Charmayne, her mother, Gloria, and four Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers offer pearls of wisdom for parents of barrel-crazy kids.

In this column I want to talk about ways to help the majority of parents out there see their children succeed in barrel racing. We solicited help not only from my mother, Gloria James, but also from experts such as 2006 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion Mary Burger and 2006 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average winner Brittany Pozzi. The teams of former NFR average winner Molly Powell and her mom, Julie Swanson, contributed advice, as well as multiple WPRA World Champion Kristie Peterson and her daughter, Jordan, winner of the 2006 Barrel Futurities of America World Championship Futurity. We came up with a wealth of food for thought thanks to everyone’s input.

From my own personal experiences, I know how beneficial it is to have supportive parents. My mother was always there for me and my three sisters — Eugenie, Georgina and Bernadette, who were all competitive in barrel racing at some point — to reinforce our confidence. She constantly reminded us that with hard work we could do whatever we set our minds to. She was always telling us that we were the best. Both of my parents devoted considerable time and effort to support us.

My dad, Charlie, was the one that really set a great horsemanship example. He’s very light-handed with a horse and taught us that, plus the importance of taking good care of our horses. The special rapport with animals that my Dad always had, especially with horses, is something that I think I got from him. My parents never tolerated a horse being mistreated or abused in any way.

We learned respect and responsibility at a young age through the sport of barrel racing. I see many parents get off track when things don’t go just right because they tend to blame the horse. However, sometimes young riders aren’t the most experienced horsemen and need education in order to develop better habits. I like to see parents that encourage kids to learn from their mistakes.

Without a doubt, barrel racing is a highly competitive sport. However, think parents that can assess the level that their kids are at, and help them progress gradually, will gain more in the long run than if they’re just trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”

I encourage parents to be educated about the sport themselves in order to have realistic expectations of their children. If you’re in the position to go out and buy a great horse, you must know how to ride that horse and care for it, or things will deteriorate. Not every person can be the winner, but if you don’t win, don’t resort to getting angry with your child or the horse. Resist a negative attitude and avoid nitpicking. It’s a fact that sometimes a horse and rider lose focus. It takes supportive parents to keep a winning team on track.

Gloria James

“What I always tried to do was praise the kids when they did well. When they didn’t do so well, I told them to do their best and try again. Even though I think our daughters were some of the most under-mounted kids going when they first began competing, they had loads of fun. They rode old cow ponies, but they always had such a good time, and barrel racing was a fun thing for our family to participate in.

“In the beginning they went to 4-H events. They had friends involved in 4-H, and the competition in our area was top-notch. The kids did very well, and I think they gained a lot of responsibility through their involvement in barrel racing. I always hauled with them. Eventually they progressed to Little Britches Rodeo and the amateur rodeo organizations.

“Charmayne began riding Scamper in 1982. She had to lay him off six months due to an injury, but in 1983 she was competing more regularly. I hauled with her for the first four to five years of her professional career. Charmayne remained in school and was on the honor roll. We didn’t pursue an alternative method of education until after the first world championship. Charmayne was very active in school and participated in sports, such as track and basketball, and her friends were also very important to her. The girls were all quite good and all very active in barrel racing, as well as in other sports.

“My advice to parents whose children are involved in barrel racing is to let them have some fun. I don’t like to see children under so much pressure that they can’t enjoy it. We didn’t begin by setting high expectations. The goal was for the kids to do their best. If it doesn’t go well, then there’s always another one. Build your goals gradually. Aim toward winning a jackpot first rather than making the NFR right out of the gates. Build your goals as you go along.

“The most important thing to remember is that it’s the man upstairs that makes it all possible. Remember to keep praying, and don’t take anything for granted. Also, be respectful of people out there that you come in contact with.”

Brittany Pozzi

“My parents weren’t the type that went and spent the most money on horses. We didn’t have the biggest or best rig. My sister and I had to ride, and work and win with what we had. If there was something I needed in order to improve, my parents would get it for me. I think the important thing was that if I needed something I got it, but it was not just if I wanted something. They taught us responsibility. For instance, when we were old enough to saddle our own horses, my sister and I were in charge, and our parents went and watched from the stands. My parents hauled us everywhere and supported us. They still do support us. But we did all of it, not half of it.

“To this day, I can call my mom and say, ‘I hit all three barrels,’ and she’ll say she’s sorry, but that it’s alright because there will be another barrel race or rodeo. My dad’s a little different in that he just wants to find the answer and fix the problem. Even though my dad didn’t come from a strong horse background, if I needed to fix something in order to win, he’d find out how to get the answer.

“The main thing is that my parents are always 110 percent supportive of me and my sister — and now my husband, Doug. They’re the reason that I’m in the position I’m in today.”

Mary Burger

“I think the most important thing that parents can do is ensure that their children are safely mounted. Parents should be educated on the things that go along with barrel racing and get in contact with someone who’s knowledgeable about the sport to guide them. Over-mounted kids aren’t safe. It’s a better idea for parents to get some help with a step-by-step approach to barrel racing and graduate from one skill level to the next.

“Parents should also be careful with discipline. Tell children what’s right and wrong in order to help them get better. Keep encouraging them. Barrel racing is great for kids because it gives them a way to occupy their minds. It keeps them busy doing positive things versus so many of the other not-so-good things that are out there. Horses get under a person’s skin. It’s easy to develop a love and a bond with horses that can keep a kid out of trouble and last a lifetime.”

Kristie Peterson

“My parents were my biggest fans; however, they taught me to always look for ways to improve. Jordan said she feels the same way. We try to always keep learning and improving. And 99 percent of the time it isn’t your horse’s fault, because you’re in control.”

Molly Powell

“My mom told me she helped me the most when I was little by saying less. For instance, if I was disappointed because I didn’t win first but I placed, she’d focus on the positive aspect saying, ‘that’s great that you placed.’ If I was just out of it, she’d say, ‘well you ran in the top 25 percent and that’s great.’ She always found a positive point to reinforce my confidence. Now that I’m giving clinics, I see that confidence can get someone to the next level.

“We don’t like to see kids matched up with way too much horse. The person in the saddle knows best if they’re comfortable with the horse’s speed. My parents always put me on horses that were broke and that were well-trained to run barrels, even if they weren’t clocking the fastest. They had a good handle and I could stop them. They never kept me on a horse that would intimidate me. We think that a good solid horse can teach a kid the right feel. Otherwise, the child has to ride real aggressively, pulling and tugging on a horse that’s unbroke or too much for the child’s riding level.”

Summing It Up

Barrel racing is a good, wholesome family activity. At the end of the day, it’s also a pastime that can keep kids out of trouble. Not only that, but also these days barrel racing can transition from a hobby into a career. Each family member can have his or her own individual role. I see barrel racing growing as a family sport that will turn out better young athletes, higher quality horses and more educated coaches as it evolves.

This article was originally published in the February 2007 issue of Barrel Horse News