education.

There are many characteristics that make up quality movement, but one thing Dot Com initially needed a better grasp on was responding to bit pressure (yielding to my “feel”). I used pressure and release to reiterate and expand his understanding to lower his head and softly flex at the poll when I picked up the reins.

It’s not that he was NEVER taught to flex at the poll (he also used to be a turn back horse at cuttings), but when he would get emotional, anxious or pressured, he could no longer think or remember what he does know – and his head would come up and he would get a little resistant. It’s certainly not a very nice looking posture, but most importantly, it’s NOT a very athletic one!

Having a horse’s head come up slightly is one thing (when getting ready to run, for example), but raising it dramatically while inverting the neck so that the top line is concave vs. convex, and doing so on a regular basis, actually creates this same inversion through the horses back.

Once that happens, the chances of our horse performing athletic maneuvers with the hind end engaged goes down dramatically. This is because a lifted, rounded back also creates room for those hind legs to reach under, creating the ultimate position for balance, power and quickness!

Quality on the ground - quality all around!
Quality on the ground – quality all around!

Even though the initial cause for this poor posture often has an emotional connection, these less than ideal ways moving and being can also become learned behaviors over time.

On top of that, many horses were never properly educated to being with on how to carry their bodies, or were even inadvertently taught by riders to carry them incorrectly, or at least very “in-athletically!”

For Dot Com, just transitioning from a walk to a trot was nerve wracking, so to solve this problem, last summer I spent several rides only walking and trotting and transitioning over and over between the two. Rather than micromanage him with the reins, I just used repetition to prove to him that transitions are nothing to be afraid of. When he did transition nicely, we stopped for a good, long rest – free of any and all pressure.

Now THAT is something that motivates a horse like Dot Com!

Although he’s always understood basic leg yields, their meaning was dependent on his emotional status and the context they were applied in. Working through this required me to help Dot Com understand that the default response to leg pressure was not always to squirt away like a rocket!

Quality posture, quality attention, quality expression!
Quality posture, quality attention, quality expression!

This didn’t mean I would tip toe around his reactivity, however. I made a point to get very busy with my body and legs to teach Dot Com the difference between meaningful activity, and meaningless. The difference is my intention, focus and energy in my body.

This is precisely what is often necessary to break out of the rut that these “sensitive” horses tend to keep us walking on eggshells in. Remember – there is a difference between reacting and responding!

It’s our responsibility to help our horse’s manage their own emotions! Not only is this POSSIBLE, but it’s absolutely NECESSARY to successfully rehabilitate a horse with the intent to keep their cool when returning to high pressure competition environments.

Quite a while back I started the process of refining the meaning of my legs on Dot Com’s body. Like I explained in this article, I started by increasing his willingness to yield his rib cage laterally. Just recently, I had an opportunity to ride him in a high pressure environment and it was so interesting to me how protective he was of those ribs.

The thing is, surrendering the hindquarters OR the rib cage is equal to certain death in the mind of an insecure horse. They need both to make a quick escape. In their eyes – this is something that may very well be necessary! Dot Com had progressed by leaps and bounds when it came to relaxing, softening, yielding and rounding his body at home, but he was still a little defensive and protective in certain contexts. As expected, I didn’t quite have the softness under ALL circumstances.

A rest reward for a job well done.
A rest reward for a job well done.

Rather than demand or MAKE him surrender and yield his rib cage laterally, with persistent encouragement, I kept asking until he made an effort. When he did, again I rewarded it with a BIG, obvious release – a few minutes of rest with NO pressure.

When a horse is already fearful, although it can be insanely frustrating, becoming extremely emotional or forceful with them often makes matters worse – giving the horse even more reason to feel insecure. There can be a fine line between respect and fear, but it’s important that we not make a habit of damaging the trust and relationship that a horse’s foundation of confidence is built upon.

There’s a time and place to go through something ugly to get to something better, but threatening an already insecure horse to “surrender their body parts, or else!” isn’t it. In this case, being effective meant being persistent until I felt a positive change, then rewarding it with comfort.

Yielding his ribs will help Dot Com be more athletic, but it will help him relax as well. At the same time, he won’t fully be willing to yield until he IS relaxed. The mind/body connection in horses is so fascinating!

Where I left off last year, I had just started asking Dot Com to move with more roundness over the top line. To do this, I’ve again been refining his understanding of my legs, specifically to lower his head and lift his back when I subtly “hug” them around his belly, while using the reins as little as possible. This is possible now that he doesn’t assume that leg pressure always means GO! Now that he is doing more and more on his own, contact with the bit is something I aim to use as minimally as possible for reiterating or refining what he already knows.

When it comes to head position, I don’t necessarily want Dot Com to carry it super low (which can weigh down the whole front end even more – NOT what we want), but I DO want him to relax, stretch his body, and reach forward, and really start to find comfort there. Exaggerating is often part of teaching. Once the horse has the concept, we can refine as we go to get closer to the specific position we have in mind. Dot Com had a very extreme habit of traveling inverted, so there’s no harm in swinging the pendulum quite a ways in the opposite direction at first.

Setting up to turn around with ribs elevated.
Setting up to turn around with ribs elevated.

I used to hold him where I wanted his body, and gave micro releases with my hands when it was correct, which ultimately didn’t work very well. For one, I hadn’t addressed all his emotional issues at the time (quality movement is really impossible until you do), and secondly, I’ve found it works much better to “set it up and wait” until HE finds the “sweet spot” on his own, both on the ground AND under saddle.

It’s a lot like either giving a man a fish, or teaching him to fish!

If you don’t set your horse up for success, you’ll be waiting a looooonnng time, AND helping your horse get better at doing what you don’t want!

Preparing Dot Com so that I could “set it up and wait” meant working through the majority of his emotional issues and brushing up his education so he could maintain direction and gait. At that point, if I asked him to trot around the rail of the arena for 5-10 minutes, chances were pretty likely that he’d do something reward worthy. You don’t want to make it impossible for a horse to make a mistake, but you DO want to make it likely that he will do the right thing.

The ultimate goal I’m working toward, is for Dot Com to become round throughout his body (laterally and vertically) and develop a consistent habit of staying emotionally balanced and between my reins and legs, without running into those boundaries, and moving with good posture under ALL circumstances. When you have that, you truly have everything you need, to do anything you want with a horse.

It really shouldn’t matter in the end where my hands are positioned, whether I’m riding with one hand or two, what kind of bit I’m using, or what kind of environment we’re in. I want him to have softness and roundness throughout his body, not because I’m holding him there, but because he’s taking responsibility for his emotions AND quality movement – it’s his new default way of being.

The bottom line, is that if there are exceptions to when/where/how your horse will yield/soften/respond to the cues/pressure/feel you apply, then these “exceptions” are likely to show up in some way, shape or form on the barrel pattern as well, when we add speed or in competition, for example.

If your horse is running into your reins, or legs, even subtly, take a closer look at his emotional state, and then to his degree of education, and you’ll tend to find holes in one area, or both.

Dot Com is now able to transition upward in gait, on a completely loose rein without getting emotional, squirting off with his head up, and neck inverted in an emotional burst of tension. He’s beginning to maintain relaxation and quality movement for longer and longer periods, and at faster speeds.

As this becomes his new “normal,” he’ll find it easier to maintain all of this not just at home, but in any situation.

My gelding Pistol has made some great progress in this area as well lately. With a completely different personality, and none of the baggage, inspiring quality movement from him is totally different ballgame – one that I look forward to sharing more about soon!

In both cases, it feels amazing, because I’m not holding them in an artificial positions or using any mechanical means other than feel and great timing. Not only does it put the odds for success more in our favor, it makes riding a whole lot more FUN!

With Dot Com, I dissolved the tension by rewarding relaxation and making it top priority, which allowed him to be in a learning frame of mind, and then set it up and waited for a positive change, rewarded and built up on IT, and have created habits of relaxed, quality, ATHLETIC movement that HE is happy to maintain!

Dot Com turns 14 years old this year. Most of his life was spent traveling and thinking in ways that were not conducive to high level performance, but he’s managed to be a pretty amazing athlete despite that. As you can imagine, his future is looking brighter than ever. It’s truly never too late to teach and old horse new tricks, but even more importantly, know that it’s US who must commit to learning, AND – there are no tricks!

Remember, “quality movement” is balanced, powerful and athletic, which is ultimately, FAST! Here’s hoping these tips can help you create the same kind of high performance movement with your horses.

In the comments below, I’d love to know what kind of challenges or lessons YOU have experienced when it comes to creating quality movement? Can’t wait to hear about it!

101 Tips for Barrel Racers Dealing with Extreme Winter Weather

Have you been suffering from Acute Horse Related Bad Weather Depression?

If so, you’re not alone.

In fact, extreme weather and cold temperatures caused by the Polar Vortex have resulted in some of the most extreme winter weather in history, causing thousands of barrel racers to be dramatically affected by this crippling disorder.

Symptoms include irritability, lethargy, frost bite, overeating and weight gain, depression, fatigue, poor attitude, shivering, crying spells, fits of anger & rage, difficulty concentrating, pale complexions, extremely long leg hair, numb extremities, excessive surfing, day dreaming of Caribbean vacations, and persistent thoughts of driving with the truck windows down.

Although sunshine and warm temperatures are the only known cure, there IS much that can be done to lessen the symptoms of AHRBWD.

In all seriousness, there actually are tons of things barrel racers can do in the winter months get a head start on a successful season – many that don’t even involve riding.

Most important is that we train ourselves to always see what IS possible vs. what isn’t, even in adverse circumstances. Even in extreme cold weather, opportunities abound for learning and growth that we may never have access to otherwise.

Being a successful barrel racer involves much more than riding and training horses.

This critical “possibility mindset” is a huge part of what separates true winners from the rest of the crowd.

Today, I’ve shared 101 tips for how to best utilize your time in what remains of the winter to not only “turn your winter weather frown upside down,” but also get a good jump start on what could quite possibly be your most successful barrel racing season yet!

  1. Plan your barrel racing budget for the year with all the details for entries, fuel, expenses, etc.
  2. Remember this quote by Anne Bradstreet – “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
  3. Take a sample of your horse’s hay (or pasture if it’s not covered in snow) and have it tested for nutrient content to balance your horse’s diet.
  4. If you don’t already, put together an emergency kit or winter survival kit for your vehicles.
  5. Cuddle with your loved ones, both two legged and four legged – who and whatever is available and warm!
  6. Play the “touch it game” to give your horse some mental exercise.
  7. Wondering whether you need to blanket your horse? Click here for a great reference from Auburn Agriculture.
  8. Invite your barrel buddies over for Hawaiian pizza and Pina Coladas. Turn the heat up to 90 degrees (wear a tank top), then sit in lawn chairs to reminisce over your past victories and learning experiences, and make plans for more good times and success in the coming summer.
  9. Wrap up in a blanket on the couch and watch training DVDs – check out an entire horse training video library at
  10. Improve your horse’s vertical (poll) flexion.
  11. Never be without smart wool socks.
  12. Give you horse a tail massage.
  13. Talk to your employer about re-arranging your work schedule so you can get more riding in (go in early, take long lunch breaks a couple days a week, leave early on Fridays, etc.)
  14. Improve your horse’s lateral flexion to halter pressure.
  15. Improve your horse’s responsiveness by refining their understanding of how to yield ALL body parts to steady pressure, both on the ground and under saddle.
  16. Study up on the subject of hoof care, anatomy and function. Invest in Care and Rehabilitation of the Equine Foot by Pete Ramey to empower yourself with knowledge to build a good physical foundation for your horses.
  17. Get a fecal egg count done to make sure your deworming program is on track.
  18. Get ahead on any projects now that will free up more time to spend with your horse when the weather is nice.
  19. If you need and want to keep riding, competing and hauling, allow yourself plenty of extra time to get from point A to point B, remember it’s better to arrive late than not at all – stay safe!
  20. Watch, or re-watch Buck, The Film.
  21. Get the Success in the Saddle DVD set to boost your strength/balance, fitness and riding ability.
  22. If you don’t blanket your horse, but occasionally ride in a heated arena, be sure to outfit them with a wool or fleece cooler to gradually cool and dry their coat when it gets sweaty.
  23. Teach your horses to lead forward or backwards by the chin, ear, one foot, etc.
  24. Seasonal Affective Disorder IS a real condition that affects mostly women. If you think you may be having symptoms, consider phototherapy or click here for more ideas to defeat SAD.
  25. Remember that “tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
  26. Read or re-read Think Harmony With Horses by Ray Hunt.
  27. Use pressure and release to teach your horse to drop their head to the lightest touch.
  28. When you lead your horse from point A to B, see if you can do so without letting them know the halter is there – will they follow your feel without you having to put tension on the rope?
  29. Spray the bottom of your horse’s feet with non-stick cooking spray to prevent snow/ice from sticking when you go dashing through the snow.
  30. Be thankful for all the green grass and hay this winter’s moisture will help produce. Moisture = more/less expensive hay!
  31. Teach your horse to pick up their feet when you tap on their fetlock – tap, Tap, TAP in phases of increasing pressure, then ask for a shift of weight and pick up the foot only if necessary, give them a treat, repeat.
  32. Using an obstacle like a log, go over it forward, backwards and sideways, both on the ground or under saddle while seeing how well you can “talk to” one foot at a time.
  33. Catch up on episodes of Women’s Pro Rodeo Today, click here to check TV schedules (make sure it’s set to record on your DVR).
  34. Get your horse more comfortable with having their mouth/tongue handled and examined.
  35. Be grateful for your new found appreciation of warm summer sun.
  36. Write a note of thanks to those who make your cold weather horse care + activities possible (husbands, facility managers, event producers, etc.).
  37. If you decide not to ride/compete in extreme weather or just “take a break,” don’t feel guilty about it. Everyone, including horses, can benefit from a long break.
  38. Make lots of hearty, healthy soups with root vegetables and warming spices.
  39. Browse the forums or ads at
  40. Browse Real Estate for Sale in Texas or other warmer, southern states.
  41. Keep your legs extra warm with some leather chinks, like these affordable ones available on e-bay.
  42. Organize your closets and get a head start on spring cleaning.
  43. Choose a certain temperature that is your determining factor between “too cold to ride” and “cowgirl up,” (I personally don’t ride unless it’s at least 10 degrees above zero).
  44. Consider just not riding during the most extreme weather – it’s OK to be a “fair weather cowgirl” when conditions are dangerous. Know when to be tough, and when to be smart.
  45. Can you swing a rope, rope a dummy, or even rope your horse without him being bothered? Use approach and retreat with good timing to build your horse’s confidence.
  46. “Box step” by asking for one step left, back, right, and forward, then reverse. Get your horse more comfortable, calm and responsive when asked to move their feet very precisely.
  47. Increase responsiveness and respect by regularly backing your horse in and out of the pasture/pen/or stall.
  48. If you can’t ride, spend some quality “undemanding time” with you horse. If you horse can be hard to catch, use your halter as a grooming tool.
  49. Learn more about equine anatomy and body work with Beyond Horse Massage by Jim Masterson.
  50. Look ranchy and stay warm with a silk wild rag, then click here to learn how to tie them properly.
  51. Ride bareback to cut down on preparation time and keep your legs warm.
  52. Invest in high quality winter riding gear, such as long underwear, gloves and boots.
  53. Make sure you have the right balance of coolant in your vehicle.
  54. Catch up on issues of Barrel Horse News.
  55. Sweat every day if possible – working out boots circulation and elevates mood. Proper circulation is necessary for staying warm.
  56. Build a solar water tank (horses are more likely to drink water that is slightly warm, increasing hydration and lessening the likelihood of colic).
  57. Read or re-read “Secrets to Barrel Racing Success” + get your FREE copy of The Barrel Racer’s Guide to Speed Development.
  58. While standing in front of your horse, practice backing and bringing him back toward you on the ground with just a look, intention or suggestion (use your energy to drive/draw, send a wave of feel down the lead rope if necessary).
  59. Teach your horse to move forward and backward by one stride only, then half a stride, then just a shift of weight, until he can rock back and forth based on your subtle suggestion.
  60. Teach your horse to be responsible for standing still without being tied, such as with their foot in a rubber feet pan or standing on a rubber mat.
  61. Think of any annoying habits your horse has, take measures to deal with and start resolving them now.
  62. Find a hot tub, any hot tub (even call a nearby hotel to see if they allow locals), and have a good soak once a week.
  63. Get an automatic starter for your vehicle.
  64. If your horses are extra fresh due to being cooped up and ground conditions are poor, bundle up and take them for a walk instead of riding.
  65. Get a bit warmer to avoid the cold shock to your horse’s mouth when you put the bridle on.
  66. Is your horse truly comfortable being touched everywhere on his body? If not, use approach and retreat to work on this.
  67. Get a video subscription to
  68. Look cute even in the cold, with a stormy kromer hat.
  69. Spend five minutes stroking your horse’s neck lightly and slowly. It’s surprising how enjoyable this can for you and your horse.
  70. Practice hindquarter and forequarter yields.
  71. Consider giving your young horses a break and only keeping your seasoned campaigners going in the winter – it’s much easier to exercise a horse than it is to train in cold weather (it’s hard to have “FEEL” under six layers of clothing!).
  72. Ask your horse to sidepass down the barn aisle with either steady or rhythmic pressure.
  73. Visit to print and fill out your permit application (if going pro is your goal, post it in a visible place and set a date for when you’d like to be ready to start entering).
  74. Create a vision board or mind movie.
  75. Introduce you horse to equine pilates, to strengthen and stretch their abdominals and topline.
  76. Load a syringe with apple sauce before you head the barn (when it’s warm enough not to freeze right away) and give it to your horse regularly to help him be better about deworming.
  77. Remember, that you’re not the only one. Drastic weather has slowed us ALL down (even those of us in Texas) – we’re all in this together!
  78. Read True Horsemanship Through Feel by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond.
  79. Organize your photo albums, scrapbooks, or consider creating an online photo album.
  80. If your horse is blanketed, make absolutely sure the blanket fits properly (doesn’t cut into the withers or rub hair off). Be sure to take it off regularly (especially when it warms up) to check your horse’s body condition.
  81. Winter is a time of rest and renewal, there are seasons and cycles in our life – accept and enjoy them rather than fight them.
  82. Teach your horse to have patience at feeding time and wait at behind a barrier (such as wood pole on the ground) until your signal (such as lowering your hand) to come eat. Remember the leader decides who eats and when – don’t allow your horse to rudely invade your space for food.
  83. Bring your saddles, bridles and tack the house, spread it all out on an old bed sheet in the living room and watch a movie as you clean your tack.
  84. Get together with your barrel buddies to reserve and share the expense of renting a heated, indoor riding facility on a regular basis.
  85. Get some tropical screensavers for your computer with sun, white sand, turquoise water and palm trees.
  86. Look forward to never complaining that it’s “too hot” again!
  87. Find your horse’s favorite itchy spot.
  88. Organize your recipe collection (after all – who’ll have time for this in the summer!?).
  89. Make sure your equine first aid kit is well stocked and that items like bute, banamine, etc. are kept in a warm, yet accessible place.
  90. When you feel like you’re losing your identity, remember this quote from NFR barrel racer and top futurity rider & trainer, Jordan Briggs – “Barrel racing is what you do, it is not who you are.”
  91. Check out for hay (and money) saving, slow feeder nets.
  92. Have a horse hair analysis completed to make sure your horse is receiving all the proper nutrients and doesn’t have any deficiencies, toxicities or imbalances in their diet.
  93. Read or re-read True Horsemanship Through Feel by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond.
  94. As you walk, can you get in time with your horse’s footfalls? Practice getting in harmony with one another going forward, backward and laterally.
  95. Make food ahead of time and load up the freezer for quick, easy meals for those late evenings at the barn or arena.
  96. Repeat a mantras such as “green grass and hay” or “at least we don’t have hurricanes.”
  97. Get some Cowgirl Boot Slippers to keep your tootsies toasty.
  98. Always remember – it could be worse. It REALLY could be.
  99. When you must exercise your horses in a snowy pasture, do more straight lines than circles. On slick footing like snow, the smaller the circles, the more likely your horse is to lose his footing.
  100. Visit the Resources page here at for a whole library of recommended books and DVDs.
  101. Lastly, remember this quote – “On particularly tough days, when I feel that I can’t possibly endure, I remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days is 100%.”

How’s that for making winter more tolerable?

I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts and tips for making it through this brutal weather.

I look forward to your comments below!

Critical Concepts for Creating COLLECTION in the Barrel Horse

If there’s one thing that has both bewildered and fascinated me over the years, it’s collection.

Most of us realize that there is much more to it than our horse’s headset.

However, for a long time (like most barrel racers), I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Lethargic, short strided movement with
Lethargic, short strided movement with “headset” is NOT collection.

Unfortunately, even those competitors who are quite accomplished are leaving money at the entry office by neglecting to fully understand, focus on and create true quality movement.

I’m fortunate that I got a taste of the difference it can make on the barrel pattern early on.

This has motivated me to continue studying, learning, practicing and experimenting – ALL with a desire to create movement that was more balanced and powerful, and therefore FASTER.

Even though I’ve spent a considerable amount of time learning how to create authentic collection, I feel like I floundered around quite a bit before things started really coming together.

I know I’m not the only one, so below I’ve shared some theory to clarify this murky, and often misunderstood concept, as well as some tips for creating it for yourself, which I’m confident will benefit your runs – in more ways than one!

Let LOVE Overflow for Greater Peace, Joy & Barrel Racing Success

I love barrel racing and Dot Com.

In the spirit of the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday, today I’ll be sharing some insight for fulfilling your purpose and strengthening your relationships (to yourself, others, even your horses) that is sure to make a positive impact in the arena!


Because it’s ALL connected, you know.

Although you may not visibly see the correlation, that which happens IN the arena is effected by what happens outside the arena.

In the same sort of way, when you make a positive change in one area of your life (whether you’re aware of it or not) – the others tend to improve as well.