Three No-Brainer Components for Successful and Consistent Barrel Racing Under Pressure

Three No-Brainer Components for Successful and Consistent Barrel Racing Under Pressure

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #147 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher or Google Play.

I always say – there’s a lot more to barrel racing, than barrel racing!

For this reason I feel as though the off season, OR any time we’re sidetracked from active competition (for example, when a horse gets injured – my situation not log ago) provides a good opportunity to dive into other areas of personal development that will accelerate our barrel racing success once we’re back in the saddle.

The thing is, when we haven’t been competing for a while it’s easy to beebop along in our own little comfort zone, completely oblivious about how to pressure of competition effects us.  When we’re not out testing ourselves regularly, we get a little rusty and forgetful!

I had a HUGE wake-up call after we first moved from Wyoming and I’d been living in my own little secluded south-Texas world, then hauled our horses to a HUGE barrel race not far from home. The main purpose of the trip was an appointment with a Vet. who had been seeing my gelding through his recovery.

I thought my horses looked fairly good and were in decent shape, then once I was behind the scenes in the middle of the nation’s most successful trainers and highest powered barrel horses, in all their shiny, chiseled, muscular, fire-breathing glory – my laid back, shaggy “Steady Eddies” (and my own ability to develop them) somehow admittedly seemed inferior.

Do you get psyched up or psyched out in the warmup pen?
Do you get psyched up or psyched out in the warmup pen?

In the spirit of complete transparency, the TRUTH is – I was feeling “psyched out” and a bit intimidated, but I wasn’t even entered!  WHAT THE!???

Had I been there as only a spectator, perhaps I wouldn’t have been triggered and would have easily just admired and appreciated the high-level horse flesh from a distance.  But somehow having my own suddenly less-than-worthy equine partners in hand created an uncomfortable rush of insecurity. It was obvious at that moment that I had work to do!

If you’ve been following for a while, then you might already know of a few, very powerful life-defining moments I’ve shared that have profoundly shaped mine for the better and further prepared me to help others.

One of those was when I first read a total game and life-changing book in 2005.  It was then that I found the true source of confidence, which actually isn’t “self” confidence at all.  (I shared more about that book, AND that defining moment in The Confident Barrel Racer.)

It wasn’t long after my BIG barrel race trip that I experienced another defining moment when I was moved to tears one morning as I took in the first few pages of the book With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham.

You see, when you’re aware of your shortcomings and you have intense drive to be the best, it’s easy to fall into tail-chasing mode in your quest for greatness.  There are so many areas in which we must educate and develop ourselves, let alone our horses – it’s overwhelming!

Sometimes, we’re so enthusiastic about making progress that we head in far too many directions and end up with a “hodge podge” of tools and techniques rather than an integrative and effective system.

At that moment in my living room chair, suddenly a very clear, simple program for mastering the mental game was laid out in front of me. Words can’t describe the relief I felt.  This was different than everything else – it was as if the search for answers was over!

While of course I highly recommend purchasing and reading this special book, I’d like to share a review of what it entails and how it relates to us as barrel racers so that YOU can get a head start on applying “the Triad” in your own life.

Author Lanny Bassham is a Texas native and a world and Olympic champion rifle shooter who has now coached thousands of athletes to greatness. In the introduction he mentions that “The Mental Management System is not based on psychology; instead it’s 100% based on competition.”

Does it get any more REAL than that?

“The Mental Management is the process of improving the probability of having a consistent mental performance, under pressure, on demand.”

The System is composed of three genius and yet (what I think are), no-brainer areas.

Is this your brain on barrel racing?
Is this your brain on barrel racing?


“The Conscious Mind contains your thoughts and mental pictures.  The Conscious Mind controls all of the senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.  It is what you picture or think about.  Every time we think about something, we do it consciously.  The Conscious Mind processes our environment. Its normal function is to gather information and give us options.  The Conscious Mind plays a very important role in success.

We set goals consciously. We set priorities and establish time lines consciously.  We think out our life and that is why it is so important.”


“The Subconscious Mind is the source of your skills and power to perform.  All great performances are accomplished subconsciously, without much conscious thought.  We develop skills through repetition of conscious thought until the Subconscious Mind automatically performs them.  The conscious trains the subconscious.  Once the skill can be performed without conscious thought it has become a subconscious skill.  In most applications there are far too many parts moving at one time to consciously think about all of them.” (HELLO barrel racing!)


“The Self-Image makes you ‘act like you.’ It is the total of your habits and your attitudes.  This is the most important of the three, because the Self-Image and success are directly related.  The Self-Image and the Conscious Mind are always in communication with one another.  Every time we think about something or attempt to do something it creates an imprint that is stored in the Self-Image.  The Self-Image generates a view on how you see yourself based on these imprints.  I believe these imprints change the Self-Image.”

In Chapter 3 – The Balance of Power he started out by asking:

“Think for a minute, when you are performing your best… Great performances seem to flow.  When this happens you are in what I call The Triad State.  When the Conscious, Subconscious and Self-Image are balanced and working together, you perform smoothly, efficiently and seemingly effortlessly toward your goal.  We do not always have this balance, and that is problematic. The goal is to experience The Triad State on demand and under extreme pressure.  Therein lies the challenge.”

I hope that by reading just these short excerpts that you’re as excited as I am about having such simplicity and clarity for troubleshooting and improving our mental game.

Prepare your body and mind, then release extreme attachment to the results.
Prepare your body and mind, then release extreme attachment to the results.

When the Triad is out of balance, for example, when someone is new to barrel racing and they haven’t yet firmly developed the subconscious skills that allow them to ride with great timing, feel and precision at speed without excessive thought and focus, it’s simply not likely to be very fast.  If we have to think too much about what we need to do, we tend to get a little behind or ahead of the action. There just isn’t time for conscious thinking in a lightning-fast run.

The problem also is that some people develop less than ideal habits in their riding in the early stages.  When our riding skills and ability isn’t where it needs to be, we’ll be pressured to consciously think through what we need to do to make up for a lack of balance or fluidity. We must develop a foundation of positive movement patterns that we automatically resort to in a run, requiring that we only make adjustments in the moment based on specific and unique competition environments or our horse’s tendencies, etc.

Just because we’ve been riding all our life, doesn’t mean we ride well.  And just because we don’t seem be a freak of nature, gifted, athletic barrel racing athlete doesn’t mean we can’t narrow the gap with learned skill.

That’s why, when we dove into the topic of Physical Conditioning last month, I was sure to include resources for riders.

If you feel as though you’re ready to grow in this area, I recommend exploring the links below:

I thought it was really interesting watching the interviews with Taylor Jacob after her 2013 NFR round wins.  She was clearly confident in her horse and their ability to win.  Her undeniable confidence was rather refreshing.

Of course, I’m all for being humble and giving credit where it’s due (to God and our horse for example), but it’s awful hard to be a champion while exuding an “I’m not good enough” mindset.

Interestingly enough, in Taylor’s column in last month’s Women’s Pro Rodeo News, she shared that she really struggles with staying positive and confident at times when she’s competing. So it seems that achieving high-level success is no guarantee for a continually healthy Self-Image.

Even IF you’ve been declared the best in the world, doesn’t mean you’ll always feel that way. I think this also means that we can’t wait until we ARE a big-time champion to start acting, thinking and feeling like one!

I’m sure you’ve seen, known, or even been the person who has some talent and even many years of acquired skill, with a Self-Image that hasn’t grown at the same rate with it.  Maybe deep down, you just don’t believe in yourself and your ability to win?

If you’ve ever felt this way, remember the Self-Image is very much connected to the Conscious Mind.

Consider this four-step process for catching and turning around any negative self-talk:

  • Awareness – Start to notice and admit that your inner monologue and mental pictures have room for improvement
  • Reflection – Look back and realize you’ve been guilty of negativity, or less than positive mental chatter (usually after the fact)
  • Change – Catch yourself in the act and change the subject in your mind right then and there
  • Integration – Through awareness and repetition, new positive thinking habits become second nature
Empty your mind of anything that doesn't relate to your run.
Empty your mind of anything that doesn’t relate to your run.

Yet another way the Triad gets off balance is when we have established an excellent foundation of subconscious skill and even have a healthy Self-Image but tend to get distracted and focus on things that don’t relate to our run.

Certain competition environments can be very intense and more distracting than others.  But we can build and strengthen our ability to focus just as we build our physical muscles – with special exercises and repetition.  Had I been competing that day at the first BIG Texas barrel I attended after we moved south, I would have been in this category – star struck and consequently drowning in a rut of comparison.

There are plenty of techniques out there for learning to clear your mind and training it to focus like a laser. One of MY favorite is this breathing exercise:

  • Preceding your run or as you are warming up your horse, count to four as you gently take a slow and even breath through your nose (30% of air goes straight to the brain when air is inhaled through the nose).  Allow your belly to comfortably expand as you fill up your lungs.  Hold the breath for a count of six.For added relaxation, form a fist with one hand and hold it as you hold your breath.  Next, exhale slowly and allow the air to be fully expelled from the lungs as you count to seven.  When you exhale, open and relax your fist as you release any tension from your body. Counting as you breathe helps focus your mind’s attention rather than allowing it to be distracted by your environment.

As barrel racers committed to never-ending personal development it’s important that we continuously strive to strengthen each of these components of the Triad while ALSO keeping them in balance.

When we’re not achieving the results we want, or we find ourselves in a slump, we have to look the Conscious Mind, Sub-Conscious Mind, and Self-Image, and ask ourselves:

Do I (and my horse) really possess the skills to perform well?

If not, what areas could be improved? What’s my plan to improve them?

Do I need to better develop my ability to concentrate, focus and clear my mind under pressure?

What is it about the competition environment that is distracting? What am I going to do differently?

Do I have the daily habits of a winner. Do I see myself as capable of success?

What conscious changes must I make to feel and see myself as a winner?

If you’ve been a student of sports psychology as I have, then I know you’ll especially appreciate this powerful yet simple system for building an unshakable inner foundation that stands up even under the highest pressure.

For more even more mental game resources, follow the links below:

Enjoy this post? Sign up for weekly updates – it’s FREE!

4 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *