Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #43 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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In this final part of a three part series of Q&A videos, I’ll be sharing what it really means to provide proper leadership, and how doing so can create not only happier, but more competitive barrel horses.
The definition of leadership, thanks to Wikipedia, goes something like this…
“Organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.” A leader is “somebody whom people follow: somebody who guides or directs others.”
I also love this definition of leadership in the quote below from Dwight B. Isenhower…
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
Now there are a few signs that may be showing up if your horse is in need of more and/or better leadership from you…
- Gets distracted, can’t focus, can’t stand still
- Is spooky, tense, high headed, hesitant, worried
- Is resistant, unresponsive, unwilling, or dominant
- Is “naughty” or dangerous – kicks, bucks, runs off, invades your space
You might automatically think “Oh, MY horse isn’t that way!”
But really, if you become very aware and look closely – does he ever volunteer to walk off before you ask? Or is there ever even a split second of hesitation present when you ask him to go?
If so, regardless of whether the symptoms are very subtle, lack of leadership can be holding you back in competition.
In every herd of horses, there is a leader, usually a boss mare that leads the other herd members. When you are with your horse, YOU are the leader, even if your herd consists of only you and your horse.
It’s up to US to watch out for danger, protect our horse and help them feel OK about their surroundings so they can be calm, connected to us, and responsive.
When we have these three things, we put the odds much more in our favor to achieve barrel racing success, or success in anything for that matter!
Leadership is a commonly overlooked, and misunderstood foundational element that is critical for giving ourselves our greatest chances at getting around the pattern without delays, not to mention keeping our horses happy and therefore healthy.
Below I’ll include a quote from the bookTurning Pro by Steven Pressfield.
“I got the chance a few years ago to watch a famous trainer work with his thoroughbreds. I had imagined that the process would be something hard-core like Navy SEAL training. To my surprise, the sessions were more like play.
The work was serious, as in teaching the two-year-olds to enter the starting gate, and the horses were definitely learning. But the trainer took pains to make the schooling feel like fun. When a horse got tired, the trainer took him off the track. If a mount got bored or restive, the trainer never forced him to continue or drove him “through the pain.”
A horse is a flight animal. Even a stallion, if he can, will choose flight over confrontation. Picture the most sensitive person you’ve ever known; a horse is ten times more sensitive. A horse is a naked nervous system, particularly a thoroughbred. He’s a child. A three-year-old, big and fast as he is, is a baby. Horses understand the whip, but I don’t want a racer that runs that way. A horse that loves to run will beat a horse that’s compelled, every day of the week.”
Wow, powerful stuff – “A horse is a naked nervous system.”
Can you imagine what it would be like to have a naked nervous system, as horses do?
Does this give you greater insight into just how sensitive and tuned in to danger they are? That perhaps even dominant behavior can be fear based and generated from a core need for self-preservation?
That a scared horse perhaps it not behaving badly or being “naughty,” but that they really just need to feel safe and secure, and that the comfort and ease of stress we can provide our horses is how we can meet their greatest need? And that when we do, they’ll be more likely to give us their all in return?
Maybe your horse doesn’t tend to get distracted, maybe he’s a completely willing, happy go lucky partner of a barrel horse. Even so, he’s likely to appreciate, and you’re likely to grow – from receiving and learning to provide the kind of leadership we all need to be the very best we can be.
Have you ever had a “difficult horse,” or one that was different around you vs. someone else who offered a different level of leadership?
As always, I love receiving your feedback and questions in the comments below!
For parts I and II of this Q&A series, visit the links below: