Discover and Develop the Horse Power You Need to Succeed!

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #39 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo serves as a source of inspiration for many barrel racers. After all, who hasn’t dreamed of blasting down the alley at the Thomas & Mack?

Qualifying for the NFR is never as easy as it looks, however. The competition is tough and the standards are high – only the top 15 earnings leaders among over 3,000 WPRA members qualify each year for what is known as “the greatest show on dirt!”

The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo - Where Dreams Come True
The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – Where Dreams Come True

With the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo now in our rear view mirror, it’s a good time to look ahead to the New Year and write/talk barrel horses; after all it takes a very special equine partner to rise to top of professional rodeo.

There has ever been a point in history when the equine athlete has been a more important part of the barrel racing equation. Every year the number of horses who have been genetically engineered for barrel racing grows. Although many of the elements necessary to win (hard work, determination, positive attitude, etc.) will remain the same as we go forward, at the same time what it takes to be competitive today is different than it was a few years ago.
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Three Exercises for Relaxation on the Move

Three Exercises for Relaxation on the MoveExcessive tension will slow you down.

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #33 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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If you receive the weekly email tips, then you may already know a little bit about the “rope horse rehab” journey I’ve been on with my husband’s gelding.

In a recent Q&A video titled Six Secrets for Relaxed, Quality Movement, I went in depth to explain the steps I was taking with Dot Com to get him calm, connected and responsive, instead of being a tense, high-headed, runaway waiting to happen.

As someone who is committed to never-ending self-development, I’ve been continuously refining my techniques, learning lessons and as a result – experiencing even more positive changes. In this article, I’d like to share three more exercises for “Relaxation on the Move,” including tips that will make it likely that you and your horses will benefit (and not make some of the mistakes I did).

First off, I’ll say that in the barrel racing world, it seems somewhat acceptable for horses to be “on the muscle,” and not just in that moment when they are mentally and physically gathering to fire to the first barrel, but in general. I think this way of being becomes acceptable because it’s so common, yet a lack of understanding exists when it comes to accepting this as a “typical behavior trait” of barrel horses.

Like I mentioned in the past Q&A, many horses that barrel racers think are “excited” are actually insecure, tense, anxious, fearful, etc. It’s NOT a fun way to feel, and that kind of consistent mental/emotional roller coaster can take a lot out of a horse (or human).

At the same time, it’s important to remember that a quiet horse is not necessarily a happy horse. Fortunately there is plenty we can do (or not do) to help our horses find some middle ground.
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How to Use Body Language to “Go and Whoa”

How to Use Body Language to

I once came across a definition of impulsion recently that described it as the equal balance of “go and whoa.”

So if we have more “go,” or more “whoa,” we not only lose impulsion, but chances are we won’t win the barrel race either!

In a world where tiny fractions of a second can be life changing, maintaining this balance becomes a very delicate matter. Our horses must be able to deliver every ounce of speed they can muster between barrels, and then rate down for the turns like a jet engine in reverse.

Make going by barrels a thing of the past.
Make going by barrels a thing of the past.

It’s not uncommon for horses to get too much run on their mind and lose their “whoa,” OR start anticipating the turn so much that they can no longer be driven up into the turn. When we’ve reached to either of these extremes, it’s well past time to take action to correct the problem.

But a barrel racer must specifically understand HOW, which is what this week’s Q&A video is all about.

If a rider’s hands don’t educate a horse appropriately, in time a horse will become more and more dull to their pulling. If a rider uses their body to constantly urge a lazy horse to keep moving, soon their urges lose their meaning as well.
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Follow the Barrel Racing Pattern of Least Resistance

Follow the Barrel Racing Pattern of Least Resistance

What does a bag of flour, soccer field markers and a tape measure have in common?

Well, they are yet another Secret to Barrel Racing Success, of course!

When it comes to navigating the cloverleaf, some top barrel racers keep an even distance around the barrels. Although it’s not as common as it once was, some still make a swooping pocket coming into the turns. Many barrel racers come into the barrel a little wider than they leave it. Some trainers ask their horses to follow a slightly different pattern in slow work as they ask for in a run. Many of us designate a “point” a certain number of feet in front of a barrel as the location to rate and/or shape for the turn.

Flour, soccer field markers, and a tape measure
Flour, soccer field markers, and a tape measure.

My preferred method is somewhat of a combination of these concepts, and I then customize that pattern slightly based on the horse I’m riding. Additional slight adjustments may be necessary in an actual run depending on the conditions.

These are circumstances when it becomes especially important for our horse to be truly connected and willing to follow our guidance. If you missed my last article on that very subject, to make sure you and your horse are on the same page (even when going mach 10), click here to Get Connected to Shave Time Off the Clock.

The truth is, the path we train our horse’s feet to follow (and how) on the barrels can make it physically easier OR harder to navigate the pattern quickly and efficiently. Read more

Get Connected to Shave Time Off the Clock

Get Connected to Shave Time Off the Clock

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #24 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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“Experiencing true unity when racing through the pattern, without delays or hesitation, is the stuff winning runs are made of.” – pg. 34 of Secrets to Barrel Racing Success.

It’s not uncommon for riders to get a taste of true connection with horses, and then turn their desire for developing it further into a lifelong pursuit.

Many riders, even trainers and competitors are not physically and mentally connected with their horses. Even worse, is that they lack the awareness of their disconnection. Often times this sense of “being on the same page” comes and goes – it’s there sometimes, but not others. One thing for certain, “getting connected” more consistently will always improve your barrel racing!

Robot Horse

I don’t want you to make the mistake of thinking that if you aren’t “one” with your horse, that you won’t achieve some level of success with horses, because miraculously, you can.

It’s possible through using repetition, patterns, etc. to train your horse to develop habits and respond to cues. Like a perfect robotic “trick horse” your equine partner might make assumptions and obediently respond with enough consistency that it leaves you feeling like quite an accomplished team.

However this mechanical, trained responsiveness, although an important part of the equation for successful barrel racing, will only get you so far. Without being truly connected, the communication with your horse is, well – artificial.
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Six Tips for a Tight Third Barrel

In today’s Q&A video, we’ve described six reasons why horses blow off the third barrel (the reasons also apply to ANY other barrel), AND what to do (which may surprise you), once you’ve pinpoited the problem. When troubleshooting, keep in mind that it’s likely there are a combination of things occurring, so a resolution may require addressing the problem from several different angles.

Tea and Crumpets... on the Barrel Pattern!?
Tea and Crumpets… on the Barrel Pattern!?

I certainly feel the frustration anyone has with this issue, because I used to struggle with my horse coming wide off the first barrel. Maybe you’ve felt your horse leave a barrel wide and then make a time consuming swoop instead of a laser-like straight line, and in that moment didn’t feel like whatever you did to correct the error was very effective! The solution to MY first barrel issue was featured in a past Q&A that you might also find helpful, titled Two Contradictory Tips to be Straight and Fast Between Barrels.

If you watch the video below and Read more

Top 10 Barrel Racing Tips Countdown

Barrel Racing Show

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #19 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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I’m no David Letterman, but am sharing a Top 10 list that’s even better than any Late Show countdown!

As you can imagine, as the creator of, I’m asked quite often for “barrel racing tips.” 

Although that very phrase is this web site’s namesake, I admit to being at somewhat of a loss when posed this question.  In fact, I can’t help but immediately think “Where do I start?” or be tempted to ask “How much time do you have?” 

So finally, I’ve taken some time to develop my “Top 10 Barrel Racing Tips” and have shared them below.  These tips are based on the lesser known, but critically important areas that I have found to contribute most to barrel racing success. 

If you’ve been part of the community long enough, you’d know that this web site, and my book Secrets to Barrel Racing Success are not your average barrel racing resources. 

I learned many lessons the hard way, and over time I began to notice that others were misled and mistaken, as I was.  Many barrel racers struggle to find barrel racing success because they are looking for it in the wrong places. If you are ready for real, lasting positive results, these tips will get you started…

Heather Letterman

Number 10 – Put Education before Specialization

When you put horsemanship first, you are on a path to developing ALL the tools, skills and knowledge you will ever need to accomplish anything you can dream of with horses.  There may be some people out there who have achieved some success without good horsemanship, but truly, if you are serious about achieving barrel racing success, and you put horsemanship first, this path is as close to a “sure thing” you can get!

Consider making the development of your own horsemanship and your horse’s education a priority over learning about barrel racing.  It’s OK to focus on things specific to barrel racing too, but it’s real difficult to be successful at barrel racing, without a solid educational foundation in yourself and your horse!  Seek out resources to learn more about horse psychology, training, riding, etc.  Read books, go to horsemanship clinics, watch DVD’s, seek out resources, etc.  Just because you’re technically not in school anymore (or even if you are), doesn’t mean that you stop learning outside of the school environment.  Be progressive, keep climbing the ladder, set your sights on becoming a better barrel racer, rider, and person than you were yesterday! Read more

Education, Timing & Feel – The Wright Way

Education, Timing & Feel - The Wright Way

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #18 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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If there’s one thing Ed Wright stresses more than anything else, it’s “Education, Education, EDUCATION!” This is the foundation of the multi-faceted program that he and his wife Martha have developed, which has remained true over the years, and still stands firm. It’s an approach that is based on educating a horse the “old fashioned way” – with patience. Ed has dedicated his life to sharing this timeless approach with barrel racers and it’s one that continues to deliver consistent positive results at a time when competition that is tougher than ever.

Ed Wright

Ed states that “Knowledge tells you what to do, experience tells you when, where, how and why to use that knowledge.”

To develop our horse’s knowledge, we must be willing to develop our own. As riders, the best teachers we’ll ever come across are horses, but only if we are willing to learn from them. Educating a horse then, really has more to do with allowing the horse to educate us. The horse will always tell us the direction in which we need to go, if we listen.

With horses and riders, it’s imperative that this education be something that doesn’t end in our minds, but follows through to the way in which we use our bodies. With an understanding of timing and feel in place, we can go forward and build experience, which creates opportunities to fine tune the details of “when, where, how and why” that timing and feel is applied.

Ed encourages barrel racers to focus on developing three main areas of education in their horses:

  1. Speed Control
  2. Direction Control
  3. Body Shape Control

Ed explains that “Just because a horse was educated properly as a colt, doesn’t mean they’re still educated.” At the same time, just because a horse is ten years old and has packed around a saddle and rider for years, doesn’t mean that he ever received a proper education. Not only must barrel racers learn to recognize when their horse needs to be better educated, they must also learn how to maintain their education, and continue to develop it. If you want to become a top barrel racer, AND a horseman, there really is no destination – it’s a never ending process. Read more