By Cheryl Magoteaux, first published in the November 1996 issue of Barrel Horse News.
Sometimes, success has more to do with how you look at things than with how things really are. A disadvantage to one person can be a benefit to someone else.
For Betty Dyer of Perry, Maine, living in a small coastal town in the eastern-most area of the United States means that going to a barrel race of any sort involves at least a four-hour drive south through hairpin turns and steep grades. The other option is to go even farther north, across the border and through customs checks, to the Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island. That takes at lease six hours!
Not only does this location make for long drives, it also features weather that restricts competition to a short three to four-month period that begins around the first of July and is pretty well finished by mid-October. It’s not unheard of to have snow in late May or June.
“I’ve always lived here,” comments Betty, who went to her first barrel race in 1967, and fell in love with the event. “It’s always been a long way to get to the barrel races and I normally can’t get outside to ride until late April.”
That’s life in Perry, Maine, where a big year of competition would be getting to 12 or 14 events.
“We don’t have a lot of choice on what you go to,” Betty said. “If there’s a barrel race – rodeo, jackpot or horse show – within eight hours driving time or less, we’ll try to go.”
You mean, no exhibitions, no schooling shows, no practice runs?
“That’s right,” she said. “There are few arenas in this part of the country. A lot of times, in Canada, we’ll run barrels in an ice hockey rink. They’ll haul dirt in for the event, but the rest of the time, they ice skate there.”
It’s a sharp contrast to most of the rest of the country where a barrel racer might take a horse to 10 or 12 events just to get it ready to run. It’s tempting to think, then, that timed events are just not as competitive in the Northeast, but if you took that viewpoint, you might be surprised.
The acid test of skill has traditionally been made by leaving home and pitting yourself against the rest of the world. Especially for the eastern United States, the All American Quarter Horse Congress has been a level playing field where folks from all over can assess their performance against a true standard of excellence.
Although Betty had been consistently at the top in maritime and Maine competition, she wanted to try those new waters.
“Everyone always talks about the Congress,” Betty said. “I wanted to go. I had no ideas what it would be like and or what I could do in that type of competition.”
When she arrived at her first Congress in 1992, the affable ex high school biology teacher didn’t make much of a splash. Her more knowledgeable and seasoned competitors never even noticed her and it was easy to be intimidated and wide-eyed.
“I was just thrilled to be there,” Betty said.
She might have been thrilled, but she was also taking care of business. By the time she left to return to Maine, she had gotten everyone’s attention. Betty and her gray gelding, Rocky Otter Wynn, won the Novice Amateur Pole Bending, placed fifth in Novice Amateur Barrels, sixth in Senior Poles and ninth in the Senior Barrels.
“I didn’t even know they had timed events in Maine,” muttered one competitor.
For Betty, getting that successful Congress under belt had a drastic effect.
“It made me want to go back,” she said.
So she did, the very next year. In 1993, she won the Senior Pole Bending at the Congress, setting an arena record and earning her second prestigious Congress trophy. From there, she earned an AQHA World Show berth and top finishes at Louisville’s North American International Livestock Exposition.
What’s the secret of Betty’s success?
“You can look at everything as an advantage or a disadvantage,” she answered. “I know I don’t get to compete as much, but I feel that it makes my horse fresher. With the limited number of events I go to and how long it takes to get here, each one takes on a sense of urgency so you get used to competing with some pressure on.”
So what’s the schedule for a normal year?
“We still have snow and poor ground conditions right through April, so I try to start in late April or May and I do a lot of conditioning and trail riding,” Betty said. “After about an eight-week period, if I can get my horse out to a clinic or to some other show some place, I’ll do that to see how the horse is going after he’s in shape. I’ve had a small indoor arena since 1992, so now I can do a lot of conditioning – circles, bending, flexing before I go outdoors.
“Show season usually starts about the first of July and goes through mid-October. I don’t have much choice about what I go to. It might be a rodeo or it could be a smaller show. If it’s something fairly big like a PRCA rode, I’ll try to get out to something smaller before that. There’s really no substitute for competition of some sort to get you ready.”
But, Betty has become adept at adjusting to whatever circumstances affect her competition.
“You’re going to hear excuses wherever you go,” she said. “Some people think they can’t possibly become competitive because they have disadvantages – not enough events or not enough people to compete against. But, the one thing I’ve learned is that a good horse is good wherever you go. I know sometimes people from other parts of the country think there are no good barrel horses up here, but there are. We don’t have the numbers but there are good horses and your goal has to be to win against the best in your area consistently. You have to take advantage of the competition you have to prepare yourself for that tougher competition.
“I remind myself that if I go to a jackpot here and make a mistake, I won’t win. Likewise, at the Congress, if I make a mistake, I won’t place.
“For many people, it’s a matter of being afraid to go and try. They’ll put off going to a really tough event because they don’t feel ready. Don’t wait until everything is perfect, because it won’t ever be.”
She also feels that it’s important to be mentally ready.
“You get your horse in shape, train on the pattern and all that; when you actually get to the competition, the biggest difference is in mental attitude,” she said. “A lot of people seem to have trouble focusing. I know I sometimes do. I can get distracted in a new place where I don’t know the routine, but I try to really concentrate and make the best run I’m capable of.
“It’s easy to become distracted if something is happening with your horse, or if you have a rough trip. It’s better if you have people along with you to help you through these times, then when you get to competition, they’re taking care of those problems and allowing you to take care of your business.
“Sometimes, people have a tendency to blow the importance of the is competition way out of proportion. They get to thinking that a particular event is the most important thing in the whole world and put too much pressure on themselves. Remember, there will be another barrel race later on. Just do the best you can in this one.”
For Betty, it’s important to enjoy the event.
“Usually, I fell I’m really glad to be there,” Betty said. “Think about it. After all you go through to get there, when you finally arrive, it’s time to let the race be fun. I don’t want to be upset and stressed. I just feel good about being there; that’s part of the enjoyment of barrel racing if you let it be.”