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!”

You may wonder, why I would I bother to put so much effort into becoming so well-rounded? While it’s NOT my goal to become a “jack of all trades and a master of none,” the truth is – there is much more to barrel racing, than barrel racing.

It’s my desire to help barrel racers and their horses achieve as much success as possible. I’m deeply committed to doing my very best at that, and therefore feel as though it’s necessary to grow and expand myself in many ways.

So with my own gelding sidelined and my husband wrapped up in the details of our cross country move, I suddenly had free rein with a special rope horse named “Dot Com.”

So I turned him loose… and we had a blast.

Although Dot Com and I made tons of progress under saddle, and traveled many miles together in 2013, the main highlights of our year occurred as I ran beside him or he circled around me sans round pen in the pasture at our new home in Texas.

I learned that when remove our horse’s tack, there is only one thing left – the truth.

Whether it’s a pretty picture initially or not, there are great things to learn by taking the “do more with less” theme to the highest levels.

Not everyone can handle the truth.

Dot Com and I bared ugly parts of ourselves to each other this summer, but in the end transformed it all into something beautiful. It was a long journey of ups and downs, mistakes and success, failure and ultimately, victory.

Although he has not yet returned to the roping pen, I feel like I’ve won something even greater. Once we have our horse’s heart, many of the obstacles in our way dissolve.

What it comes down to is that the keys to positively influencing a horse’s behavior, and even movement, lie in understanding and influencing how they think and FEEL.

Working at liberty turned out to be a both an incredible and deeply involved study and experiment in horse behavior and psychology. My time with Dot Com revealed my weaknesses, inspired personal breakthroughs, and required me to learn their language better, which transfers over and will improve everything I could ever dream of doing with horses.

I don’t expect everyone to take their exploration of liberty as far as I did. There’s no doubt, however that my detour away from competing last year has prepared me to better assist barrel racers and their horses in achieving success, in the arena and out.

I feel as though I’ve reached a new level of maturity in my horsemanship that words cannot fully express. So I’ve put together a short video below that I hope will help fill the gaps that words can’t.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments below!

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 also enjoy the posts below…

47 replies
  1. Jeri Martin
    Jeri Martin says:

    Wow. You weren’t kidding. Good job. I also am a huge believer in ground work, although I haven’t taken it to the level you have. I also know the amount of ground work and getting connected with one transfers into work under saddle. Ground work helps me see and feel where my horse is mentally before stepping on.
    Thank you for sharing this journey. It helps me realize how much more I could be doing.
    Jeri

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Thanks Jeri! I agree – ground work is a great “pre-flight test.” I like to think that it can make any ride better, even if our horse is calm and connected to us from the get go. I have found that symptoms of the problems we have under saddle, DO show up everywhere else – which are all opportunities to address and correct them – IF we are aware enough to notice! 🙂

      Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Thank you Tara! Not every part of our journey at liberty looked that way! In general, Dot Com started out quiet, but was actually very withdrawn and “in his own little world.” It’s been fun and rewarding to see him become more centered, relaxed and really come out of his shell and show some personality!

      Reply
  2. Cayde Terry
    Cayde Terry says:

    What an inspiration you are! Thank you for sharing this with us. You touch the very most important part of connecting with a horse that makes the difference between desire and forcing for performance. LOVED it.

    Reply
  3. Loree
    Loree says:

    That was amazing and I want to know how I can do this. I have a 7 year old gelding that I believe is mentally challenged. I have spent the last year trying to discover if there was anything physically wrong with him. But he was a tough horse mentally to start with and he finally broke down. I had a trailer wreck a year and half ago with him, and I think that is where he started to fall apart and it just got worse until he didn’t know how to tell me how fragile he was until one day he just gave up and started to kick out when i would try to ride him. I have done the whole route to see if there was physical pain somewhere and have I believe ruled all that out with confidence. My gut tells me he is having trouble with anxiety and just doesn’t know how to cope so how do I start to work with him to get him to connect mentally to me, then to trust me?

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Thanks Loree! Although working at liberty will probably not continue to be one of my main focuses, I do plan to start doing some teaching in 2014. Your gelding sounds a lot like Dot Com. At times it may seem as though all is well, when that’s most definitely not the case under the surface. These horses tend to be withdrawn and very hard to read, they also tend to seem pretty tolerant but are often on the borderline of exploding. They can be challenging no doubt. A good starting point with liberty is to be aware of how much you are using your halter. We usually make a point of letting the horse KNOW it’s on… see how much you can do with slack in the line. Also, take it very slow and go back and forth, back and forth to restore relaxation before going forward. Watch your horse’s muzzle and eyes especially – a quiet horse is not necessarily a content, relaxed horse. This was super challenging for me, it means lots of just sitting and waiting until you get your green light which might be a deep breath or them working their mouth. It’s amazing what “doing nothing” can do for building trust and confidence in these horses!

      Reply
  4. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I wanted to say that you’ve done an amazing job with Dot Com. I just got done watching your video above and it gives me goose bumps to see a horse so happy and willing to be a partner to their owner and have that level of connection. It’s amazing how smart and caring horses are. They want to be close and be partners with us, but we don’t give them that opportunity to show us that most of the time. I enjoy reading your articles but I was curious if you would ever do articles that go into more detail of what you do for training methods? I know you write a about attitude and our actions but I would also like more of a training description of your steps. If you would ever write something up along those lines that would be great!

    Keep up the awesome partnership!

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Nicole, right now I’m working on my second book – “The First 50 Barrel Racing Exercises to Develop a Champion.” Watch for that to launch May 1st! Of course, here at BarrelRacingTips.com, I hesitated to write about all the steps I took to develop Dot Com at liberty last year, as it seemed somewhat off topic. But a lot of the articles with Dot Com have specific recommendations/exercises for resolving anxiety and creating relaxation. Now that my barrel horse is back, expect to see more step by step training how-to’s! Thanks for asking and stay tuned – lots of fun things in the works!

      Reply
      • Sandra
        Sandra says:

        I love all the articles about stress and relaxation. I bought a new horse in September and I really want to be a better horseman, I feel him trying to connect and I’m so afraid I’m not on the same level as him.

        Reply
        • BarrelRacingTips
          BarrelRacingTips says:

          When it doubt, follow your gut! Try to put yourself in your “horse’s shoes.” You might experiment with matching your horse’s energy and movement both on the ground and under saddle, then switch gears to see if your horse will follow your lead! When you feel a positive change – deliver some comfort. This quote from Buck Brannaman comes to mind… ‎”The horse responds to comfort, they respond to peace better than about anything else you could do. So if the horse responds to you and you give him a little peace and comfort that means more to him than anything.”

          Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Thank you Julie. In all honesty, Dot Com and I are probably just about the LEAST compatible match you could possibly have between a horse and human! However, that is what made my time with him both so challenging and so rewarding – a HUGE opportunity for growth for the both of us. To me, part of becoming horseman means being able to help, and bring out the best in ANY horse!

      Reply
  5. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    That was beautiful! Brought tears to my eyes. I’ve known for a long time my horsemanship is lacking and I’ve wanted help but it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t just want to teach tricks, just like you said.
    When you had the clinic in Texas is it the same person who helped you to get to this point? I’d love to be able to go if you will be having another one in the spring.

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Good for you Carol! Most people don’t dive deep enough into the program to realize how different it is from others out there. I love that it addresses horse psychology and behavior on such a deep level – which is really the key to EVERYTHING we do with our horses! “There’s nothing you can’t do when your horse becomes part of you!”

      Reply
  6. Roberta Jorio
    Roberta Jorio says:

    Hi, Heather! Just love your articles, videos and everything else. I learn a lot from you. I was completely fascinated by the things you´ve accomplished with Dot Com at liberty. I did not know it was possible!
    I still don´t understand what “raise and low” the energy in our body means or how to do this, on the ground or under saddle.
    I wish you even more and more accomplishments! Keep learning and applying knowledge!
    God bless you so you can bless and inspire others!
    =)

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Thank you Roberta! Raising and lowering energy is very subtle, but if I were to exaggerate lifting it, it might look/feel as though I’m taking a deep breath or sitting/standing more upright in my posture. Like I’m getting ready for ACTION! To lower my energy is to relax and tone it all down. When I ask my horses to transition upward in gait, it’s through a simple, subtle increase in my energy, and I lower it to transition downward or stop. When we develop our horses to respond like this, we can reserve our reins and legs for more refined and advanced communication, meaning we’ll never “run out of bit” or have to pull/kick for all we’re worth to get a response. I think explained more about raising and lowering my energy to “whoa and go” in “How to Use Body Language to Go and Whoa.” Hope that helps! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Licia Judy
    Licia Judy says:

    I could see the true “love” for the horse in you. I don’t think your husband is getting his horse back. Thanks for all your help and guidance. We choose a tough sport where thousands of a second can make or break you and I need all the help I can get. God Bless.

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Ah, thanks Licia, you’re very welcome, it’s my pleasure! You’re right in that the competition IS tough, and it’s only getting TOUGHER. The details matter and greatly affect our end result!

      Reply
  8. Denene Guest
    Denene Guest says:

    Hi! Well again we seem to be mirroring each other, as it has been ever since I found your website!! I bought a new horse last year and he too is very much like Dot Com…. I’m guessing Right Brained Extrovert with Introvert tendencies!!! What a learning experience! I too, also experienced my other horse coming up lame, and having to spend more time with my new one!! I tried to just go with what he presented, but it never FELT good to me. Feeling somewhat pressured by outside influences to keep entering I did (not excessively by any means), our daily rides were yucky!!! Finally decided it was time to give this extremely athletic, talented horse a better foundation, and finally do something very outside my comfort zone….ASSERT MYSELF AS A LEADER!! Not easy for me to do, as I felt it was being to restrictive for the horse. However, by EXPERIENCING his relaxation, and connection, and responsiveness when I did this I had to continue!! So for know we are back at groundwork, just progressing to the 22′ line, and of course we experience some stress transitioning into the upward gaits, but far less extreme now, and by accepting a small try, and leaving it alone the next day he seems to have it!! I am very excited about the future!! I wasn’t sure I was interested in the liberty part of the program, but now I can sure see the benefits for both of us!! Thanks so much! Also, on a funny side note my husband has just been offered a job in Texas (we are from Canada!) so may have an opportunity to come and spend some time there with my horse, and plan on looking up Mr. Matthew Boheman (forgot how to spell his name, sorry!)if it all works out….who knows maybe one day we may even get to meet as well!! Take care!

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Sounds like you are on the right track Denene! It’s interesting because although I tend to provide firm leadership, I had to learn to tone down my ambition to get through to Dot Com. My husband on the other hand, is content to just take it easy with him, which is great on one hand, but then they don’t end up being very progressive. It can be a challenge to offer firm leadership without over pressuring a horse like DC! The key is lots of repetition and always just going back to something relaxing if they get their “feathers ruffled,” instead of overlooking their anxiety and pushing through it.

      I grew up in North Dakota, then spent 13 years in Wyoming before coming down here – best move I ever made! Look me up if you come down this way! 🙂

      Reply
      • Denene Guest
        Denene Guest says:

        My hubby has taken a job that has him based in the Odessa/Midland area. I do not know if this is near you or not!! It would still be great to meet up with you even if it meant some drive time!!

        Wish you all the best!

        Reply
  9. Lorraine Flaker
    Lorraine Flaker says:

    Congratulations on your transformation
    Enjoy to be inspired in natural horsemanship
    Your influences well help many horses and their people become true partners
    Awesome girl you got it!

    Reply
  10. Nikki N.
    Nikki N. says:

    Hi Heather-
    Your article just made me cry. I have a mare like Dot Com, very smart, EXTREMELY sensitive and athletic…you just THINK about turning and she is turning for you. Well, I got her papers today and I am her 7th owner! Poor thing! We have come MILES since I brought her to my place in May, she will follow me in the arena if I get off and walk with her, turn circles, follow with no lead, etc…I realized how sensitive she is and try to only direct and re-direct under saddle with patience and a calm demeanor. It’s hard at barrel races, though. But she is doing much better and we will get there eventually. I will be her last owner. Thank you for the great article, it’s nice to see that there are other “barrel racers” out there that are more interested in the overall development of their horses whether it pertains to the pattern or not.

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hang in there Nikki! These horses that are so extremely sensitive make such amazing athletes if we can build their confidence. The great thing about liberty was that I HAD to have DC right “on the inside” or things would very obviously go south in a hurry! It’s so easy to overlook their emotional/impulsion issues when we can micromanage them a bit with the reins. We have a ways to go with Dot Com yet, so there is much more to learn and share – especially when it comes to bridging that final gap back to competition, so stay tuned! Keep up the great work and in the mean time, feel free to enter “Dot Com” in the upper right search bar to find and review lots of articles that I think will be helpful for your horse!

      Reply
  11. cooper
    cooper says:

    Way to articulate what you are working on!
    I have to enquire as to whom your mentors are? Based on how you describe what your focus is and the words and phrases you choose I am going to say that you have spent a considerable amount of time with one of Tom Dorrance or Ray Hunts main students.?
    I chose to completely put aside barrel racing myself 2 years ago to focus solely on becoming a horseman…I want to say that your bit in the article above about being a jack of all trades but a master of none is far from reality though! 🙂 the pursuit of horsemanship is pursuing mastery itself!
    One of my mentors told be that if I wanted to be their student then I would have to completely put my ambitions of barrel racing aside to the extent that I wouldn’t even look at pictures of or watch videos of barrel racing/racers for an indefinite period of time, and instead fill my mind with images of horses being rode and worked correctly. With special attention given to where they were at mentally. My understanding of ‘turning loose’ is that it is very dynamic…meaning.. the point at which the horse lets go…could be letting go of muscular tension, a brace in a body part, axiety over something or more likely a combination of all three… and then as training progresses it would have more of an athletic component to it.
    Anywho….nice work… its refreshing to come across others of the same mind set seeking quality and depth in their work with horses.

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      I was fortunate to see Ray teach years ago and have learned a lot from some of he and Tom’s top students!
      It’s been tough to be away from barrel racing temporarily, and it wasn’t really by my own choosing initially. But I’m seeing now that investing even more into my horsemanship is bringing clarity to every problem I have ever experienced on the barrel pattern.
      When your foundation is that firm, problems aren’t common, but when they come up, it’s quick and simple to solve them – much less frustration and time wasted!
      I mean how wonderful would it be as a barrel racer to always have an answer, and to never face extreme frustration? Doesn’t seem like it would be possible, but I really feel as though that is the reality of the direction I’m heading. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but so many people “don’t know what they don’t know.” When you really want to succeed bad enough, you get tired of that frustrating path and I happened to stumble down another road, that because of my already existing background, really resonated and made an awful lot of sense. So I embraced it even if it meant not entering for a while, and I think it’s the best thing I could have ever done for my own barrel racing and for helping others.
      I have been told that I could pursue horsemanship AND barrel racing at the same time, and that’s what I did for a lot of years, but there’s no denying the positive results that are coming through focusing on one at a time – it’s been awesome!
      I agree that our horses have to be “turned loose” in every way before we can be successful with their discipline specific training. Trying to add that over physical/mental brace means always bumping into limitations… that’s essentially what people had tried to do with Dot Com (which is so common), and in the process only a fraction of a horse’s true potential and athleticism can be revealed. He may already be a middle aged horse, but he has a bright future ahead of him!
      Thanks for your comment! 😉

      Reply
  12. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    I have been following you and Dot Com’s story. You and Him did an amazing job. Love the article up above and the video. What a beautiful connection you and Dot Com have. It made me tear up. I love the other article’s you post on the site. They are so very very helpful and give a lot of information. I look to your website for info to help me. I look to you has a mentor. It would be cool to spend sometime with you personally. I have a new barrel horse prospect in training that had a ruff start before my very close friend (he raised this horse and sold him as a weanling, my very close friend passed away this last November)bought him back a couple years ago. This horse’s history is a long story. Thank you for sharing all your story’s and posting all the good info.

    Reply
  13. Amber
    Amber says:

    Wow, that was truly incredible. I have a 4 yr. old that I have been working with “at liberty” after having some issues under saddle and your video excites me and drives me to want to be better, to tap into her more and try to hear what she is telling me. As a barrel racer I feel like I always skipped this step, that it was about being in the saddle and driving toward the next goal. In the last 2 years I have stopped competing completely (at least for now) and I am working on the steps I have skipped, the horsemanship, the things that I need to learn and work on within myself to become a better horsewoman BEFORE I ever turn another barrel. It has changed my life and I am so completely encouraged by your journey. You are a true inspiration. Sometimes I wonder what the heck I am doing, as I have completely dedicated my life to learning these things, given up my job, etc. in search for the truth. Reading your blog and e-mails only excites me as I watch and look forward to the many things I have yet to discover. Thank you for taking us with you on your journey, I can’t wait to see what 2014 will bring!

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Amber! After being pretty deeply immersed into the horsemanship side of things for a good 15 years (while I also ran barrels), and putting what I thought was a pretty thorough foundation on my horses; I realize looking back, that although I had been successful in a lot of ways, I was only touching the surface. Like I mentioned, when you go far enough with it, eventually the answers to challenges become very clear, very quickly. Wrestling our horse’s potential out of them or just getting things “good enough” or “better than average” and hoping for the best never felt like a good way to go about it. I love building a foundation between my horse and I that results in less questioning and more certainty… something I can be sure of, which is what really creates opportunity to succeed even in tough competition. I really believe all this to be the “Secrets to Success” in anything we do with horses!

      Reply
      • Amber
        Amber says:

        Exactly!!! It is very encouraging to hear that you have been concentrating on horsemanship for 15 years and are still going deeper, learning and discovering BIG THINGS like you have with Dot Com. I feel like I have been stuck lately and not sure where to go next so your comment above was very encouraging. I actually bought your “Secrets to Success” book a few months ago and am excited to dig in. I am curious about your “story” leading up to this point. It sounds like you worked with/studied under numerous trainers with methods across the board and I’d love to know how it all came together to become your own method today. Have you ever written a blog or article about that? I have been blessed to get to travel to work with trainers in Texas and California (and blessed with a husband who lets me gallivant across the country to learn) and have taken pieces from all of them but I feel like I still have SOOOO many holes to fill it is almost overwhelming. Any advice from someone further along in their journey?

        Reply
        • BarrelRacingTips
          BarrelRacingTips says:

          Hey Amber, I think writing about how I’ve combined what I’ve learned from my teachers and mentors (horse and human) into something that I share is a great idea. In fact the timing would be perfect for that later this year when I start doing some teaching! Natural horsemanship and barrel racing are two things that aren’t found together nearly enough. Feel free to email me at admin@barrelracingtips.com and I’d be happy to give you some more detailed references that I think will be helpful on your own journey! 😉

          Reply
  14. Jennifer Gilligan
    Jennifer Gilligan says:

    Wow!!! All I can say is wow!!! I would love to learn how to do this with my own gelding. Is there videos or cd’s to teach the basics?

    Reply
  15. peggy schmitz
    peggy schmitz says:

    Heather, as usual you are awesome, your articles and videos are most informative. I wish I was that far along in my horsemanship.

    Reply
  16. Dana Cleghorn
    Dana Cleghorn says:

    Amazing, beautiful and truly awe-inspiring. I’ve always thought nothing could bring me more joy than running the perfect, smooth, resistance free barrel pattern…until I saw this. I am blown away to see this level of communication between horse and human. Congratulations Heather, you are an incredible horsewoman. 🙂

    BTW, I have been studying and applying your methods and insights for at least two years now and it has taken me from a nervous, selfdoubter with a garage sale 4D prospect to a confident, consistent 1D competitor who almost always walks out of the practice and competition arena with a big smile on her face (same horse!!)

    Reply
    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Oh my goodness, Dana, that is AWESOME!

      I sooo appreciate your kind words and I’m so glad to hear the content I share has helped create some BIG TIME RESULTS for you.

      The jump from 4D to 1D is a HUGE one – congrats!

      Way to go, and keep me posted on your success. 😀

      Reply

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