Three No-Brainer Components for Successful and Consistent Barrel Racing Under Pressure

Three No-Brainer Components for Successful and Consistent Barrel Racing Under Pressure

I always say – there’s a lot more to barrel racing, than barrel racing!

For this reason I feel as though the off season, OR any time we’re sidetracked from active competition (for example, when a horse gets injured – my situation not log ago) provides a good opportunity to dive into other areas of personal development that will accelerate our barrel racing success once we’re back in the saddle.

The thing is, when we haven’t been competing for a while it’s easy to beebop along in our own little comfort zone, completely oblivious about how to pressure of competition effects us.  When we’re not out testing ourselves regularly, we get a little rusty and forgetful!

I had a HUGE wake-up call after we first moved from Wyoming and I’d been living in my own little secluded south-Texas world, then hauled our horses to a HUGE barrel race not far from home. 

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Imagination, Desire, Belief & Action – Program Your Mind to WIN with Rodeo’s Mental Guru, Gary Leffew

Imagination, Desire, Belief & Action – Program Your Mind to WIN with Rodeo’s Mental Guru, Gary Leffew
© Sergeibach | – Rodeo: Ladies Barrel Racing Photo

If you’re not already a fan of Gary Leffew’s resources for helping rodeo athletes achieve success, you will be soon!

Back in 2009, I had the pleasure of working together with the Bull Riding World Champion and “Rodeo’s Mental Guru” to help organize and participate in one of his first Mental Barrel Racing Clinics.

It didn’t take long for me to become familiar with Gary’s all-time favorite quote:

“Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass.” – Paul J. Meyer

In today’s post, he’s shared deeper insights behind that quote so we can ALL use it’s meaning to achieve our own gold buckle dreams!


I was once at the point where I was considering quitting bull riding, when I read Psycho-Cybernetics, my first positive thinking book. That book started a 50 year study of how to properly program yourself to win.

The next three years, after reprogramming my mind, I was runner up for the World the first year and third the next year. I won the 1970 World Championship AND the NFR average both the third year.

After attitude development turned my career around I started collecting every positive thinking quote I could find and by thumbing through them each day, they not only helped me keep a positive focus on my long range goals, but also the current task at hand.

Gary Leffew

The above quote is my favorite because it is a constant reminder of the key ingredients one needs to be a success at any undertaking.

Whatever you vividly imagine – we are all where we are because of what we have thought, and if you don’t like where you are… reinvent yourself! I was almost 20 when I climbed down on my first bull and the experience was so euphoric, I was high for a week, but what hooked me even more was the romantic lifestyle of the rodeo cowboy.

I had been working at a job I hated and was feeling like my life was going nowhere but that experience jump-started my imagination and from that day on all of my thoughts and day dreams were focused on the day I got to quit that job and start living what for me would be a year-round paid vacation.

Books like, Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting talk about how a vivid imagination conjures up powerful feelings that attract the people and circumstances you need to make your goals a reality.

The second ingredient is ardently desire – the word ardent is described in the dictionary as a feeling warmth, passionate, fiery hot and glowing; and when you combine a fiery hot passion with a vivid imagination everything you need to reach your destination starts to show up in your life.

Sincerely believe in - I read somewhere the only way man can install belief into the subconscious mind is through repetition of thought. Maxwell Maltz, the father of self-image physiology said the mind cannot tell the difference between a real experience and a vividly imagined one.

The constant repetition of positive end result images going through your mind fools it into believing the experiences are real and because emotions stem from the subconscious, all of a sudden your confidence level is through the roof.

Enthusiastically act upon – you can’t get to second base unless you take your foot off first. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, all of the other ingredients will not get you anywhere unless you take action.

Once I decided I was going to become a professional bull rider, I was willing to put it all on the line for the achievement of that goal.

Gary Leffew, World Champion Bull Rider
Gary Leffew, World Champion Bull Rider

One of the older hands told me, “You will have to get on 100 bulls before you start feeling at home of them.” So every weekend while my friends were partying, I was driving somewhere to get on as many bulls as my body would allow.

When I came dragging my beat up body into work every Monday morning my co-workers would laugh and say, “When are you going to quit wasting your money kid!?” and I would answer, “I’m not wasting it, I’m investing in the day I get to quit this miserable job and start working 8 seconds a day.” They laughed, but it was me who got the last laugh.

When you follow these guidelines your goals will inevitably come to pass.

It took a year and two months of honing my skills until I was able to quit and start living my dream, but looking back I thank God for that awful job and every one of those co-workers because they only made my desire for a better life that much stronger.


In the video below, Gary addressed the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce by sharing some humor, tips for role modeling, and how we either program the mind to work against us, OR for us!

As a coach Gary has trained 13 World Champions, and is especially known around the world for his popular bull riding schools.

While he doesn’t claim to offer insights into the mechanics of barrel racing, what he IS an expert at, is knowing how the mind works and why it’s so important to learn how to get in the right mental state before entering the arena to compete.

NFR barrel racer and million dollar cowgirl, Molly Powell has relied on Gary’s mind training for the majority of her career…

“I first heard Gary Leffew’s stories of mental toughness and inspiration in 1995. I was young and had dreams of becoming and NFR champion barrel racer, so Gary’s stories were like listening to pieces of the dream I would hopefully get a piece of (in real life) one day myself! I was successful right away in my rodeo career, but found I usually didn’t do well in short go’s at big rodeos where it counted. I tried harder and harder, but that didn’t seem to do me any good… After hearing the story of when he told a fellow bull rider “this is no different than being in the practice pen or at an amateur rodeo,” I did start to relax during big runs… it’s been a constant reminder to me to always believe in myself and my abilities and remember that this is where I belong. This mental toughness is definitely what helped me to go on and win the National Finals Rodeo. Gary’s methods are fun and effective. I recommend them to everyone.”

When it comes to obtaining cooperation from problem horses, such as those who refuse to enter the arena, Gary learned through his experience with bucking bulls that like horses, they have only two levels of consciousness: theda and delta. Humans have four: beta, alpha, theda and delta.

That gives animals the ability to communicate with each other through their thoughts. This is why it’s so important to learn the art of visualization! When you are programming yourself for a perfect performance – it’s as if your horse is seeing everything you visualize and feeling everything you feel.

When you get too nervous and start over thinking before you compete, that puts you on the beta level of your brain. Beta brainwaves can be disturbing to animals. The art of visualization puts you down on the same brainwave level, allowing you to more effectively communicate with your horse.

Gary also played a big role in turning around Carlee Pierce’s 2012 NFR from tipping barrels in almost every round, to setting the arena record, winning a first, two seconds and over $80,000.00 for the week.

She states “I can’t get enough of Gary’s mind strength. He helps me so much!”

Pictured with Rodeo's Mental Guru
Pictured with Rodeo’s Mental Guru

If I could give you a couple of last takeaways from this article and from my own training with Gary, it’s to never forget the meaning behind the opening quote.

Whatever dreams God put in your heart, let them constantly stir your emotions and make it a priority to give them ample space in your mind. Every day do something with enthusiasm that gets you closer to achieving them, then have faith it WILL happen!

I also encourage you to become a dedicated student (and applier!) of sports psychology. When you understand how it works, that it DOES work, and how truly important mental training is for success as an athlete, you’ll become more mentally empowered and less likely to get off track.

To refine your ability to use visualization, breathing, positive affirmations and other techniques to create a winning performance, gain more in-depth support through Gary’s popular DVD’s and audio CD’s specifically developed for rodeo athletes:

You might also enjoy diving into one of his (and my) favorite books for creating your dream life in partnership with THE creator in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

With Gary Leffew known “Rodeo’s Mental Guru,” then his partner, Robyn Goode could be considered the “Guruess.”

She’s a Certified Reiki Practitioner who works with humans, horses & other animals, specializing in Therapeutic Essential Oils, and is a ReVita Vet/RevLight distributor who also does life and motivational coaching.

Together they plan to branch out and start offering more Mental Barrel Racing clinics in the future.

“The power of the mind is an incredible thing. Quite literally, it can make you or break you! We have found that by simply changing our attitudes, doing affirmations and using visualization, great positive changes take place in performance. What a powerful tool for athletes to harness in creating success. We are here to guide you.”
Barrel Racer’s Focus

To express interest in coordinating a clinic, click here to get in touch with Robyn and Gary.

Also check out these resources for mastering your mental game:

Now, I’d love to hear from YOU in the comments below!

What kind of mental game challenges have you faced in (or out of) the arena?

What steps have you taken to overcome them – and what will you do NOW that you’re armed with even more tools and guidance?

Go With the Flow – Microcurrent Therapy for Powerful Equine Healing, Comfort, Relief and Recovery

Go With the Flow - Microcurrent Therapy for Powerful Equine Healing, Comfort, Relief and Recovery

When my barrel horse gelding tore a collateral ligament late in 2012, one of my worst fears – that my best and most treasured equine partner would suffer a serious injury, had come true.

After multiple Vet. visits, an MRI, and many long months, we eventually made it to the side of the recovery roller coaster – in large part because I refused to accept that we wouldn’t make it, but let me tell you it was very touch and go for a while!

One month from the moment I finally CHOSE to believe that “the odds” didn’t apply to us, even when things weren’t necessarily looking good, he was sound and well on his way to making a comeback.

These days, now that I’m armed not only with an even more firm belief in the power of positive expectation but also valuable scientific insights and powerful modern technology, I’ve chosen microcurrent as the therapy of choice to make sure he (and our other horses) stay that way.

With so many options out there, after much research and now impressive results in a very short period of time I’m especially enthusiastic about microcurrent or “electrical massage” as being one of the most effective options for supporting my barrel horse’s success in the arena and well-being in general. Read more… »

Conditioning for Quickness – Build Strength and Understanding to Unleash Your Barrel Horse’s Potential

Conditioning for Quickness – Build Strength and Understanding to Unleash Your Barrel Horse's Potential

You may have figured out by now that barrel racing isn’t quite as simple as it looks.
Speed especially, will throw us (and our horses) for a loop if we’re not careful.

Ensuring they’re adequately prepared to perform their best on the pattern starts with understanding the elements of SPEED (which I went into great depth on here).

It’s our responsibility as trainers and jockeys to not only be aware of our individual horses strengths and weaknesses but to embrace and take responsibility for enhancing their innate talents, as well as strengthening the weaker links.

Because of Dot Com’s extreme sensitivity for example, sometimes the communication between my body, Dot Com’s brain, and his feet gets a little “kink” in it you could say – that’s one of his “weaknesses.”

This doesn’t have so much to do with his physical ability, but his mental development – which is something I’m responsible for strengthening.

You see, we have to be aware and advanced enough to realize that what WE might consider “sensitive,” could more accurately be described as REACTIVE, AND most importantly, could be turned into RESPONSIVE, IF we take the correct steps!

While building strength IS an important and necessary part in developing quickness, if the channels of communication are not open and flowing, even the most beefed up barrel horse is going to leave us high and dry. Our horses must be STRONG, but they must also be confident, mentally connected, thinking, and willing to respond in a tiny fraction of a second, together WITH us, both body AND mind.

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The Need for S.P.E.E.D. – How to Leg Up Your Barrel Horses for Locomotion

The Need for S.P.E.E.D. - How to Leg Your Barrel Horses Up for Locomotion

by Kathleen Rossi of Integrated Equine

Ingrain this in your brain: Slow and right beats fast and wrong, but fast and right beats everything!

We’ve all seen it at a barrel race – a rider runs full blast down the alley and past the first barrel, the rest of the run is spent trying to regain timing and precision in an attempt to finish the pattern.

Then another gal barely canters in, but her approach, rate and turn are set up and executed perfectly. Guess who won? The ‘slow’ barrel racer. She didn’t waste time trying to gain back control of her horse on the pattern therefore she used less ground and less TIME.

Esteemed thoroughbred racing professional Chris McCaren says this is what it takes to make a great jockey:  “It’s really basic – they (jockeys) have the greatest ability to stay out of the horse’s way to the highest degree.” This accomplished race horse jockey is no rookie to winning or speed.

What I really want to make a point of explaining what speed is and what it isn’t.

Speed IS what barrel racing is all about, speed IS what places you – and the less you stay out of your horse’s way the more speed you will incur. Speed is NOT whipping the lights out of your horse, speed is NOT catching wind off your saddle, speed does NOT necessarily require kicking at every stride.

Sit, Ride, RUN – Three Sequential Steps (and Exercises) to Become a Better Barrel Racing Jockey

Sit, Ride, RUN – Three Sequential Steps (and Exercises) to Become a Better Barrel Racing Jockey

If you jumped on a horse bareback in a round pen with no saddle or bridle, how confident would you feel in your ability to “go with the flow” and remain seated on that horse’s back as he loped around – as he was free to move when and however he wanted?

Now, I’m not saying you should go out and DO this, but just consider what it’d feel like. You might think – “Well if I just had a bridle rein, or even a lead rope connected to the halter on one side… OR a saddle horn to hang onto, or stirrups to balance in…” OR maybe you’d feel confident as long as you were on an easy going or familiar horse that responded well to body language?

Truth be told, most of us never learned to be great passengers before we aspired to become great barrel racers. When a horse zigs quickly, we have the tendency to zag. And if our ability to “go with the flow” is compromised (even a little bit), that means our passenger skills are lacking which ultimately means that our ability to jockey a barrel horse at top speed is too.

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Five Cold, Hard (not-so-obvious) TRUTHS Why You’re Not Winning

Five Cold, Hard (not-so-obvious) TRUTHS Why You're Not Winning

Andrea Otley knows exactly what type of specific challenges we often face on the road to better barrel racing!

In today’s post she’ll be sharing some lesser-known insights into understanding why the clock might not be stopping as you’d hope, as well what action steps are necessary to change that, AND make this your year to reach new heights (and speeds) on the pattern.


You’ve got the horse.

You’ve got the tack – the saddle, the pad, the bit, the training equipment.

The teeth are floated. The chiropractic work is done. The feeding program is top notch – only the best for your horse.

He’s well trained. He knows and loves his job.

He’s in the best shape of his life.

You’ve taken the lessons, read the articles, watched the DVDs and corrected any problems.

You’ve learned so much and practiced hard. You’re devoted, dedicated and determined. You want this so bad!

You fall asleep each night thinking of your approach to the first barrel, how awesome it feels as your horse runs home. You get butterflies just thinking about it.

You enter each barrel race with the same positive expectation you enter the alley with, but then your heart drops again as you hear your time.

WHY aren’t you WINNING??

The Backbone of Barrel Racing Success – A Checklist for Training an Educated Body and Willing Mind

The Backbone of Barrel Racing Success - A Checklist for Training an Educated Body and Willing Mind

I believe preschool teachers and colt starters should be among the highest trained and paid professionals in the world.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the future, not just the future of the horses and children they teach, but the future of the entire planet depends on quality early education.

The human brain is thought to be most malleable between ages two and five. It’s not that you can’t teach an old dog (horse OR human) new tricks, but life is going to be a lot easier, safer and more successful and productive for everyone when youngsters of any species have positive learning experiences from the get go.

In today’s post, I’ve gone through the critical foundational elements I believe are necessary to set a barrel horse up for outrageous and lasting success in life as a high end performance horse, and beyond.

Because really, what they need in addition to discipline specific training is mental and emotional development, maturity and general life skills.

Whether you’re working with youngsters or have an old campaigner, there are endless benefits to be gained through not only further refining your ability to influence a horse’s body effectively, but most importantly, their minds.

How well your horse can adapt to the stress of life on the road – whether he can stay calm and relaxed as you get that high degree of physical responsiveness in intense environments no less, ultimately determines the outcome of our performance – it’s ALL connected.

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