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

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

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #161 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

Andrea Otley knows exactly what type of challenges we all 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 as some action steps proven to change that, AND how to make this your year to reach new heights (and speeds) on the barrel 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??

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not any of that stuff. Maybe, just maybe, the answer lies somewhere in your own daily fitness habits – in what you do and don’t do, what you eat and don’t eat.

Maybe there’s a connection between how you clock on the pattern and how fit and healthy you are. Do any of the following ideas sound familiar?

#1. You believe riding your horse and doing your daily chores at the barn gives you enough exercise and you don’t think you need a specific fitness program. After all, you muck stalls, lift bales and bags of grain, you pitch hay every single day. That should be enough, right?

Although you may be very active and work harder than the average person, as a serious competitor it’s important that you use your muscles specifically during your daily routine. You need a purposeful fitness and exercise program beyond your regular riding and chores because those activities do not engage all the muscles in your body that fire during a competitive run.

By doing certain exercises consistently to tone, tighten and strengthen your core, build and strengthen the muscles in your legs and arms, you are setting yourself up to be able to react quicker and in better time with your horse. Normal day to day riding and chores are simply not enough.

#2. When your horse takes off for the first barrel or comes out of a turn, you feel intimidated by his sheer power so you compensate (often subconsciously) by not sending him confidently. You may even slow down and safety up a bit as you turn the other barrels as well, wasting valuable hundredths of seconds.

You may know that competitive barrel horses are strong. They’re like being strapped to a jet engine. The force is incredible. It takes a fit, strong person to stay in control, react fast, remain balanced and seated through the acceleration while also maintaining effective, yet subtle feel and communication.

In order to be competitive and win, you need to incorporate upper body strengthening into your weekly routine because horses outweigh us by over 1,000 lbs. We need to be in top notch physical shape to go to the horn, brace ourselves in the saddle, engage our core, and stay securely seated and in time with them as they take off.

Just as if you intended to ride a rocket ship destined for Mars, it would be shortsighted not to do everything in your power to strengthen your arms, legs and core to stay WITH (not just on) the powerful, beautiful beasts we climb aboard.

A strong, fit rider has the ability to ride stride for stride in the moment, vs. getting behind the tremendously powerful motion and subsequently slowing everything down.

#3. You find yourself shortening the amount of time, or number of horses you ride because you’re too tired and don’t have the energy. You flat don’t feel like it.

The fact is you’re busy, tired and overwhelmed with LIFE – kids, chores, bills, housework, yardwork, barn chores, hauling kids back and forth to basketball and rodeo and working your 9-5 day job so you’ll have the money to pay for all of this in the first place. You know you don’t have time OR the energy to ADD a work out.

If you consistently feel too tired to exercise, know that the act of exercising in and of itself can actually increase your energy levels. Your body becomes more efficient at pumping blood and oxygen to the brain and the rest of your body.

With regular exercise, you’ll increase your metabolism and your muscle mass. Your body becomes more disease resistant.

The key is to find workouts that you enjoy. The possibilities are endless. Making yourself do something you genuinely dislike (in any aspect of life), is setting yourself up for failure.

But consider giving exercise a chance, and even making it a priority. Find a FUN way to move your body and you’ll be feeling energized and craving more in no time.

#4. You hate the fact that you need to buy a bigger size pants and shirt this year because you gained an extra winter layer and never got rid of last year’s layer.

This makes you feel self-conscious so when you’re on your horse at a barrel race or rodeo, the little devil on your shoulder constantly whispers in your ear how you aren’t good enough to be here. This prevents you from being in the frame of mind necessary to win and causes you to ride less boldly and aggressively, again wasting valuable hundredths of seconds and even robbing joy from doing what you love.

When you lose weight and inches, get in better shape physically and eat right, you have more confidence in yourself which heightens your ability to focus only on that which is most important and directly related to your run, naturally allowing you to ride better.

Is this your year?

Then commit now to find a fitness and exercise plan that will help you to naturally and healthily lose the weight and inches. Be patient with yourself. You didn’t gain the weight overnight and it won’t come off over night. But you CAN change. You can be the size you want to be and you can look and feel the way you want to feel. You deserve it.

#5. Your balance and timing are “off” during your run and you can’t figure out why. Your slow work is spot on and even when you lope through, things feel great. But when you add speed, you notice unnecessary or excessive movement, OR not enough movement – your legs are weak, your core is soft, and sometimes your back hurts after a run. As a result, the clock is disappointing you time after time.

As you know, barrel racing is won or lost by a hundredth of a second, less time than it takes to blink. By having a fitness and exercise routine that focuses on strengthening the core and legs and improves balance and timing you will develop that winning edge in the saddle.

With spring just around the corner and another season of rodeo and barrel racing competition getting underway, it’s not too late to start a fitness and nutrition program to get you in top notch physical shape.

We expect our horses to be in the best shape of their lives, why not expect the same from ourselves?

Here are some tips for choosing and sticking to a fitness program:

  • Make sure it will actively engage and strengthen your core, work your legs, arms, shoulders, chest and back.
  • Choose one that’s fun and that you’ll stick with.
  • Know how much time you can spend each day and schedule it in (there are extremely effective programs that offer 30 minute workouts).
  • Find a workout partner or group in person or online – commit to each other and get started!



Andrea is a horse-crazy wife and mom of two boys and a baby girl. She lives on a cattle ranch with her family. Not only does she ride to get the work done on the ranch, she also enjoys training horses and competing in rodeo and reined cow horse events.

With over ten years in experience in creating and finding fitness and nutrition programs that work, she has made it her business and priority to coach others to meet their health and fitness goals. To receive a free fitness and nutrition consultation or join Andrea’s Cowgirl Up Fitness Challenge, go to

For fitness tips, motivation and inspiration, follow Andrea on Facebook.


Are YOU ready to build strength and improve balance & timing to shave precious tenths off the clock?

What has been your biggest challenge in doing that? Let us know in the comments!

Then follow the links below for more resources on fitness and nutrition for barrel racers:

11 replies
  1. Jennifer snow
    Jennifer snow says:

    Awesome article and this is SO me to a T!!!!!
    And I’ve got to be ready for a new made coming back from my trainer that is crazy fast and am a little nervous!!

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      YEAH, it’s SO powerful to really be intentional and purposeful when it comes to being our best – there is so much we need to do outside of riding to be great riders (and jockeys)!

  2. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    This is an awesome read, it hits to the heart, I know know why my 1d horse has gone down hill in clocks ( me me me ) I know I’m out of shape and I will fix that! I have to I’ve started a new horse 1/2 sister to the horse I’ve had for 16 yrs. but this one is like riding a twister. She is the fastest horse I’ve ever had. So thanks for the push.

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      My pleasure to help Kathy, was glad to have Andrea offer some great insights on this one. I’ve noticed quite a difference in my riding since I’ve been working out now for 20 weeks straight. Being more fit is also going to come in handy when the Texas heat sets in (eventually)!

  3. Nikki N.
    Nikki N. says:

    this is me to a “T.” While I am overwhelmed in some areas (new mom of a just 2 month old baby and have a 3 year old colt to start) I have to get out of the “ranch chores and riding are enough exercise” rut. I especially need to find something that gets me MOVING since I am so quiet and mellow that people send me their blow-outs, rogue horses, and colts to train…I DON’T clock. 🙁 And I WANT TO!!! Time for some zumba, waking up yet another hour earlier, and a smaller pants size!

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      I can relate Nikki, I’ve been told I have a ‘calming effect on horses’ but I’ve had to learn to really harness my energy and how I use it in order to bring out the best in polar opposite horses like Pistol and Dot Com.

  4. horsecrazy2007
    horsecrazy2007 says:

    I needed this article and it came at a perfect time, which your articles do always come at the perfect time! I was just contemplating on selling my mare, she is wicked fast and I can’t really keep up with her so I slow her down which isn’t using her to her full potential. And I have ALWAYS used the excuse that “riding horses is my exercise”, I need to get out of thinking that way and make myself better! It isn’t fair for me to expect my horses to be in shape when I am not in shape. Thank you for this article!! I’m going to make time to exercise and find a program that I like! Even if it is only 30 minutes in the morning, I am going to strive to be better!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] by Heather Smith on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 | 5 Comments […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *