By Sherry Cervi
In this sport, it doesn’t matter what you have previously accomplished or how many times you win, barrel racing is a sport you can never really master. It is challenging, emotional, fast and rewarding. So many variables can play a role in one barrel run that you never really have total control of any part of it. Once your name is called and you turn your horse down that alley, there is no way to be completely certain of the outcome. Because we all want to win so badly, it can really take a toll on our confidence when we don’t.
Have you ever told a fellow barrel racer, “Hey, great run,” and the response they get always turns the congratulatory conversation into a negative one? Responses like, “Thanks, but the ground was bad,” or “Thanks, but my horse didn’t run,” and “Thanks, but I just didn’t ride very well.” We are all guilty of pointing out the bad in ourselves and our horses, even if we did have a great run. I personally struggle with this and over the years have come to the realization that confidence is something that is your responsibility to build. Constantly harping on the bad will have a negative impact on your confidence, which in turn negatively affects your chances of success.
Confidence is so important. For some people, it is just natural. For others, myself included, confidence is work. Confidence is not easy to maintain in barrel racing because if you have horses and you compete, hardships and heartbreak will happen. Hardships come anytime you really put your focus and passion into something. All athletes and competitors have this in common, from tennis to barrel racing. I believe the people who can overcome adversity and stay confident are the most successful. When I watch other athletes, both in team sports and individual sports, there is always so much pressure to perform. Those that are able to handle pressure and have confidence in their abilities to compete are the most successful.
It also doesn’t matter what kind of credentials you have behind your name — a stretch of bad runs never fails to break down your confidence. I see friends in both the barrel racing world and in the roping pen that may possess all the ability in the world, have great practice habits and really good horses, but when it comes to a high pressure situation, they can’t mentally get through. It really comes down to confidence. They are lacking the confidence in themselves, believing that they can.
It is amazing how much confidence a check can bring. I have included this point in past articles and it is not because you made any money. It is because holding a check in your hand represents accomplishment, no matter how big or small and therefore becomes a pivotal point. You place, win a check and that single moment will boost your confidence and often start a new string of successes. The opposite can also happen. After weeks, months or even years of success, it can stop in an instant.
I have learned that it’s best to throw all the small variables aside and do the very best you can with what you have to work with. At the end of the day, you will feel a sense of pride and grow in confidence that you can achieve great things. Simply doing the best with what you have and being satisfied with that can open you up to possibilities you may never have realized.
If you are going to a $20 jackpot, put your whole focus into it. Focus on yourself and on your horse and do as good a job as you can, despite all the variables. Evaluate your performance, fix what you have to and move on. Make your goal that day to be satisfied that you did your best, no matter what. Practicing these seemingly small steps mentally will help build your confidence.
You can’t win every time, no one can. What helps me in those times is to just take something positive from the run, no matter how small it may be. Throw out all the excuses and the variables you can’t control, like the ground condition, alley set up or weather. Take whatever positive points you can of both you and your horse and be satisfied that you did your best. Once this becomes a habit, your confidence will improve. You will build faith in yourself, and it will transfer over to the barrel pattern in a positive way.