The final run at the 1980 National Finals Rodeo, when Martha Josey whipped to the third barrel to win the WPRA World Championship. Photo courtesy Josey Ranch

By Martha Josey with Ashley Schenck

When you are competing, do you notice yourself playing it safe? We’ve all experienced the fear and stress of making a mistake during a run. Most often competitors will “safety up” during the last round of their event, because they are afraid of making a mistake and forfeiting their success up to that point. However, choosing to safety up can sometimes backfire and allow another competitor to swoop in and clinch the win.

One of the favorite stories around the Josey Ranch is about my last run at the National Finals Rodeo the year I won the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Championship. To win the championship, all I had to do in the tenth round was make a clean run. I went after that title. I made two nice turns on the first and second barrel even after Sonny Bit O Both slipped, and then I reached down, picked up my over and under, and whipped my horse to the third barrel. The story goes that my husband R.E. almost fainted at that point! But sure enough, Sonny Bit O Both inhaled the third barrel and ran out to win the WPRA world championship, keeping our run clean and fast.

The point of this story is, I felt my horse slowing down going to the third barrel and knew that if I didn’t push him, he would set too early and not get up into the pocket, making him start his turn too soon. So, I pushed him like it was a normal run and refused to let the fear of making a mistake keep me from riding to win. I didn’t safety up.

Sometimes it is hard to lay it all on the line when you are trying to win. But winners will tell you that they got to the top by confronting their fears and taking risks. Cus D’Amato, a famous boxing trainer, noted, “Heroes and cowards feel exactly the same fear. Heroes just react to fear differently.”

As you work to overcome the mental roadblock of fear, try some of my favorite tips.

Martha Josey at the California Salinas Rodeo
Martha Josey and Sonny Bit O Both winning the prestigious California Rodeo Salinas PRCA pro rodeo. Photo courtesy Josey Ranch

Don’t Say Don’t

Thinking thoughts like “I don’t want to hit a barrel” or “I don’t want people to see me fail” are like poison to your mental preparedness before your run. If you are thinking about not hitting a barrel or making mistakes, guess what? That is what your brain will be picturing right before your run. Instead, get off alone in the quiet and visualize a perfect run over and over. Then when you enter the arena, you will be able to follow your mental roadmap.

Learn From Mistakes

Mistakes are inevitable. Everyone will make them. But what you choose to do after the mistake is made will define your success. Will you cool off, gather your thoughts, and hit the practice pen after a mistake? Or will you take it out on your horse, scream at yourself, and let negative thoughts enter your head? Remember, world champions and beginners all start at the same place. The successful ones learn from their failures and let that carry them to success. Resolve to step up to the plate and take ownership of your mistakes so you can strive to not make the same mistakes again. 

Take Your Dreams Seriously

Many times when you share your goals with others, they will promptly feel the need to explain all the reasons why that goal is unreasonable. But you are the only one who knows what your abilities are. If you have a big dream that keeps you going, don’t lower your goals or your resolve, just work harder. I believed I was a winner long before I ever won a barrel race. I knew that if I wanted it badly enough, and worked hard enough, I could accomplish whatever I set out to do. You can do it too; you just have to learn to feel like a winner.

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