You’ll often notice the horses that are winning are usually the most confident ones. Seasoning a green or watchy horse takes time and patience, no matter how old the horse is. National Finals Rodeo qualifier Dona Kay Rule has some tips to help you give your horse confidence.

“A lot of horses I see up and down the road at jackpots and rodeos are scared,” Rule said. “Horses are herd animals, and they want to know if the leader is happy, scared, hungry, or ready to run for their lives. If you watch them in the pasture, there’s always one standing when the rest are laying down. That tells you that they look to the leader.”

The cornerstone to Rule’s program is being the leader for her horses.

“I want them to understand that if I’m riding and they want to come take a bite from the round bale, if I raise a leg, they can’t. That’s who I am in this relationship,” Rule said. “If I’m nervous or scared, they should think ‘Oh my goodness, I’m nervous and scared too.’ I spend a lot of time letting them know it’s okay.”

Dona Kay Rule headshot
Dona Kay Rule is a lifelong trainer, barrel racer and roper. She has qualified for RFD-TV’s The American and made her first National Finals Rodeo in 2019. Her horse High Valor also won the 2019 Barrel Horse of the Year award. Photo by Kailey Sullins.

If you haul to a jackpot and your horse is afraid, apprehensive and jumpy, Rule says the best thing you can do as the leader is just sit there quietly—don’t react, and don’t punish your horse.

“Don’t panic, don’t tighten up. Keep yourself safe and get in a position where if they wheel around and try to get away, you can put them right back over there and get soft and relaxed,” Rule said.

Unusual situations will crop up as the horse gets older and you get to a rodeo or large event. This is where your role as a leader throughout the horse’s life will be tested.

“You may be going in the alley and somebody walks across in the way, or they hold you in the alley as someone is running through the arena,” Rule said. “Your horse needs to be able to go, ‘Are we okay?’ And by your body position and the time you spent riding around, you can breathe out and say ‘Yes, we’re okay.’”

Confidence takes time and is the result of calm yet firm leadership every day you spend with your horse. But a horse that will confidently trust you to send him down the alley and not lead him into danger is a horse that’s hard to outrun.

“They can still be up and ready to run, but if you spend a lot of time working on confidence things, being soft, letting them know they’re okay, bringing them up and bringing them down, you can avoid those [scary] situations a lot of times and avoid disaster,” Rule said.

Find more from Dona Kay Rule and view our library of training videos here.


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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