Peel Back the Layers and Get REAL

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In all areas of my life, “peeling back the layers” is something that has changed it for the better, so it seemed like a subject more than worthy of sharing.  Like the contents of my book, “Secrets to Barrel Racing Success,” this web site provides technical information, but is unique in that it goes even deeper to uncover “the REAL secrets,” the things that matter, but aren’t always addressed through mainstream educational resources for barrel racers.

Resist temptation to bang your head.
Resist temptation to bang your head.

I’ve experienced it myself, and know many other barrel racers have as well… We set out to sharpen up our barrel horse, troubleshoot an issue on the pattern, get that elusive last ½ second…  We flounder around, some light bulbs go off, we get excited, then hit a wall, redirect again, repeat….

Eventually we go back to the drawing board, and proclaim (either out loud or to ourselves), “I AM doing THIS and THIS, I have done ALL THIS, and my horse STILL isn’t ( fill in the blank )!!!” It’s like we try hard, we study up, we put the time in, we feel like we’re doing EVERYTHING.  Things improve a bit, we get our hopes up, but eventually realize that it’s STILL not enough!  Ugh.  Some of us, shaking our head, confess, “I just don’t think HE (the horse) has IT,” (the speed, athleticism, mind, etc.). We think “If only HE would just do this ____________!” or say “Well, ya know, he’s just so front endy, sore, not fast enough, or too sensitive…” it goes on and on.

Of course, if you want to take your barrel racing to the highest levels, the horse DOES matter – A LOT!  BUT, if you’re not aware of where your weaknesses lie, then, in your hands, even an NFR quality horse, isn’t likely to stay that way. I will say, that having the opportunity to experience a wide variety of horses, AND more advanced horses, can teach us a lot, and can really sky rocket our learning.  However, until we take a good look at ourselves, and fill in our own gaps, the same problems are bound to keep repeating themselves, in one way or another, even with different horses.

If you’re serious about shedding what holds you back, then it’s time to get “naked.”  You must be willing to peel back the layers of your own horsemanship and personal “onion.” Not everyone is ready and willing to embrace this process.  It’s means becoming vulnerable, releasing attachment to what other people think, being honest about the source of our challenges, and deep down, that can be scary.  Most people opt to point the finger, blame the horse, or the ground, etc. and generally keep the focus outside of themselves.  Looking within, owning our weaknesses, and admitting that we don’t know it all or have it all together, can be downright uncomfortable.

When we choose to GET REAL, however, we realize there is great freedom in it.  Until we go to our core – the core of our joy, our frustrations – we’ll stay stuck.  Until we get real and true about our desires and motivation, we’re not even living authentically – and that’s no way to live. Only when we go to the source, can we reach solutions and achieve real, lasting growth that takes us to the next level in barrel racing AND life.

Eventually, staying stuck becomes more painful than getting REAL.

Some people struggle with taking responsibility for and  “owning” mistakes, they have a hard time separating themselves from what they do, so admitting fault is not a fun thing.  But this IS NOT personal (WE are not our mistakes). When we take responsibility for our “stuff,” instead of pointing the finger, it actually opens a huge door – like an enormous blinking arrow sign pointing us in the direction we REALLY need to go.  We can choose whether to ignore the signs, or graciously and humbly follow them.

Peeling back the layers often happens gradually, but the process can also occur in the form of a huge wake-up call.  After you begin to embrace the process, it’s really not too painful, it’s more liberating and freeing than anything, and I actually embrace it.  I ask, how can I reach higher (while still maintaining feelings of contentedness with where I’m at now)?  What can I do to be a better friend, wife, horse trainer, barrel racer?

I mention in my book, that our learning often spirals in nature.  We’ll often revisit the same areas down the road, and peel back another layer and awaken to new awareness that results in more growth.  If we’re “doin’ it right,” it will be an UPWARD spiral!

Peel Back the Layers
Peel Back the Layers

Peeling back the layers and revealing the TRUTH means we must ask the right questions.  All too often, we avoid asking, for fear of the answer.  We’d rather ask questions that have answers we’re comfortable with.

What if the REAL reason you feel pressured to win is because you seek the approval of others?  What if the REAL reason you have gate trouble with your horse is because he has a serious underlying physical problem?  What if the REAL reason your horse doesn’t uphold his responsibilities is due to your lack of consistency?  What if the REAL reason you’re not clocking is because you need to become a better rider?  What is the REAL reason you’re stuck is not that you need more knowledge, but more feel. What if the REAL reason you’re still struggling on the pattern is because, you really have NOT “done everything!” What if the REAL reason your horse loses focus is because you’re not providing the leadership he needs?  What if the REAL reason your horse shows resistance and raises his head is because he was never taught to properly respond to bit pressure?  What if the REAL reason your horse fell has more to do with how he’s using his body, than ground conditions?  What if the REAL reason you’re so frustrated is that you need to learn how to better develop your horse’s education?  What if the REAL reason your horse doesn’t want to stand still is because he doesn’t feel safe?  What if the REAL reason your horse doesn’t run faster is due to lack of confidence?

You may be feeling like a big band aid has just been ripped off, OR you may be thinking, “Yeah, a lot of people should really GET A CLUE,” and if so, consider it a red flag.

“If you start to think the problem is “out there,” stop yourself. That thought is the problem.” – Stephen Covey

This article is meant to wake you up and shake you up a bit.  The purpose is to create shifts in perception, help solve long standing problems, and bust through limitations.  Look deep at (you AND your horse’s) educational and emotional foundations, and you’ll be amazed at what you discover.

Peeling back the layers, and getting real, requires a high degree of awareness, risk, vulnerability, courage, honesty and integrity.  Getting real might mean exposure, it might mean going against the grain, it might mean temporary loss, it might even mean major life changes.

Fearlessly pose the right questions, and see where it takes you. Below are a few to get started:

  1. Why do you love barrel racing?
  2. Why are you driven to be the best?
  3. What would it take to overcome your biggest barrel racing challenge?
  4. What is in the way of achieving what you desire in barrel racing?
  5. What is the real reason your horse has _________________ problem?
  6. Who is responsible for creating and resolving that problem?
  7. Do you feel like you won’t be fulfilled and happy until you accomplish your goals?
  8. When and why do you experience the greatest frustration with horses?
  9. When and why do you experience the greatest joy with horses?
Onward and Upward!
Onward and Upward!

If the questions above seem especially easy to answer, also consider that a red flag and continue probing – in response to your initial answer, ask “WHY?” again.   If any of them are difficult to answer, think on it for a while and come back.  Authenticity requires going deep, the answers may or may not come to you instantly.  In fact, because our awareness grows over time, you might ask these same questions often, without assuming you already know the answers.

When we go to the source, when we get connected to the “why,” we get REAL.  Instead of pointing fingers, we just humbly peel back another layer, which actually inspires another trip around the upward spiral.  We don’t cover up and disguise our challenges, but instead get honest, go deep – right to the source, to dissolve our road blocks and move completely through to the other side.

Peeling back the layers also means being uniquely YOU.  When you’re no longer driven by fear, or other artificial motives, you become what you love, and you do it every day, because you can’t NOT do it. You no longer compromise, you no longer hold back.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”Anais Nin

When we get real, we remove limitations – we’re suddenly on the fast track to success.  We’re confident, we’re free…  and it doesn’t get any better.

How does this post resonate with YOU?

Let me know in the comments below!

9 replies
  1. Hillary Riley
    Hillary Riley says:

    I liked this article. I think with time I may change my answers. I was able to answer most of my questions pretty easy because I am being honest about what me and my horses are going through. I love barrel racing-enough said on that. I have never made myself or my horse be the best-we just like to have fun. I do need to give my horses more confidence in the pattern-I know this is coming straight from my fear of maybe not being able to do it with out my dad. He past away 2 months ago and we were getting ready for show season. I just have that “feel” that it’s not right when I run now. My horses don’t know why I don’t feel right and I have to make it right. That’s just going to take time. Our practice ground is so hard all I get to do is trot the pattern-so when I get on “good dirt” at the horseshow and ask for a lope-I don’t know what I will have. My horse has a rating problem and it’s not been addressed until recently-like since I have had her. She was abused in the past so it is my responsiblity to teach her humans can be trusted. I take one small goal at a time-to much unravels her. I’m happy with any accomplishment she makes. All have had poor hoof care or rough treatment during hoof care-they are all getting better with every trimming. My greatest joy is the moments I come to the pasture with a brush and some of that “abused horse” wall comes down and they via for my attention and let me brush them without tying them up. I’m sure things will change-but I know my horses and I want them to feel safe and happy when we run barrels or are just together. sorry so long

  2. Deedle Todor
    Deedle Todor says:

    I feel that what you said is true and I hope that I don’t do a lot of the things that you have suggested. I need my horse to run faster, must faster. I would love for him to be a 1D barrel horse. I think thataybe my horse knees me to good. I trained him and some how I need to get him to break at the pole and lower his head. I just not sure how to do it!!!!!! Both of my horses have great breeding. They both have world championship in there blood on both sides my only problem is getting them to run faster. What can I do to pick up there speed.

    Sincerely Deedle Todor

  3. Amy
    Amy says:

    Heather, just this week I woke up with a REAL realizaion. I am so tired…….of trying so hard, expecting so much of myself and my horse, spending so much money, feeling disappointed and slowly destroying my confidence and belief in myself. I am a teacher and I would NEVER expect my students to perform at a level that they couldnt experience success most the time. I have truly done all the work and I am tired. I have released the unrealistic expectaions of myself to compete and win at the highest level. I travel with my young chidren, ages 5 and 4, my horse is the first horse I have tried to bring to this level, he is 13 and has joint issues, and I work full time job as well as take my job as a mom seriously. When I peeled back that layer on my onion self, I realized I have a nice horse, I am a good rider and I have done a good job with him. My goals have changed for this season….I am going to embrace and honor the work I did(begining while I was a nursing mother)with this horse and also honor the mounds of experience and knowledge I have gained because of this horse. I love him so much and I think I am going to actually have a lot of fun with him! I still have that dream of riding a champion at a high level……I havent ridden my best horse yet!

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Thanks for sharing Amy, I sooo appreciate your insight. I realized last summer that I sometimes expect too much of myself and my horses… if we do that regularly, it really doesn’t set us up for successful, positive, confidence building experiences and we all need those. Keep in mind that just placing at a 4D can be a HUGE accomplishment for an aged horse, especially if you’re in a season of life when your kiddos get a lot of your time and attention (as they should) :). It can be so freeing to just accept and love ourselves, other people, and our horses for who/what they are. We can do the best we can with that we have, and that is always enough. Sounds like you have a great equine partner, he probably still has even more lessons to teach you, but I bet you’re right – the best is yet to come!

  4. Bridget
    Bridget says:

    Hi Heather-
    I think I have a pretty great horse. She was a pleasure horse turned barrel horse, which is why I bought her. I felt like her pleasure background gave her a really solid foundation to fall back on; however, I find myself riding her like a pleasure horse almost always. I know the problems lie within myself. I get really, really nervous before a run, and sometime even days before hand just thinking about it. I had a barrel horse fall over on me years ago resulting in some broken bones and a couple surgeries. I’m looking for advice on how to get over being scared or nervous to run. I’m constantly having to tell myself to just breath when I’m waiting for my name to be called to run & I feel like my horse feeds off my nerves. She was a 2D horse when I bought her, but I’ve hardly ran her at all because I’m not in the right state of mind. I ride her daily and really enjoy her, so I can’t figure out what I need to do to just let go of my fear. Please help!

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Hi Bridget, thanks for reaching out! I think in some cases fear like that is reasonable, for example with a horse that IS actually dangerous. But in this case your mare sounds pretty solid, so it’s more a case of where YOUR mind is going. I recommend studying up on some sports psychology books, such as “With Winning in Mind” and “The Inner Game of Tennis” (all in the Resource Library). Other than that, one of the best ways to get over fear is to “get closer and stay longer,” in other words just keep cowgirling up IN SPITE of the fear little by little until your DIScomfort zone becomes more comfortable.


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