Train Like an Athlete – WIN Like a Champion! Fitness Tips from the Top 15

Train Like an Athlete - WIN Like a Champion! Fitness Tips from the Top 15

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #204 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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In today’s video (filmed live at the NFR!), I’ve shared a summary of tips the top 15 barrel racers offered when asked “How do you stay physically and mentally fit with all the difficulties of rodeo life?

There were definitely some common threads in their answers, however I felt as though Shada and Sydni’s every word on this topic were also worth sharing in print…

SHADA BRAZILE: “Physically, I have pretty much been adapted to the rodeo lifestyle. I run every chance I get, I run bleachers. We spend a lot of emphasis on horses physical condition and it’s equally important for us to be in shape, and have a strong core to ride them the way we need to.

As far as mentally I thought I understood the mental pressure of competing watching Trevor, there are so many ups and downs I really didn’t understand how to compete when you had to win. I really don’t think you can understand it until you have been there. What really helps me is to go to the arena before I run and envision my run.”

SYDNI BLANCHARD: “I stay gluten free, which allows me to cut out wheat, barley and rye and allows me to eat more meat, vegetables and fruit. Physically, I work out every day; we have a gym at the home and I try and keep the same schedule on the road which gets hard.

I make sure I do cardio every day, so I will either run stairs or run the bleachers at rodeos or I have a jump rope that I keep in my tack compartment, so every time I open my tack I will jump rope real quick.

Just things like that you have to do, it’s hard, you are an athlete and you have to treat your body like you are one. You just have to ask yourself, how bad do you want it?”

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Principles for Performance – Horsemanship and Barrel Racing without Limits!

Principles for Performance – Horsemanship and Barrel Racing without Limits!

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #82 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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In my mind, there isn’t a group of equestrian disciplines that the principles of natural horsemanship apply to better, than those of timed-speed events. They are THE ultimate test of horse and rider!

When a person really dives into, studies and understands these principles, deciding to put the ideas into practice becomes a no brainer. While nothing we do with horses is technically ‘natural,’ it just makes sense to work with their instincts vs. against them if we want to train and compete with these animals as harmoniously as possible.

What natural horsemanship offers, is an opportunity to learn and develop ourselves – both what we must understand in a mental sense, and the habits we must acquire physically, so we can really understand, and then optimize our horses.

When we’re able to bring out their best potential in this way, we’re essentially putting the odds more in our favor to be successful in competition!

Matthew Bohman.

We must do our part to inspire the horse to stay with us mentally and physically, take responsibility for moving with quality without being micromanaged, and even responsibility for managing their own emotions (at high speeds and under the stress of hauling and competition, no less).

Sound too good to be true? It’s not!

Horsemanship instructor and clinician, Matthew Bohman helped a handful of students and I do just that. Although I stepped in as a part-time teacher at the Principles for Performance clinic, my dedication to never-ending self-development had me also playing the role of student.

In this article, I’ll be sharing five of my personal takeaways from the event, in hopes that you might learn or benefit from the insights, until YOU have an opportunity to ride with Matthew and/or I yourself! Read more

It’s All About the Ribs – Flex and Elevate Them for Ultimate Athleticism & Power!

It’s All About the Ribs - Flex and Elevate Them for Ultimate Athleticism & Power!

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #76 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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Before I dive into an effective exercise for flexing and elevating our horse’s ribs, it’s critical to understand the reasons WHY achieving this roundness through a horse’s midsection – both latitudinally and longitudinally, is so important.

To start with, a horse that is dropped or concave down its topline will tend to be elevated and strung out at the front and back ends, meaning higher head positions and hind legs that trail out behind rather than reaching powerfully under the body.

Circling with flexion and minimal guidance.
Circling with flexion and minimal guidance.

A horse that drops their midsection laterally to the inside of a circle is not in an athletic position either. It’s not uncommon to see horses with this positioning habit tip barrels, prepare for the turn too soon, and even fall down. This unbalanced and off center “inside out” shape makes any athletic maneuver more difficult, awkward and therefore, SLOW.

When a horse truly lifts their back and rounds their body, space is created for the hind legs to more easily reach under, which more effectively supports a horse’s bodyweight for ultimate propulsion. At the same time, as the ribs both elevate upward and flex to the outside of a circle, a horse will tend to naturally bring their head set lower, tip their nose to the inside and really engage that inside hind leg. 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, 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.
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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

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

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #69 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.

After I had turned a corner and made a lot of progress with Dot Com, it was still easy to fall into the rut of micromanaging him.

In certain high pressure environments, if I didn’t use the reins to cause him find relaxation and better posture, if left to his own devices, his emotions would ramp up and it wasn’t always a pretty picture if I didn’t subtly step in. If I had given him a completely and consistently loose rein when he was emotional, it seemed like in a matter of seconds we’d be the next county – that’s how impulsive he can be, and this impulsiveness is especially triggered in certain environments.

Winding down into a small, energetic circle.
Winding down into a small, energetic circle.

How’d he get this way?  Again, it’s a combination of his innate characteristics and his learned behavior.   But again, that doesn’t matter so much to me at this point. What DOES is what I’m doing in the moment to resolve that.  I’ve made it my mission to no longer “help” him, and instead empower him. IF your horse struggles to lope a calm, connected circle on a loose rein under any circumstances, then the exercise I describe below may just impact you as positively as it has Dot Com and I.

Most times, when we keep competing and training in smaller arenas, we don’t realize how impulsive our horses are until we get into a really large arena or a wide open field.  In one such especially large arena lately, Dot Com felt like a bottle rocket with the fuse lit.  I’d ask him to lope off on a loose rein (and was trying hard NOT to micromanage), I could feel him gaining speed, and getting more emotional and impulsive as we went along.

In the past at times I have felt as though I HAD to use the reins consistently to keep his big motor rated down. This is a very common situation for barrel racers to be in, but don’t let common become “normal” or “good.” The problem comes in the lack of awareness for how much we’re micromanaging AND what we’re allowing to continue with our horses.

Super sensitive horses like Dot Com are also especially easy to “enable” because they DO honor the limits we set for them – whenever I would “check” him, or encourage a more athletic position, he would respond, and it would help, albeit temporarily.  He’s very respectful of the “box” I set for him (my reins and/or legs), so by most people’s definition he’s not a “runaway” or “out of control,” because he doesn’t blatantly push against pressure.

It's Dot Com's responsibility to manage his emotions.
It’s Dot Com’s responsibility to manage his emotions.

But the truth is, without the support of my physical “box” he was completely unraveling from an emotional standpoint.  It’s easy to skim over the surface of this issue because of his sensitivity and obedience – physically he stayed with me and responsive but mentally and especially emotionally he was a goner.

The effect his emotional imbalance has on the way he uses his body most definitely negatively impacts his athleticism – so empowering him to manage his own emotions was something I KNEW would contribute to his success when he returns to roping (and when I finish him on the barrels!).

The solution for his impulsive lope started with winding him down into a very small circle, while expecting him to stay in a lope. I used the energy in my body to communicate what I wanted.  Without concern for “how” he was moving physically, I made no effort to ask him shape his body. I used the reins as little as possible and only for guiding him in the circle (of course don’t hesitate to use them if you get in a bind!). I did NOT drive with my legs but DID get really animated in my whole body to match his energy and then some.

When he realized he wasn’t so interested in keeping up with all that hard work, he relaxed and slowed down a bit.  I then gradually broadened the circle.  He stayed in a nice relaxed lope until the circle got really big and the impulsiveness was baaack!  No prob, we just wound down to a small circle again until he changed his MIND and I felt a definite shift on the impulsiveness scale. (Small circles also great for shortening “long” horses with plenty of go, as straight lines are great for lengthening “short” horses who lack motivation.)

After doing this back and forth a few times, it was becoming Dot Com’s decision more and more to choose a relaxed lope.  I was making the right thing easy, and the wrong thing difficult.  I was taking his excess energy and channeling it in a way caused him to make a different choice – but it was still his choice. His consequence was loping a very small, energetic circle (hard work), and his reward was the option to lope relaxed in a bigger circle. Allowing horses to learn like this makes for lessons that really stick.

Again I was careful not to DRIVE him with my legs and instead used very animated energy in my body to keep him loping. Although it’s ideal to maintain gait, a couple times I accepted his idea to transition down to a trot, because he was relaxing as he did.

As I performed this exercise, my timing was important to make it clear where the consequence and the reward was.  Establish in your mind where the “impulsiveness” line is, be specific about the quality of lope you expect and don’t allow your horse to become racey and disconnected later or tomorrow or next month – be consistent.

When the emotions go up, the circle gets smaller again.
When the emotions go up, the circle gets smaller again.

At this point, again, I wasn’t obsessed with his lateral and longitudinal shape, because that will come later, AND come much more easily when his emotions are balanced.  In fact, much of the physical part will fall right together naturally the more he starts to OWN relaxation as it becomes his new “default” way of being.

Of course, don’t forget how important it is to be aware of what you’re doing in your own body. If you’re constantly “buzzing,” your horse will find it difficult to ever really relax. On the other hand, some horses have learned to disconnect from their rider to such a degree, or are so extremely emotionally troubled, that our own relaxation doesn’t impact them as it should – which is a perfect time and place to apply these concepts.

This exercise is so powerful, because instead of using our hands or reins to micromanage our horses to slow down, instead of saying, ”Don’t speed up, don’t speed up, don’t speed up,” or “Calm down, calm down, calm down,” with our hands or body, we’re showing them a better way of feeling and moving that they get to #1. CHOOSE, #2. MAINTAIN ON THEIR OWN and #3. GET REWARDED FOR.

Therein lies the difference.  Remember that just because a symptom disappears for a while, doesn’t mean the problem still isn’t there.  Whether we’re overusing our hands, or going out of our way to “help” these horses, in many cases it either only gives them a calm LOOK and disguises the issue, or only provides relief from the symptom – which is not a permanent solution.

It WILL take some patience and persistence for Dot Com to completely reroute his habits because they have become ingrained very deeply over many years. Enabling a horse to continue being an emotional mess is an easy rut to fall into, especially with sensitive horses like Dot Com, especially for speed event competitors, AND especially perfectionists such as myself!

Balanced emotions must come before perfect shape and form.
Balanced emotions must come before perfect shape and form.

When something isn’t happening fast enough, or something doesn’t FEEL perfect, or LOOK perfect, we tend to want to MAKE it that way ASAP.  As humans, we also tend to want to use our HANDS to do so because we are a very hand oriented species.  Often we find that when we do, the change doesn’t last, and the lesson doesn’t sink in through the whole horse from the mind to the feet (like it does when we allow them to CHOOSE vs. MAKE), and we end up creating only a superficial change instead. 

Of course, there’s always a time and place that we must do whatever it takes to restore calmness or control in our horses. The big picture however, is that if Dot Com’s emotions weren’t truly brought into balance, if he only had the “look” of a horse that had it all together emotionally, or if the relaxation I created was only temporary, then his athletic potential would always be limited. Not only that, but moving with tension is very physically damaging to horses as well.

Here at, I’m all about offering lasting solutions using horse psychology that are based on principles vs. techniques.  If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is!

Here’s to holding our horses accountable, for treating them with dignity and respect and empowering them to make their own good choices, and to having high expectations for them to honor their responsibilities. May we ALL gain the awareness and open mindedness it requires to bust out of OUR OWN ruts, so that we may reveal the true potential of the equine athletes under us, who have been patiently waiting there all along.

In case you missed it, Click Here for Part I to learn why empowering vs. enabling our barrel horses is so important.

Encouraging a horse to manage their OWN emotions may be a completely new concept to many barrel racers.

What do YOU think about the ideas presented in Part I of this article?

Let’s hear it in the comments below!

If you’re ready for more intriguing Secrets to Barrel Racing Success, Click Here to get the #1 best-selling book containing many more.

How to Use More Leg and Less Hands for Higher Education & Higher Performance

Use More Leg and Less Hands for Higher Education & Higher Performance

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #63 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.

For decades now horse trainers and clinicians, even barrel racers have been saying “use less hands and more leg” to guide horses. But how many of us, barrel racers especially, REALLY DO THIS?

We may develop our horses to a level where we can ask for and receive beautiful lateral movements, or we may be able to influence each part of our horse’s body (shoulder, ribs, hips) in just about any circumstance, BUT chances are that those lateral movements still require you to hold light rein contact to impede excess forward movement.

Chances are even greater that the body control that seems so “high level” wouldn’t REALLY hold up under any circumstance, and certainly not if we weren’t also supporting our horse with the reins.

When we started riding as kids, we may have been told to kick or squeeze to go, pull to stop, and neck rein to turn. Although I believe in the value of keeping things simple for youngsters, this is a time when bad habits develop – especially “overriding the front end” of a horse and PULLING them around to turn. It’s a bad habit in us, that creates even worse habits in horses – especially the tendency for them to stiffen and lean to the inside of a turn or circle.

Instead, what if we could PUSH the front end over with our leg for a square turn (like a pivot) and our weight slightly to the outside, rather than leaning into the turn and pulling? OR, what if we utilized our inside leg to teach and ask our horse to shape around it for a round turn?

Read more

Don’t Go Bye-Bye! Crank the First Barrel Consistently

Don't Go Bye-Bye!  Crank the First Barrel Consistently

In barrel racing circles “rate” can be described as the transfer of weight to the hindquarters, which puts a horse in a more athletic position to round a barrel. With just the right amount of rate, combined with proper body shape on behalf of the horse and rider, as well as timing – a quick, efficient turn is almost inevitable!

Establishing rate may seem as simple as teaching the horse to utilize his hindquarters, or at least utilize them better in order to transfer weight from the forward reaching gallop to a more collected position – both in general AND especially in that specific spot where it’s required on the pattern.

A great stop doesn't necessarily create great rate!
A great stop doesn’t necessarily create great rate!

But what if your horse buries his keister like a pro in dry work, and at every other opportunity, EXCEPT in an actual run?

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why your horse seems to rate and use himself so well otherwise, yet STILL struggles with going by barrels in competition, the video below just might illuminate a path to resolving this issue for good. Read more