Recently, a former student and friend who had attended several of the clinics Ian Francis and I have done together said something to me that really made an impact. It was last fall and we were wrapping things up on the last day of the clinic and she said to me, “My whole life I have only ever thought about winning. But after learning all the detailed steps the horses must go through in order to prepare them to win and then going home and applying it to my horses, I have begun to really enjoy the journey itself as much as I do the win.”


The importance of perspective

Winning is important and being successful is what drives most people, but I believe it should be kept in perspective. Especially in our sport, “winning” can mean a lot of different things. I find that most barrel racers who only focus on winning the 1D become easily discouraged when adversities inevitably arise.

As awesome as it is to win, the problem with “just winning” is that it’s a fleeting moment. If a person is interested solely in that fleeting moment, they will feel unsuccessful more often than not. The journey to the winner’s circle is full of life lessons, memories, and small accomplishments that add up to big rewards. And even if you have already won, there is always room to improve. Perfection, along with winning, is what drives me. I can honestly say that I have only had one run in my entire life that I would call “perfect.” After that run, it instantly became one of my goals to do that again. It has been years since that memorable run, and I still visualize what it felt like and it is still one of my goals that I work toward every day in the practice pen. But in my daily quest toward my long-time goal of a perfect run, I celebrate all the small victories along the way. I am thrilled with a 2-year-old that picks up the correct lead, or with running a placing time on a youngster that had been struggling.


Reaching your summit

Barrel racing is a competitive sport and everyone wants to win, myself included. However, just like my friend came to realize, I believe there is so much to gain in understanding and so much fulfillment that comes during the process you go through with your horses before the actual win. I have often felt that people who skip straight to the top are somehow never as satisfied. A good example is a mountain climber. If the climber was only interested in being on top of the mountain, chances are he would charter a helicopter to land him there. But his purpose is to climb the mountain himself using the skills and knowledge he gained during the training process coupled with the strength he acquired in preparation. Then, the moment that climber reaches the summit; he feels an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I think the same is true of running barrels.

Losing is not enjoyable for anyone and I do not want to ever be satisfied with losing. However, I do believe barrel racers can benefit as much from losing as from winning provided they keep an open mind in order to learn from mistakes and then move on. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, talks about how his failures allowed him to be successful in the film, Michael Jordan to the Max. there is one quote in particular that I love:  “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games, and 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Jordan added that, “Success isn’t something you chase. It is something you have to put forth the effort for constantly; then maybe it’ll come when you least expect it.”


The gift

Winning is never guaranteed, so I feel strongly that it is important to love the whole process.

The same is true of our lives. The things that we work the hardest for usually mean the most and give us the greatest sense of accomplishment. The truth is that the journey to achieving your goal is the most exciting part. Barrel racing, like life, is a roller coaster ride. There will always be highs, lows and obstacles to overcome.

The drive to win first place, if not kept in realistic perspective, can become detrimental to both you and your horse. Be realistic in setting your goals, and don’t forget that your horse will experience the same emotions you do. As the rider, you should be aware of your horse’s ability and skill level when setting goals, so you can easily recognize when your horse has been successful. Feeling a sense of accomplishment will give your horse a sense of confidence to take that next step.

Focus on the process more than the win because doing so will ensure that you don’t skip steps in your horse’s training and seasoning. Mountains are climbed one step at a time. Barrel racing is tricky business. One slip and you are out of the money. So be happy with daily improvements, do not be discouraged by failures, and realize that a strong work ethic is the key to success and satisfaction.

I honestly feel that winning first place is a gift from God. When it does happen, take the time to be thankful and reflect back on all the work you put in to get to that point. Enjoy your journey.


Dena Kirkpatrick is a professional barrel horse trainer and clinician based out of Texas. For more information on Dena and her clinics and videos, visit Email comments on this article to [email protected].


Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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