1. Trust Your Training
    1. At the end of the day, you just have to trust that what you’ve done is correct and that it works for you and your horse, because if you don’t believe it, why would you expect your horse to believe it? Ashley Schafer told me during an interview this year, “Such a big part of being a fierce competitor and an effective trainer is believing it. You have to believe in yourself and you have to believe you can do it… If it’s a young horse, especially, if we don’t think they can do it and we don’t believe they can, they probably aren’t going to… and it’s because we get tight, we [anticipate a mistake] and we do something to create it.”
  2. Relax, Be Confident
    1. If you are stressed, your horse is stressed. Horses are emotional creatures and they feed off of you. If you are relaxed your horse will be, too—as hard as that is to do sometimes. One thing I remember Trey Pool telling me is “A watch-y person makes a watch-y horse.” He also said worrying about doing something incorrectly isn’t beneficial to your horse. Don’t give up on your training just because you aren’t getting the response you want, because you are afraid you are cueing your horse incorrectly. Nine times out of 10 you are doing everything correctly, but you aren’t confident about the way you are doing it, which makes your horse unsure of his response. Trey explains it best this way—If you are confident in what you are asking of your horse, he will be confident following your requests. If an army general is really confident about charging a battlefield—even if he is outmatched—his soldiers will be confident following him into battle, but if he’s not, no one will follow him. That’s what we are for our horses—the leader. Horses respect confident leaders.
  3. Ask All the Questions – All the Time
    1. I used to be nervous asking for help. I was embarrassed if I asked a stupid question or embarrassed about what others might think of me for not knowing how to do something. I thought people would judge me for training a horse when I didn’t know all the answers. In reality, that’s the opposite of what people think. Most people are genuinely happy to help. Everyone started from the bottom—maybe it was at a younger age or they learned the process quicker—but everyone started just like I did with that first horse from the ground up where you feel lost and insufficient like 80 percent of the time. So, I conquered that fear and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve gotten the opportunity to ride with some really great people this year, and I’ve learned a whole lot about horsemanship and made some great friends along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask all the questions all the time, to anyone and everyone you respect as a horseman and trainer.
  4. Your Horse is Your Horse
    1. That being said, at the end of the day your horse is your horse. Of course you should ask questions and be open minded to learn from any and everyone, but when it’s all said and done, you are the one who has to ride the horse every day and you are the one who has to be happy with the training you’ve accomplished. Ask questions and learn from all different types of people and trainers, but pick and choose what works for you and your horse. Just because one person does it a certain way doesn’t mean that will work for how you like to ride or how your horse likes to work. Find what works for you and once you do, stick to it and be confident in that choice.
  5. Goal Setting is Real
    1. Since I am not planning to futurity my horse, I kind of—accidentally—slowed down her progress. I don’t have a firm timeline, and therefore I’ve just been slowly working and slowly piddling around and wasn’t setting goals for myself. I have one big end goal, but since I am not planning to run her in futurities, the goal seemed abstract and far in the future. “One day she’ll be this, or one day she’ll be broke.” Setting small, obtainable goals really helps gauge your progress and gives you something to work toward.
  6. Let Your Horse Make Mistakes
    1. This might be the most important one of them all. Trey Pool says it takes 100 times of doing something for a horse to learn it—that means each mistake a horse makes when you are teaching them means that is one time closer to being correct. Horses won’t learn without making mistakes, so giving my horse the opportunity to make the mistake first instead of me constantly holding her up and governing her has been huge. Let your horse make the mistake then correct it, and then give it the chance to do it correctly again—and repeat until perfect.
  7. Horse Training is Easy …so they say
    1. If only I could allow myself to really believe and practice this. I can’t count how many times this year trainers have told me this. “Horse training is easy, barrel racing is easy; we are the ones who make it difficult.” This goes back to everything I’ve already mentioned—trust your training and your horse, relax, don’t stress, believe in yourself and let your horse make mistakes. It sounds easy, but I’m still working on executing this specific concept.

Kailey Sullins is editor of Barrel Horse News, and an avid barrel racer and breakaway roper. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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