As barrel racers, we put our hearts and souls into every run we make, gunning for glory when we head down the alley. That glory may mean something different from one person or one horse to the next – it might be a clean pattern on a colt, a 3D win, or cashing a rodeo check. No matter the goal, there is a lot more to it than the 16 or so seconds in the arena.

The numbers on the clock our friends, family and fans see as we run out the gate actually start weeks, months and years ahead of time with a little thing called determination. Fully committing ourselves to each and every run also means carefully considering all our options in supplements, feed, tack, practice and conditioning strategies, not to mention all the extras, like icing, ice vibing, cold lasering, vibrating and wrapping our horses in the latest ceramic material or magnetic blanket. With so much time and energy invested, when our runs do not go at all as planned, it’s no wonder we have a tendency to feel defeated.

But, such is life.

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with an optic pathway glioma that took the vision from my right eye. As the doctors told us the news, I realized I had a choice to make: Would I be defeated by this diagnosis, or would I be determined to beat it?

In the midst of my chemotherapy regimen — which consisted of 52 infusions of two drugs, and later, two months of proton radiation — I decided I wanted to be a barrel racer. Today, I want to focus on the scale that tips toward dedication or defeat in barrel racing, but if you’re curious about my epic brain tumor fighting skills, dig out the September 2014 issue of Barrel Horse News and check out “The Best Medicine.” Then, fast forward to December 2015, when we were finally told the greatest news, “no new growth!” And now, back to barrel racing.

That feeling of defeat is one of the worst we can feel when it comes to barrel racing. At the start of the fall 2015 semester, I was so excited that my school brought back the college rodeo program — my dedication was about to start paying dividends! But before that could happen, I was dealt two hard blows. My horse, Guy’s Texan, was diagnosed with a rear high suspensory injury and a fractured cannon bone, and the first veterinarian said we had to put him down. Defeated only begins to describe it — I was a blob of mush.

Fortunately, my family and I were determined to heal my horse. We sought a second opinion and the prognosis was not at all as bad as the first. There was absolutely no need to put him down! Nonetheless, he did need time to recuperate and heal, so I planned to take my other horse, Harley, to the college rodeos. 

A couple weeks before the first one, we took Harley for what we thought would be a routine checkup. Instead, the day ended in lots of tears and Harley’s retirement. As a 7-year-old, the changes in his navicular bone were too severe for him to compete again, and there was no treatment available to return him to his status as an athlete. The two horses I had poured my heart and soul into, including rehabbing Harley for nearly two years, couldn’t compete. I felt really defeated.

Once again, I was faced with an important decision: would I let this defeat me, or just how determined was I to college rodeo? Even if it meant riding my unseasoned colts, I knew I had to change the way I was thinking and feeling. Instead of beating myself up over my horse’s injuries and what I maybe could have done in the past to help them, I needed to be determined to do everything I could for them from that day forward. I think the Lord likes it when we get determined and praise Him through the hard times. When you get determined and work hard, God sees that and He will bless it.

This became evident as I started to get my colts ready for college rodeo. A friend of mine called, asking, “What do you mean, you don’t have a horse? Take my horse for the semester!” I was floored; this was her only horse and she was sacrificing her barrel races so I could college rodeo.

Nothing productive comes from feeling defeated. In fact, if the feeling of defeat lingers, you, the rider, will eventually become alley sour. However, if you change the way you think and become determined, everything will fall into place. Watch your videos, get in the practice pen and get to work! I believe that determination is one of the true keys to barrel racing. So don’t be defeated, be determined, and get back in that arena.

YF01 Melissa McHann1SSMelissa McHann with her horses, Harley and Guys Texan.

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