Horsemanship Before Sportsmanship – Eight Priorities that Pay Off

Horsemanship Before Sportsmanship - Eight Priorities that Pay Off

A couple weeks ago we had fun highlighting the “Four Barrel Racing Personality Types.”

To roll out today’s new article, I’d like to break that down into an even more basic TWO types.

Even though my husband isn’t a barrel racer, his personality serves as a good example of Type B, while I’m Type A. When I appreciate our differences, I can’t help but think of the classic quote by Zig Ziglar – “You cannot make it as a wandering generality. You must become a meaningful specific.”

Craig’s a laid back, roll with the punches kind of guy. While he’s appreciating each moment, I can be found spinning in Tazmanian Devil-like swirls of mental activity and physical productivity. You can imagine why he’s actually a great match for his sensitive gelding, Dot Com (and ME). Craig operates with steady eddy-style energy that provides a lot of peace and reassurance for him.

It’s great when everyone’s feeling relaxed and content, but the warm fuzzies tend to fade when we’re not progressive. That’s where my specialty comes in, which is crushing goals, blasting through obstacles and chasing dreams – full-steam ahead! My succeed or else style can be pretty intense, no doubt. In fact over the years I’ve had to learn to tone it down. And as you might expect, Craig has learned to liven up!

I have a tendency to latch on to ideas like a dog on a bone, where Craig is slow to put a stake in any one belief. When it comes to caring for our horses and doing everything we can to bring out their best and achieve our barrel racing goals with them, I don’t think we can afford to sway too far either direction.

It doesn’t matter what “style” WE are – we’ve GOT to do our homework to find our own “north star.” But having balance and perspective means we must be willing to let it burn out and focus on another guiding light instead, when appropriate.

Below I’ve shared what I consider to be a set of eight powerful principles to guide you through life, horse training, competing and more.

1. Get a Ph.D. – While getting an actual Ph.D. is not on the list of things I’d recommend, what I DO fully support is getting the equivalent of a Ph.D. in the form of professional or self-guided education as it relates to horse health, horsemanship and any and everything having to do with barrel racing!

On average it takes about eight years to get a Ph.D., that’s if you’re in school full-time. How many hours of the week do you spend riding and studying? I just read last week that Warren Buffett, the most successful investor of the 20th century spends 80% of his day READING. If you’re riding two hours a day/five days a week, it will ONLY take nearly 25 YEARS to get your “Ph.D.” This calculation works out very similar to that of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours to Mastery concept from his book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

When our lives are REALLY full, we tend to get into a survival mode rut. We can barely keep our barrel horses legged up let alone actually devote time to bettering our training techniques. If that’s the case, something’s gotta change! I view continuing education as critical and our opportunity to commit to the subjects we’re really passionate about usually begins when we’re finally done with school!

Your Action Challenge -> Ask yourself what’s in the way of making continuing education a priority? Dissolve that obstacle and put “study time” on your schedule!

2. Walk Before You Fly – A lot of us have unrealistically high expectations. For example, we might feel as though we should be clocking in the 1D, even though we’ve only been barrel racing for two years, or we’ve only had our new horse for a month. While I’m not one to rule out miracles and do my best to stay open to even what seems like unlikely possibilities, I’m also a realist.

When we get real and lighten up the demands we place on ourselves and commit to the process – to the journey instead of forcefully latching onto results (and having them continue to elude us like a slippery bar of soap), somehow positive results occur more often and we don’t get knocked off track when they don’t. First things first – ya gotta learn & turn before you burn & earn.

Take for example, Dot Com’s old habit of dropping his shoulder and leaning into a right circle – drove me nuts! But efforts to correct this were futile until I prioritized his emotional well-being. A horse that is tense and tight through his back and protective mentally is NEVER going to be truly soft, supple and flexible enough to move with real quality and power.

As painful as it was to allow him to be front endy temporarily, I had to put quality movement on the back burner until we strengthened his emotional fitness. That’s because emotions have to trump everything else if you have really high-reaching goals. This is where proper sequence comes in – we have to be advanced enough to know out of all the elements we need for barrel racing success that some must come before others. In other words, you must get really good at walking, before you start running and in no time – you’ll be flying!

Your Action Challenge -> Set some time aside this week to evaluate your barrel racing foundation as a whole – I mean everything that is REALLY necessary (in and out of the arena) to achieve your dreams. What’s missing? Be honest. Write down the steps, AND the order in which you can start taking them to fill in those holes.

3. Sportsmanship – My intention for the title of this post was to imply that it’s in our (and our horse’s) best interest to put foundation before specialization. In other words – help them to be productive members of equine society in general before adding the demands of competition. But then there’s sportsmanship for us.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “Fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition.” This goes much deeper than saying “Thank you,” to the gate man (but that’s a good idea too)! If you didn’t think it was possible to “cheat” in a timed event – you’d be wrong! If you didn’t think barrel racers of all levels cheated their horses, you’d also be incorrect.

Our outer behavior is a reflection of what we have going on within. The temptation to “steal a ride” suggests that we’re attempting to take advantage, most likely because we’re not truly prepared. But it’s our horses, and even our own self-respect that suffers. A “sportsman” goes about preparing to compete, and actually competing, in a way that’s honest.

While your horse might need to step up to the plate and “take one for the team” now and then, instead of gossiping about the latest popular pre-run cocktails, or “tricks” for making something work that really isn’t – why not build an internal and external foundation in yourself and your horses that stands firm under all circumstances instead of devoting oneself to the art and study of how to “squeak one by?”

Your Action Challenge -> Take another honest look at yourself and your horses. What’s NOT working? What are you side-stepping? What needs to be addressed and dealt with? What annoys or distracts you at a barrel race? What’s necessary to REALLY to eliminate that? (P.S. Even those things we’re quick to just deal with, really are often resolvable IF we’re willing to put in the effort.)

4. Know Your WHY – After describing my husband and I above, it should come as no surprise that I randomly launched into a million-question quiz last weekend about the reasons WHY we do the things we do with our horses.

Let’s just say there were some “aaahhhs” and “ummmms” in his reply. No surprise really, there are a lot of talented competitors that can’t tell a horse that’s colicing from one that’s tying up. Suddenly it made sense to me why Craig wasn’t as gung ho as I am about our horse’s intense training and healthcare regimens. He couldn’t explain to me in-depth WHY we did the things we do.

When you don’t know or have a WHY, there’s not much motivation or drive to DO. Without a passionate WHY, you’ll be going through the motions and getting lucky at best. When DO you get clear about your WHY, you can focus in like a laser on what’s most important. What’s not will fall away. You don’t have to search for motivation or energy to ride. When you’re propelled by a powerful WHY, you can’t not dive into your preparations with enthusiasm!

I LOVE horses so much, there are times when I feel like my heart is going to explode. When I think of how badly I wanted to travel and compete and succeed in the early years, and all the obstacles I faced and overcame, something powerful was born within me. It’s what drives me to do what I do here at BarrelRacingTips.com. I REFUSE to allow others to flounder around and struggle like I did. Serving others through my past and continuous life lessons IS my WHY.

Your Action Challenge -> What’s the point? WHY do you love barrel racing? Really think about this one and write down the reasons why you LOVE running barrels, why it’s important for you to succeed, and what it means to you.

5. Two Way Conversations – I’m talking (writing) about the kind we have with our horses here, but this could go for husbands as well! A little over a year ago, I had a HUGE realization. I started teaching our horses (on the ground) to step toward me. It was like an advanced version of training a horse to siddle up to a fence for you to get on.

I also taught them to side pass toward me while in motion, and even lead backwards by the tail. The boys had a hard time with this at first and then it hit me as to WHY. As timed speed event horses the majority of their education has always been about yielding and moving away from (bit, leg) pressure. It makes sense then that when I asked them to move toward pressure, they assumed they should leave.

That’s basically what we do – we chase our horses around the pattern! As a result they develop long-standing habits of simply running away from us which is a big part of why horses tend to mentally disconnect or even have trouble with rate – so much of what we’re doing is saying “Get the heck outta here – FAST!”

I managed to have some success with this at first, and then realized it had become more of a “trick” than a real time conversation. I would hold my hand in a certain way and without fail, Pistol or Dot Com would scootch toward me. But then here and there I’d notice little delays, microscopic disconnects… of the same type that sometimes showed up in the arena.

Your Action Challenge -> To correct this and create authentic two-way conversations, lately I’ve been imagining I have a fishing line connected from my belly button to their individual feet (on the ground) or a line from my hip to their feet under saddle. Do the same and see what you get – are you truly (and instantly) connected?

6. Keep it Natural – First I want to clarify that I fully-well realize that NOTHING we do with horses is “natural.” Can you imagine saddling and riding a deer? As prey animals, horses are in the same category which gives us some perspective for just what a HUGE bridge they cross for us.

LOVING horses is what led me to study, research, and learn everything about them. This of course included what their minds and bodies need to really thrive, instead of automatically doing what most other humans do. There’s a lot of adjusting to do to accept life as a performance horse. But I feel as though this is the precise reason why we should attempt to make every effort to provide them with a lifestyle that resonates with how they have evolved as closely as possible. This is why ‘natural horsemanship’ appeals to me, because it’s based on communicating with horses in ways they instinctively understand.

I once had a Vet. tell me that horses need to be shod and kept in stalls because of the unnatural demands we put on them. I laughed because I keep my horses barefoot and turned out as much as possible for the exact same reasons! Truth be told, humans keeping horses in stalls first began out of convenience. I’d personally rather give up some convenience in exchange for the increased circulation, enhanced mental health and over-all well-being it brings.

Your Action Challenge -> Consider your horse keeping practices. Consider the convenience vs. health factor. Do you have an accurate baseline of education (from the horse’s point of view) with which to weigh the pros and cons? This varies depending on your circumstances, but in any case do your homework and then everything you can to let what’s best for the horse prevail!

7. First Do No Harm – This one ties in with #1 Get a Ph.D. and #7 Keep it Natural. We have to educate ourselves and become informed about the risks and benefits that come along with the many decisions we must make surrounding our horses physical care and even mental and emotional well-being.

When we know better we DO better, but until then – what we don’t know can hurt us, and our horses! It’s overwhelming I know. For example, I stay pretty studied up on the subject of nutrition for horses AND humans – I just read last week that some health experts suggest staying away from salad bars because raw veggies can infect us with parasites! No kidding. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just throw my hands up in the air.

It seems like a report can come out saying something is GOOD for our horses, and another one can come out a year later saying the same thing is BAD for them. If you’re wondering who to trust, first make sure you’re not relying solely on what you read on Facebook or online. Pick up resources worthy of print and are backed by research. Look to folks with legit credentials behind them. Then trust your gut (and your horse), because when you don’t know what do to, it usually does!

Your Action Challenge -> Whether you’re making decisions on joint injections, vaccines, deworming protocols, blanketing, dentistry, chiropractic, saddle fit, training techniques, ground conditions, etc. know that one poor choice made in a quick instant can limit your horse for life. I don’t share this to scare you, but to make you aware and motivate you to get educated and stay informed. Once a glass is broken, you can always glue it back together but it will never be the same. Hindsight is always 20/20 – the details matter!

8. Be a Captain – Who’s the captain of YOUR ship? Do you allow the high tides of life to repeatedly slam you against the rocks? Or are you navigating the stormy seas with perspective and skill? While calm waters don’t make a skillful sailor, we ALL need a good captain and we all need to BE a good captain!

In this post I described who MY captain is, but today I’d like to share a powerful metaphor regarding “ships.” Ships are vessels, containers if you will – designed to take you from one place to another. Consider the words relationship, stewardship, horsemanship, sportsmanship, companionship, partnership – they’re ALL vessels!

They’re containers our Captain put in our life (some only temporarily) to help us learn and teach us what we needed to know, but all contributing to our personal growth, essentially preparing us for the future. While I like the idea of having a true relationship and partnership with our horses (AND husbands!), the one I want to highlight here is stewardship.

Defined as “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something,” this ties in so well to #7 and #8. What a gift, responsibility, privilege and honor we’ve been given to care for horses. It’s not one to take lightly!

Your Action Challenge -> Being a good captain for your horse is also related to your ability to yield. Are you also a good follower, a good listener, an excellent servant? Can you adjust to fit the situation and changing needs of those around you, and prioritize them above your own when necessary? Are you fiercely following the dreams God put in your heart, with complete willingness to correct course?

I often recommend that beginner, or even long-time barrel racers prioritize becoming a horseman before putting an emphasis on competing. I want “the whole enchilada” and I want that for you to.

I want to see confident, competent riders on healthy, strong, happy horses. Just because barrel racing is a sport that’s possible for anyone to jump on a horse and enjoy, doesn’t mean that it might not be even more enjoyable, safe and successful for everyone with more well thought out preparation.

There is so much more to being a true horseman than ordering a horse’s body parts around effectively and winning gold buckles. Some of the world’s most decorated barrel racers are NOT horsemen, and some of the worlds best horsemen haven’t won a dime.

The outer steps we take to reach our goals are a representation of our inner beliefs. My husband Craig and I have each achieved a fair amount of success despite our very different approach and personalities. I see the principles I’ve shared today as timeless truths we can all use to guide us and our horses to long, successful careers without compromise.

I love barrel racing but I love horses more, and although I’m fiercely competitive this is why I prioritize horsemanship before sportsmanship. Becoming a horsemen may not seem like the fastest way to achieve results but I’m confident it’s the most solid, lasting way to create an unshakable foundation of education and physical and emotional fitness that not only honors the horse, but actually creates more consistent and reliable results (and trips to the pay window) in the long run.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also appreciate the Top 10 Barrel Racing Tips Countdown.

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