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. Read more

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 from our barrel horses remains, on many levels – a mystery.

Until now, that is.

Today I’ll be sharing some interesting observations I’ve 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. Read more

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 in the lawn 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 at 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. Read more

101 Tips for Barrel Racers Dealing with Extreme Winter Weather

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 have caused 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 BarrelHorseWorld.com 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. Read more

Powerful Insights on Becoming a Horse(wo)man, Part III

The Naked Truth - Powerful Insights on Becoming a Horse(wo)man

Below I’ve continued with the final part in my Becoming a Horse(wo)man Series

One of the most important things I learned as we worked toward our goals at liberty, was if I did something to destroy Dot Com’s interest in sticking around, I had nothing. It was obvious when it happened (even to the neighbors), due to the 1,100 lb. white streak flying across the pasture – whoops!

We tried not to practice that habit.

When working in a round pen, a horse that loses connection will tend to look to the outside of the circle – a sign that they are checked out mentally, and wishing they were somewhere else.

An extremely distracted horse at liberty isn’t quite ready to be turned loose, but would benefit from developing more positive habits online first. No matter where I work my horses, or what tools I happen to be using, I want to develop them in a way that encourages them to choose to focus on me, despite any environmental distractions.

One of the biggest mistakes I made with Dot Com was squashing his genuine desire to be with me by applying too much pressure, and expecting too much, for too long. At liberty, that desire to connect is like GOLD, and I wasn’t doing enough to preserve it.

As intense as the horse’s attention span must be at liberty, you can imagine it’s easy to burn a horse out quickly. Shorter sessions, with plenty of releases and relaxation time in between the more intense lessons, was what it took to keep Dot Com interested in the conversation – a lesson that no doubt applies under saddle as well.

The tricky part, was that a sensitive horse like Dot Com can actually check out mentally without ever leaving physically. They can even check out while working online or when ridden, without running into and putting any pressure on the rope or reins.

I learned how to recognize the truth of how he was feeling through reading his expression. I learned not to barge through the worried ears, or his blank, hard, empty stare, and how to reward and recognize the soft eye and relaxed muzzle as my green light to proceed.

The horse’s body language and expression will provide a map telling you which way to go, but only if you pay attention, realize its importance, and learn how to read it.

When he did choose to leave me, it was always a sign that I needed to slow down, get back online, or work in a smaller space to rebuild the connection that was lost.

Horses learn bad habits so quickly. One of the major sources of problems in the barrel racing world comes when a horse has learned he can successfully push through pressure.

Heather and Dot Com at Liberty

What gets rewarded, gets repeated. By running away, Dot Com was finding a few moments of peace by avoiding me. We’d all be better barrel racers if we were more careful not to allow any undesirable behavior repeat itself. We must look at what happened, before what happened, happened to cause it in the first place – and make any necessary adjustments immediately.

Like Molly Powell says, “Horses learn bad habits because they can.”

So often we don’t realize that our horses are running away mentally. Thanks to my time with Dot Com, I’m more aware of what that looks like and how I can prevent it, both on the ground and under saddle.

Again, this is where becoming a true horseman comes in. The lesson here is to always be thinking about how you can do more with less, yet always have a safety net, so that you don’t set your horse up to fail before he’s thoroughly prepared. There are usually many signs that our horse is a goner before the really obvious signs come up, but we have to be horseman enough to notice them, and take appropriate action.

An important lesson Dot Com learned was how to come toward pressure. With such a small tolerance for pressure of any sort, by default Dot Com would react rather than respond. With time, he learned to tip his nose, and with positive flexion through his body, come in to me when I directed the tiniest amount of pressure toward his hindquarters, even at a distance, and with speed.

He even learned to walk backwards and sideways toward me when I applied rhythmic pressure from a distance – another huge accomplishment for a horse whose automatic response was “when in doubt, LEAVE (fast)!” Finally, he was thinking, he was learning to respond, yield toward and away from pressure, and not make reactive, rash assumptions.

What makes working at liberty so challenging is that not only are you working with a horse with no actual physical connection, but at advanced levels you begin to communicate at greater distances and in bigger spaces. A horse that blows you off at speed under saddle, isn’t much different than one who blows you off at a distance on the ground. One of the building blocks to liberty at distance, was working online at a distance.

If Dot Com ignored my request to draw to me or drive away, move sideways, backward, move his body parts around or go up or down in gait from the end of a 45’ line, then chances of it happening from 20’ at liberty were slim. I developed all these things to a very high degree online first – which is no different from how we must develop our barrel horses well going slow, if their education and responsiveness is to hold up going fast.

Of course we did add speed to our liberty work as well, which was part of achieving our goal of performing flying lead changes. Although I used the delicate, low wall of a round pen built with unelectrified tape as a support, flying lead changes meant that I would need to rev him up while maintaining a high, even level of drive, draw AND general responsiveness. For a horse that tends to get emotional as speed increases, it was no small feat.

In fact, when I quickly stepped backward to draw him toward me at speed, he would often quickly turn away from me. The intensity of the request was just more than he could handle initially. Turning away was his form of avoidance, much like an ostrich putting his head in the sand – “Can’t do it, too much pressure!”

Helping him through this meant brushing up the individual ingredients for the maneuver, as well as plenty of building up and slowing down, building up and slowing down, in order to close the gap between speed and relaxation – no different than what we must do with our barrel horses. I also lavishly rewarded him when he did turn and come toward me, which simply consisted of a good rest – free of any and all pressure.

As we progressed, he became more and more confident about placing his feet. He learned how to position his body appropriately for the lead changes and was responding to me lighting fast without zoning me out, breaking gait or breaking the connection. It’s not just speed that causes horses to be emotional, it’s the pressure of having to arrange their feet very precisely under our direction.

After all, surrendering control of their feet goes against all their instincts. Don’t ever take a horse’s complete willingness for you to guide their feet, especially at speed, for granted. The greatest compliment they can give you – is their trust!

For a horse like Dot Com who is not very confident by nature, it’s no wonder that precisely placing his feet in the roping box, combined with the emotional anticipation of high pressure and speed, created anxiety. I’m certain that by developing calm, quick responsiveness at liberty, that we are a huge step ahead in creating it when my husband can offer him even more guidance and support under saddle.

To learn more about my journey with Dot Com toward higher level horsemanship visit:

Would you like to build more connection with your barrel horse?

If so, you’ll enjoy the posts below:

Four Ways to Solve Problems on the Barrel Pattern with Quality Counter Arcs

Four Ways to Solve Problems on the Barrel Pattern with Quality Counter Arcs

A few years ago I was having trouble with my gelding anticipating the second barrel and cutting in too closely – a common problem in the barrel racing world.

It’s even more common on the second barrel where we have the shortest distance between barrels and run straight toward a wall or fence, which definitely plays a role in our horses getting short and anticipating that turn even more.

Focusing ahead and actively riding him further in the hole helped, but I really wanted to do something to lessen his desire to drop in to begin with.

We weren’t tipping a lot of barrels YET, but I knew the issue had the potential to develop into a more major problem if I didn’t address it.

So, I employed the help of the good ol’ barrel racing standby – the counter arc.

You can imagine my surprise a few weeks later, when I tested our progress in competition. I was hustling him across the pen, and when I offered some subtle rein contact to round the second barrel, my gelding stiffened up like he had rigor mortis!

He felt like he’d swallowed a 2×4.

My almost over-bendy, soft and supple barrel horse was literally stiffer than a board in that turn – I had never felt anything quite that extreme, or that awful.

I was so shocked and confused. But after quickly flipping through my mental rolodex, there was only one thing I could attribute the change to – Read more

Turn First Barrel Stress into SUCCESS with a Customized Problem Solving Plan!

Have you ever experienced RSPA?

It’s a very common condition among barrel racers, known as “Rate/Shape Point Anxiety.” It happens most commonly before the first barrel turn, but is known to take place before the second and third barrel as well.

Symptoms include confusion, stress, nervousness, stutter stepping, second guessing, hesitation, and even fear, worry, as well as extreme hand and leg movements.

Going by the Barrel - A Symptom of
Going by the Barrel – A Common Symptom of “Rate/Shape Point Anxiety”

It doesn’t have to happen to you, help is here…

In today’s new video post here on Barrel Racing Tips.com, I’ve outlined a simple system for problem solving, troubleshooting and tuning that brings clarity to a very grey, anxiety filled area (OR any area on the pattern, actually).

You may even relate to and receive insight from the example problem described and shown in the video below.

Although I expect the steps I’ve explained to relieve your symptoms of RSPA, keep in mind that completely recovering from it is a process that takes time, experience, and…. LESSONS (in my book, a “mistake” is a LESSON, IF you learn something from it). Read more

STOP Enabling Your HOT Barrel Horse and START Empowering – Part I

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #68 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.


When it comes to barrel racing, it’s more often a matter of WHEN our horses will get HOT vs. IF

Even with careful development and maintenance, it’s likely that at some point we’ll be challenged to have perfectly clear communication and emotional fitness from our horse when we need it most under high pressure circumstances.

Speed and anxiety seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly.  To the barrel racer, however, it’s not a very enjoyable combination.

Before we can REALLY help resolve our horse’s tendency to become tense, anxious and impulsive, let’s take a close look into WHY this happens to begin with.

Consider horses in nature – usually they don’t run full speed UNLESS they’re (believed to be) in serious danger, or must outright flee to save their life.  When a horse’s feet really get moving, things start to change within their body biochemically, including the release of adrenaline.

Some horses, due to their innate characteristics, tend to be more concerned with their safety than others, and these horses are likely to unravel emotionally more quickly, more deeply, AND take longer to become “level headed” again.

This doesn’t necessarily make them less any desirable as barrel horses (it’s largely a personal preference). In fact, in my book, this mental/emotional sensitivity often translates into a naturally heightened physical sensitivity as well, which to me, IS desirable. Whichever type of horse we end up with or choose, it’s our job to find a balance that brings out each individual’s greatest potential.

An impulsion problem is an emotional problem.
An impulsion problem is an emotional problem.

Speaking of level headed, have you also ever wondered why so many horses raise their head with they get emotional?  This also has everything to do with safety.  In addition to the fact that horses raise their heads higher in order to see more clearly through the lower portion of the lens in their eye, a horse with his head low to the ground is in a vulnerable position – a perfect target for a predator (or a perceived predator).

Does this mean that your aged rodeo campaigner is scared for his life when he’s all jazzed up?  Not necessarily.

However, these behavior characteristics that are based in fear can become learned behaviors, brought on by triggers.  Horses catch on to patterns quickly. When you start saddling up at a competition, it doesn’t take long for them to understand what happens, before what happens, happens! Read more