Champion trainer Molly Otto didn’t come from a family involved in horses, but she always knew she wanted to be a professional barrel racer. She shares some of her philosophies that have guided her from a childhood without horses to a place at the top as a well-respected horsewoman.
“My family was not horse people. We grew up in town,” Otto said. “I got my first horse when I was 15. I begged for a horse ever since I can remember when I was little, and we never even were around horses. I don’t know why—I think horse people are just born with it in their blood. I just always wanted to do it. And my parents finally bought me a horse, and that’s where it started.”
Otto isn’t really sure why she wanted to barrel race, but something about the sport struck her to pursue it.
“I didn’t really know about hardly any of this stuff when I just started out, so to be honest, I don’t think I ever dreamed about doing any of this. I just wanted to ride horses and be a barrel racer,” Otto said with a laugh.
Otto suggests learning good horsemanship and how to be a good rider before taking to the pattern to learn the speed aspect. She developed a solid foundation as a rider and then started advancing up the ladder of competition.
One key to Otto’s success as she developed more into a trainer has been following her own unique style and way of doing things.
“Just stay in your own lane and not watch what everybody else is doing and just do the things that you know work for you,” Otto said. “I’m always open to learning, but it’s more just not comparing myself to everybody else and everything else that’s going on around me and just sticking to my routine and knowing what works for me and my horses.”
You don’t know what you don’t know, so Otto advises educating yourself on soundness and pain management, horse health and how to care for performance horses, especially if you don’t have resources in your family from which to learn.
“I didn’t know much about it until I was well into my 20s at college rodeo. I didn’t know people injected horses. I had never seen that before. It’s probably one of the most important things to keep your horses feeling good, keep them working, so that they want to do their job and enjoy it and want to go out and work,” Otto said. “Whenever my horse feels off or does something two times in a row out of the ordinary, we for sure have to go to the vet. Horses are athletes and need to be taken care of like an athlete. It’s our job as horse owners, trainers and jockeys to take the best care of them that we can. How do you expect them to work and want to win and want to do their job and enjoy it if you’re not willing to take care of them?”
Putting it all together in the arena at a race can incite nerves for a lot of riders, especially those new to competing. Otto says it’s good to remind yourself of the simplicity of barrel racing and focus on yourself and your horse—a philosophy that’s helped her advance in every aspect of running barrels professionally.
“It’s not life or death, it’s just barrel racing. Most things in barrel racing seem like they’re out of your control. You’re riding a horse that has a mind of its own. Just go out there and let your horse work. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” Otto said. “I try not to pay attention to what’s leading the race or things like that. Just go out and make a run, and it doesn’t matter what’s winning it—just go out and do your best.”