Tag Archive for: heather smith barrel racing

Hauling Do’s & Don’ts: Avoid the Pitfalls to Arrive (and Stay) at Your Best

Hauling Do’s & Don’ts: Avoid the Pitfalls to Arrive (and Stay) at Your Best

Last summer I listened to a sports psychologist give a fascinating speech. Something she said really stuck with me…

“There are NO accidents, only unintended consequences that are the result of poor decisions.”

Wow. I think there’s a lot of truth to that.

If you’re someone who’s ALL about taking personal responsibility for the part you play in your barrel racing success – for really OWNING your ability to bring out the very best in your horses, then today’s new video is for you.

If there are pessimists, optimists and realists, then I tend toward the latter. I believe in expecting the best, but preparing for the worst.

After all, if “the worst” is gonna happen, it’ll probably be in the most inconvenient and untimely places, such as when we’re traveling and competing with our horses!

Take a look at this quote by William Arthur Ward – “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

Which one of the three is the action taker here?

Which one are YOU?

Truth be told – a lot of the problems and challenges that come up when we’re traveling aren’t really SURPRISES. It’s more a matter of WHEN a horse will get hurt, or a truck will break down vs. IF.

Of course, I don’t go around obsessing over all the bad things that can happen, but making sure they don’t knock us off track all comes back to one thing: PREPARATION.

This includes preparing our horses, our gear & equipment, our rig, and most importantly – ourselves.

A lot of road warriors will tell you that the miles in the trailer are actually harder on horses than the actual runs – there’s no doubt it takes a toll.

But sometimes even more detrimental than the jarring of the trailer as we’re hitting the highway, is the mental and emotional stresses our horses go through.

If you’re stressed out all the time – for example, it’s going to effect your entire body, and NOT in a positive way. What’s critical to remember is that like a duck’s feet fervently paddling under smooth water, many horses don’t show obvious, outward signs of stress. So we have to LEARN how to notice the most subtle signs, then take ACTION.

Our horse’s mental and physical well-being while we’re on the road isn’t something we just leave to chance – WE have the power to significantly diminish the stress they experience, and their performance will often improve as a result!

While certain horses require a slightly different approach to building confidence, there’s SO MUCH MORE to “seasoning” a horse than just jumping them in the trailer so they can learn to “get used to” or “deal with” the new sights and sounds.

We CAN be very specific, purposeful and pro-active about preparing them, to make traveling and hauling positive experiences from the very beginning.

And just because an ol’ campaigner has been hauled all over the U.S. and is completely obedient about loading, doesn’t mean their truly accepting of the trailer – there’s room for improvement with these guys too (as I demonstrated in today’s video with Dot Com)!

I want my horses to LOVE traveling as much as I do, and there’s so much we can to do help them be comfortable. When they’re relaxed, traveling takes less of a toll on them AND they have more energy to direct toward winning runs! I’ve shared the specific steps I take with our horses and the high standards I have for “training” them to ENJOY rodeo life AND be perfect gentlemen on the road!

In the video blow I also shared what I did when adversity (and my admittedly poor attitude) was becoming just a little too much for me to bear last week. It’s the same steps I recommend YOU take during times when you just can’t seem to pull yourself out of the pit of despair after a bad run (or a few).

Again, it’s not IF these kinds of things will happen, it’s WHEN – you wanna be ready to bounce back quickly, right!? If so, then click here to dive into today’s new PRO post.

In “Hauling Do’s & Don’ts: Avoid the Pitfalls to Arrive (and Stay) at Your Best” I’ve shared some things we’ve done with our trailer to make it as convenient and comfortable as possible, PLUS the future modifications and additions I have in mind to make it even more so!

In today’s video, we’re gonna talk breakdowns and meltdowns, specifically how to deal with them in advance and even how to avoid them entirely when you’re on the road. Read more

Enter to WIN: How to Pick and Prepare For Varying Competition Environments

Enter to WIN: How to Pick and Prepare for Competition Environments to Gain Confidence One Run at a Time

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #164 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

One of the greatest benefits of traveling and competing a lot is that it gives you a TON of perspective. When you’ve “been there, done that,” you have plenty of different environments to compare, helping you to build a mental Rolo-dex of successes, mistakes, and “I won’t do that agains!” It’s ALL feedback that prepares us to make better decisions and do better next time.

Regardless of how many runs, miles and years you have under your belt, below I’ve shared some valuable tips for sizing up your options and making smart choices when it comes to when and where you decide to enter.

First, how far and often you head out the driveway is largely a financial decision. Let’s face it – in the sport of barrel racing, the chances of coming home with pockets fuller than when you left are not great. This article however was written to help you change those odds and tip them more in your favor! Read more

Lessons from the Road: Three Steps to Embrace Challenges, Build Character and Create a Winning Edge

Lessons from the Road: Three Steps to Embrace Challenges, Build Character and Create a Winning Edge

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #163 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

When it comes to achieving excellence in any area of life, it’s not a matter of IF we’ll face challenges, but WHEN. Contrary to what some of us may think (especially when we’re feeling discouraged), it’s not the actual challenges that hold us back, but how we handle them.

Take Amberly Snyder for example. Did you know she clocked her fastest time on the barrel pattern AFTER the car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down? Pretty amazing.

Consider for a moment how EASY it is to convince ourselves “Well, I can’t do this because __this happened__.” We’re often so quick to tell ourselves stories about how and why we can’t do something, even more so when adversity strikes.

Don’t get me wrong, of course we’re all faced with legitimate limitations at times. But our mess can become our message, and our setback can shape our comeback.

In today’s installment of Lessons From the Road, I’ll be sharing three steps to make it more likely that the journey to achieving your barrel racing goals will be a steady climb, regardless of obstacles and setbacks that will inevitably get in your way. Read more

FAST Times on Purpose – Three Exercises for Testing (and Teaching) Precision to Increase Speed

FAST Times on Purpose - Three Exercises for Testing (and Teaching) Precision to Increase Speed

The other day I watched a handful of runs from the video archives on my gelding, Pistol. Certain aspects of them got me really excited and other aspects were a little hard to watch because I feel like I have new “eyes to see” certain issues.

Let’s just say there were a couple Homer Simpson hand to the forehead “DOH” moments!

The same issues that were happening on the pattern in those videos are completely related to how Pistol “tests out” at home (more on that below).

As I wrap up my goals with Dot Com this month and shift more focus to preparing Pistol for competition after a long rehab from an injury and 2+ years away from competing, you can bet that I’m focusing on strengthening our weak areas as they relate to the barrel pattern so we’re more than READY when the time comes! Read more

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?? Read more

Master the Second Barrel with Three Simple Steps for a Fluid, Fast Turn

Master the Second Barrel with Three Simple Steps for a Fluid, Fast Turn

A few months ago, I introduced the concept of RSPA or “rate/shape point anxiety” and it’s damaging effects.

I also shared a video post in which I walked through the process of acing the first barrel with my simple 3×3 Troubleshooting Plan.

The second barrel turn on the other hand, creates a challenge unlike any other, thus making it the most commonly tipped barrel.

This is in large part because we have the shortest distance between barrels and happen to be running straight into a wall – which often doesn’t have much real estate behind it, contributing to horse’s tendencies to “get short” and anticipate the turn.

There’s so much more to resolving this problem than “picking a horse’s shoulder up,” however. If you take the right steps, you can blast across the pen with speed and good timing to nail your second barrel without stutter steps, hesitation, dropping in, or all the other unpleasantries that are SO common.

As you’ll learn in the video below, anticipation at the second barrel can become a thing of the past, but only if we take two steps back to intelligently consider the problem as it’s source AND solve it in a complete, thorough, and multi-faceted way.
Read more

Powerful Insights on Becoming a Horse(wo)man, Part III

The Naked Truth - Powerful Insights on Becoming a Horse(wo)man

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #83 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIn or Spotify.

Below I’ve continued with the final part in my Becoming a Horse(wo)man Series

One of the most important things I learned as we worked toward our goals at liberty, was if I did something to destroy Dot Com’s interest in sticking around, I had nothing. It was obvious when it happened (even to the neighbors), due to the 1,100 lb. white streak flying across the pasture – whoops!

We tried not to practice that habit.

When working in a round pen, a horse that loses connection will tend to look to the outside of the circle – a sign that they are checked out mentally, and wishing they were somewhere else.

An extremely distracted horse at liberty isn’t quite ready to be turned loose, but would benefit from developing more positive habits online first. No matter where I work my horses, or what tools I happen to be using, I want to develop them in a way that encourages them to choose to focus on me, despite any environmental distractions.

One of the biggest mistakes I made with Dot Com was squashing his genuine desire to be with me by applying too much pressure, and expecting too much, for too long. At liberty, that desire to connect is like GOLD, and I wasn’t doing enough to preserve it.

As intense as the horse’s attention span must be at liberty, you can imagine it’s easy to burn a horse out quickly. Shorter sessions, with plenty of releases and relaxation time in between the more intense lessons, was what it took to keep Dot Com interested in the conversation – a lesson that no doubt applies under saddle as well.

The tricky part, was that a sensitive horse like Dot Com can actually check out mentally without ever leaving physically. They can even check out while working online or when ridden, without running into and putting any pressure on the rope or reins.

I learned how to recognize the truth of how he was feeling through reading his expression. I learned not to barge through the worried ears, or his blank, hard, empty stare, and how to reward and recognize the soft eye and relaxed muzzle as my green light to proceed.

The horse’s body language and expression will provide a map telling you which way to go, but only if you pay attention, realize its importance, and learn how to read it.

When he did choose to leave me, it was always a sign that I needed to slow down, get back online, or work in a smaller space to rebuild the connection that was lost.

Horses learn bad habits so quickly. One of the major sources of problems in the barrel racing world comes when a horse has learned he can successfully push through pressure.

Heather and Dot Com at Liberty

What gets rewarded, gets repeated. By running away, Dot Com was finding a few moments of peace by avoiding me. We’d all be better barrel racers if we were more careful not to allow any undesirable behavior repeat itself. We must look at what happened, before what happened, happened to cause it in the first place – and make any necessary adjustments immediately.

Like Molly Powell says, “Horses learn bad habits because they can.”

So often we don’t realize that our horses are running away mentally. Thanks to my time with Dot Com, I’m more aware of what that looks like and how I can prevent it, both on the ground and under saddle.

Again, this is where becoming a true horseman comes in. The lesson here is to always be thinking about how you can do more with less, yet always have a safety net, so that you don’t set your horse up to fail before he’s thoroughly prepared. There are usually many signs that our horse is a goner before the really obvious signs come up, but we have to be horseman enough to notice them, and take appropriate action.

An important lesson Dot Com learned was how to come toward pressure. With such a small tolerance for pressure of any sort, by default Dot Com would react rather than respond. With time, he learned to tip his nose, and with positive flexion through his body, come in to me when I directed the tiniest amount of pressure toward his hindquarters, even at a distance, and with speed.

He even learned to walk backwards and sideways toward me when I applied rhythmic pressure from a distance – another huge accomplishment for a horse whose automatic response was “when in doubt, LEAVE (fast)!” Finally, he was thinking, he was learning to respond, yield toward and away from pressure, and not make reactive, rash assumptions.

What makes working at liberty so challenging is that not only are you working with a horse with no actual physical connection, but at advanced levels you begin to communicate at greater distances and in bigger spaces. A horse that blows you off at speed under saddle, isn’t much different than one who blows you off at a distance on the ground. One of the building blocks to liberty at distance, was working online at a distance.

If Dot Com ignored my request to draw to me or drive away, move sideways, backward, move his body parts around or go up or down in gait from the end of a 45’ line, then chances of it happening from 20’ at liberty were slim. I developed all these things to a very high degree online first – which is no different from how we must develop our barrel horses well going slow, if their education and responsiveness is to hold up going fast.

Of course we did add speed to our liberty work as well, which was part of achieving our goal of performing flying lead changes. Although I used the delicate, low wall of a round pen built with unelectrified tape as a support, flying lead changes meant that I would need to rev him up while maintaining a high, even level of drive, draw AND general responsiveness. For a horse that tends to get emotional as speed increases, it was no small feat.

In fact, when I quickly stepped backward to draw him toward me at speed, he would often quickly turn away from me. The intensity of the request was just more than he could handle initially. Turning away was his form of avoidance, much like an ostrich putting his head in the sand – “Can’t do it, too much pressure!”

Helping him through this meant brushing up the individual ingredients for the maneuver, as well as plenty of building up and slowing down, building up and slowing down, in order to close the gap between speed and relaxation – no different than what we must do with our barrel horses. I also lavishly rewarded him when he did turn and come toward me, which simply consisted of a good rest – free of any and all pressure.

As we progressed, he became more and more confident about placing his feet. He learned how to position his body appropriately for the lead changes and was responding to me lighting fast without zoning me out, breaking gait or breaking the connection. It’s not just speed that causes horses to be emotional, it’s the pressure of having to arrange their feet very precisely under our direction.

After all, surrendering control of their feet goes against all their instincts. Don’t ever take a horse’s complete willingness for you to guide their feet, especially at speed, for granted. The greatest compliment they can give you – is their trust!

For a horse like Dot Com who is not very confident by nature, it’s no wonder that precisely placing his feet in the roping box, combined with the emotional anticipation of high pressure and speed, created anxiety. I’m certain that by developing calm, quick responsiveness at liberty, that we are a huge step ahead in creating it when my husband can offer him even more guidance and support under saddle.

To learn more about my journey with Dot Com toward higher level horsemanship visit:

Would you like to build more connection with your barrel horse?

If so, you’ll enjoy the posts below:

Four Ways to Solve Problems on the Barrel Pattern with Quality Counter Arcs

Four Ways to Solve Problems on the Barrel Pattern with Quality Counter Arcs

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #89 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIn or Spotify.

A few years ago I was having trouble with my gelding anticipating the second barrel and cutting in too closely – a common problem in the barrel racing world.

It’s even more common on the second barrel where we have the shortest distance between barrels and run straight toward a wall or fence, which definitely plays a role in our horses getting short and anticipating that turn even more.

Focusing ahead and actively riding him further in the hole helped, but I really wanted to do something to lessen his desire to drop in to begin with.

We weren’t tipping a lot of barrels YET, but I knew the issue had the potential to develop into a more major problem if I didn’t address it.

So, I employed the help of the good ol’ barrel racing standby – the counter arc.

You can imagine my surprise a few weeks later, when I tested our progress in competition. I was hustling him across the pen, and when I offered some subtle rein contact to round the second barrel, my gelding stiffened up like he had rigor mortis!

He felt like he’d swallowed a 2×4.

My almost over-bendy, soft and supple barrel horse was literally stiffer than a board in that turn – I had never felt anything quite that extreme, or that awful.

I was so shocked and confused. But after quickly flipping through my mental rolodex, there was only one thing I could attribute the change to – Read more