Evaluate every run and question what you need to do differently, then invest the time to create winning habits. BHN Photo by Megan Parks.

How to learn valuable lessons from your good barrel racing runs as well as the bad.

People learn at their own unique pace. Some are more natural riders than others, some are more experienced, but regardless of your skill level there are always aspects of your riding to improve upon. For whatever reason, some people simply have to work harder to create good riding habits. Whatever the situation, we can all be better students of the sport. When you learn to evaluate every run and question what you need to do differently, you set yourself up for progress.

Form Good Habits

It’s been said that it takes at least 21 days to fix a habit. Takeaways from your good runs and from the mistakes made in bad runs will help you identify habits you want to change. For instance, my son, Austin, is in the process of working very hard to adjust his baseball swing. If we can work on the correct fundamentals of his swing for 21 consecutive days—just a little each day—that will result in a new and better habit. I know if Austin takes time to ingrain the new habit, his efforts will pay off. It’s the same for barrel racers who need to work on better position of their hands, feet, seat, or whatever area they’ve identified to ride their horse better.

Unlike other sports, such as basketball or baseball, where it’s basically your athletic ability taking you to the top, the great thing about barrel racing is you don’t have to be a superior athlete, but you do need to have a great horse. I think recognizing that you have a great horse and then having the presence of mind to ride it smart lets that horse take you to the top.

A challenging aspect of our sport is getting the rhythm and timing to make great runs. If your rhythm and timing are out of whack, you have to train a new habit by investing the time. If you look at the 21-day principle of forming a better habit and establish goals for areas in which you want to improve, you set yourself on the right path to succeed. Sometimes it’s God’s path for us and we don’t really even know the direction, but what we can know is that if we put 150 percent effort forth, have faith and never quit, the journey will be rewarding.

The thing with kids or green riders is not getting started with bad habits in the first place. That’s one of the best things I think my parents did to help me. My dad was a great horseman, and he always told me to apply just enough pressure to get a response. I used that feel to help me as a rider throughout my career. In fact, if I had to ride a horse that’s used to being pulled around all the time, I can’t do it because I developed light hands at a very early age. That’s one thing to keep in mind even when buying horses: What is the horse used to and what style are you capable of and comfortable with riding?

Write it Down

It’s important to not only set reasonable goals, but to put them in writing. Write down what you’ll do to achieve your objectives. Take a realistic approach and figure out what you need to work on along the way. Everyone has to start somewhere, but pretty soon surmounting small goals can lead to major achievements. You’ve got to set goals and start gathering the information you’ll need to attain them. For instance, if you’re not experienced with caring for a high-level performance horse, educating yourself and seeking qualified professionals to help you will be a major starting point.

Focus

You can really only focus on changing a couple areas at a time. Master one thing, then move on to the next. Old habits die hard, and for no apparent reason, but if you have the belief in yourself and don’t have the effort or grit to follow through—that’s also a bad habit. However, if you have the try, a few years will go by and you’ll look back and think, “Wow, I’ve come a long ways.” There’s a quote I’ve seen circulating lately that says, “Without struggle there’s no progress.” That’s so true. It takes going through some losses to figure out what it takes to win.

I’ve noticed at my clinics when people who are working to resolve an issue can verbalize what they’re working on—and most importantly why—they will improve. The “why” is everything, because it keeps people motivated. That’s when I know someone’s headed in the right direction.

Sometimes people encounter different coaching perspectives and become conflicted by different sources of information. An example is you might have a friend or coach telling you to lift the horse’s shoulder, whereas I prefer riding the horse’s hindquarters up to the front end to the third axis point around the barrel. You have to learn to question and filter to go with the best coaching alternative. The most important thing is to stay positive through the process.

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News.