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The Naked Truth – Powerful Insights on Becoming a Horse(wo)man, Part I

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

A genuine, intense and foundational love of horses is what inspires me, not just to be a top barrel racer, but a true horseman. It’s a fascination that borders the edge of obsession – and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Figuring out how both human AND horse can come together and truly WIN (in the barrel racing arena especially), is my passion.

So you can imagine my disappointment, when after taking six months off from riding to bring Secrets to Barrel Racing Success to life in 2012, just months after it’s launch, and days before my gelding and I were scheduled to return to competition, he came up mysteriously lame.

Little did I know then, that such an adverse circumstance would lead me on one of the greatest personal development journeys of my life.

I often refer to 2013 as the year I took my barrel horse through physical rehabilitation, and my husband’s rope horse through mental rehabilitation. I didn’t expect either to take nearly as long, but then there were a lot of unexpected surprises along the way!

Heather and Dot Com at Liberty

In my never-ending quest for becoming an all-around excellent horseman, outside of barrel racing I’ve enjoyed experiences that range from showing hunt seat equitation, to starting colts, creating positive breakthroughs for troubled horses, achieving success in reining, and more.

I should add however, that just doing all these things doesn’t mean a rider is on a path to becoming a true horseman, in fact, far from it. I believe the importance is in how you go about it, the things you learn, the way you grow and change, and who you become as a result.

Today’s article is about the powerful insight I gained through what many would consider a very atypical path for a barrel racer to follow. But then, I never claimed to be a “typical barrel racer!” 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.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.


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 BarrelRacingTips.com, 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.

Help for a “Hot to Trot” Barrel Horse!

There’s something critically missing in the steps many barrel racers take to rehabilitate a “burnt out” barrel horse.

Being that barrel racing is a sport that includes high pressure, high speed, and high stakes, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of these horses around.

Your Horse Depends on You

But barrel horses don’t HAVE to be crazy. Barrel horses WILL be excited, a bit on the muscle, and generally pumped up in those seconds before blasting off to the first barrel.

However, tension, nervousness, over-anticipation, and lack of control crosses the line – it negatively impacts runs, and it’s fully within our power to change (and prevent) this from happening.

It’s up to US realize the effect we have on our horses and take personal responsibility for how we influence them – there IS hope for those talented horses who have gone far off the mental & emotional deep end. Read more

Slow Down to Speed Up and Optimize Learning

Slow Down to Speed Up and Optimize Learning

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #46 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.


Although my husband’s gelding Dot Com came to us already having a long list of achievements in the roping pen, his sensitive nature combined with the pressures of life as a high caliber performance horse had contributed to a way of feeling and moving that involved a lot of physical tension, high headedness, inverted posture, and emotional insecurity.

The old days - tense, inverted & high headed.
The old days – tense, inverted & high headed.

When presented with an opportunity to spend time with Dot Com, although I drug my feet initially, I have to say I did feel confident I could meet Dot Com’s needs in a way that would change his life for the better, and bring out the best in him – both in the arena and out.

It just hasn’t happened the way I thought it would…

My journey with him so far has been rewarding, especially lately, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. In this article, I’d like to share a few of the lessons Dot Com has helped ME learn and ways in which he’s helped expand my own abilities, in hopes that it will expand yours as well. Read more