I have been barrel racing professionally for half of my life. We have won (Lance and I, and our equine partners) many titles, buckles, saddles, horse trailers and quite a bit of money. I have logged many, many hours in the saddle. Have won on more than one horse that we have trained. None of this could have been possible without being prepared and some degree of mental toughness. Winning takes lots of work and lots of knowledge.
A barrel racer has to be able to stay on track even when things are not perfect. Can you still focus if you are late, because you had a flat tire, or traffic was bad, or any other list of things happened? Can you stay on track if the conditions are less than ideal? Does it bother you if it is raining, or muddy, or the wind is blowing? Are you thrown off course by an offset entrance to the arena? Do you let what someone has to say about the ground, or worse, something personal wreck your run? Things are never perfect, so get over it and remember why you came to the barrel race in the first place. Focus on your routine and what you have to do as the jockey of your barrel horse.
Have A Routine: TRY to arrive at least one hour before the barrel race begins. Being early gives you and your horse time to familiarize with the surroundings. Sign up and pay your entry fees so that all concentration is on your horse. Brush and pick out your horse’s feet. We also use Hoof Freeze and Wind-Aid by Hawthorne. I brush and massage my horse really well if I have the time. If you have a missing shoe or something, and you arrived an hour early, you will have time to find a shoer and get it fixed.
Tack up, checking equipment as you go. I may even wipe my saddle down with some saddle soap and take a stiff brush to the ruff out on my saddle to make it have a little more grip. I also make sure to have a spare bridle with me just incase. At least 30 minutes before I run, I will get on and warm up. I will trot and gallop in both directions. I will flex my horse both ways and stop him a few times just to ensure that he is listening to me.
Once my horse is warmed and loosened up, I like to find a quiet spot so that we can relax. I make sure that I am ready about two riders before my turn so that I can be at the gate when my name is called. After my run, I walk my horse out until his breathing returns to normal. I will have loosened my cinch and taken his Bar-F boots off. This lets him know that his job is done and my horse can relax. Being ready is the best way to eliminate stress.
Next question to ask yourself: Did you come to the barrel race to socialize, or to run barrels like you know how? Focus on the task at hand. To do well, barrel racing takes as much effort as any sport.
Don’t get to the time only exhibitions and watch what someone else is doing and change your routine. If you do, your horse can easily become hot and upset. Believe in what you have been practicing and working on and stick to it. Now is not the time to change training techniques, or bridles. Do that at home. Change like this can make your horse very insecure. Sometimes, the warm up area can be so crazy that I try to find somewhere else to warm up. I am always trying to build my horse’s confidence.
Know your horse: Some are lazy and need a little more moving around to get their adrenalin going. Others are hot and need to be kept calm. Some can get upset by their surroundings and other crazy people on horses. I had a great mare that I would try to warm up on a longe line or in the parking lot if possible.
Before I even enter the arena, I know what my plan is and what my job as the rider is. In other words, what I plan to do. Know WHERE you are going and WHAT you are going to do when you get there, is my motto.
There is no separation of mind and body. Show confidence on the outside and it will grow on the inside. Being prepared builds confidence. But preparation does not come overnight. It takes years of horsemanship knowledge and lots of time in the saddle to become prepared. When I know I am prepared and I look the part (my saddle and horse are clean and ready) I ride much better. If I remember to keep my chin up and put a smile on my face, shoulders back and take a deep breath, I do much better.
No matter how much you win, you are going to have bad days too. Don’t let that get you down. Learn from them and always work to improve your horsemanship skills. Only one in 10 of your runs are what you want them to be and this goes for everyone. It takes lots of years and lots of perfect practice to get consistent. Stay positive, God bless and enjoy the barrel race.