Hailey Kinsel says some of the greatest teachers of mental strength are the animals beneath us. 

By Hailey Kinsel

I am a student of the game, and I really enjoy improving my mindset. There are so many great mentors, books and podcasts about how to be a better competitor, and I love to dive into those and learn as much as I can to improve. However, I was recently reminded that some of the best teachers of the mental game are the animals beneath us—our great horses. My horse does not know we are competing for money or a prize. She does not know what the words “standings,” “average,” or “championship” mean, and she does not know my goals, plans or dreams. How often do we as competitors think about all of those words?

None of those details about “winning” are running through her head as we head down the alley. Let’s consider what is going through her mind. A horse, by raw nature, is a kind animal. They are wise but simple-minded. They focus on what is right in front of them. They notice lights, sounds and emotions and use their best judgment to determine what those simple things mean for them and their safety. When we tighten our girth, take up our reins and point them toward the alley and say go, they do not know if we are coming into that run in first place or last. All they know is that we are asking them to do their job, and they are about to do it for us wholeheartedly.

My yellow mare “Sister” (DM Sissy Hayday) is a fireball of a competitor. In the warmup pen she is usually calm and quiet. When I am on the ground, she will sometimes wiggle around and her eyes grow wide, as she knows we are preparing to do her job. She walks in the alley on level feet, but internally, she is tense and ready to fire. I can tell when she is nervous, because she will turn to look at me in anticipation. When I release her to run, she takes off like a completely different horse— confident and strong—and afterward, that adrenaline continues for several minutes. For me, that can mean extreme difficulty in her cool-out and the walk back to the trailer. It is understandable, considering she just put in her best effort competing and her adrenaline is still high. Once she calms down she no longer thinks about that run. She stands quietly after getting her cookies, water and a bag of hay.

Being on the road as a competitor takes quite a bit of planning and forethought. We are constantly thinking about how to travel efficiently, rest our horses adequately while keeping them fit to compete, analyze and improve on our weaknesses and what rodeos we need to go to in order to meet our goals. It is a never-ending effort to get better at all of these aspects and more, and if you get behind or complacent, somebody else will be passing you up. While all of this is on our brains, it is important to remember to detox daily, especially before your run, and let all of those details go by the wayside. Bringing myself back to that simpler state and learning to think like Sister does help me to focus on what matters and fully enjoy each run I get to make.

Until next time, Hailey Kinsel

Article by Hailey Kinsel originally published in the April 2019 issue of Barrel Horse News.


Hailey Kinsel is a two-time WPRA World Champion barrel racer with more than $1 million in lifetime reported earnings. Each month she shares her tips, advice and expertise with Barrel Horse News readers in "World Champion Reflections" found each month in the magazine and online. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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