In a sport where everything can come down to one one-thousandth of a second, you have to do what you can to gain an edge on your competition. I think the biggest advantage you can have is a strong mental game. I have a huge interest in sports psychology and learning about why champions continue to be champions and why some people continue to fail.
Here are a few things I have learned about having a strong mental game.
1.) Preparation is your biggest advantage. If you haven’t done your homework to be preapred to make a run, then you have prepared to fail.
I can’t help but think back to the days when my sisters and I showed pleasure horses. My mom was the queen of making sure we were prepared. She had the trailer packed and organized. Every outfit was clean, ironed and organized in order of the classes. She had all the grooming tools, spare tack parts, number tags, hay bags, water, snacks and lunches packed just right. We always knew right where to find things.
In hindsight I realize how much work she put into making sure we were totally prepared.
I had no idea at the time how much extra confidence that gave me because I never worried about where things were, I wasn’t rifling through the trailer last minute looking for things that would distract me from memorizing a pattern for my upcoming class.
We were always there early and had lots of time to relax and prep our horses for the show.
Thanks Mom for all the extra work you put into our showing days! You should be the one with all the ribbons and trophies!
My point is that we felt prepared to be at show and that gave us confidence. Simple things like double checking your saddles, bits, and bridles for loose parts or making sure you have enough hay and food for yourself to last the weekend can take a lot of worry off your mind at a jackpot or rodeo.
I have never been the most clean and organized person, in fact, I’m quite the opposite. But the day before a jackpot I always go through my trailer and make sure I have everything I need and then some. I don’t want to be fretting about the things I forgot right before a run.
2.) Positive muscle memory for you and your horse is what will help you to be consistent and confident going down the ally.
This is something I picked up from Tana Renick when I had the privilege of training under her last fall. She spent a ton of time making sure her horses had positive muscle memory and confidence around the barrels. She also was so consistent with her own body language that her horses knew exactly what was being asked of them.
Since riding with Tana I have spent more time developing my own muscle memory to help my horses through the turns the best I can without getting in their way. I feel like it has helped my riding tremendously and taken a lot of nervousness out of making a run because I know that muscle memory is going to kick in for both me and my horse.
I had to be purposful about developing good habits for making a run because most of my days are spent riding colts on a big loose rein and working on a lot of bend and softness. With colts I ride with my hands really low and make my signals really big and black and white so they understand.
During a run I have my hands totally different and try to keep them forward and make a lot smaller movements to guide my horse.
3.) Find things to laugh and smile about. Laugher truly is the best medicine. Barrel racing is supposed to be fun, so keep it light hearted. Avoid those people who are constantly negative or wanting to trash talk other competitors. Stick with the people who can joke around with you and keep things positive and fun.
I have met lots of people recently who are so great to be around at a jackpot. I try to track those people down when I’m just waiting around for my run. Nothing good can come out of hanging around negative people at a barrel race.
4.) Check out the set up, where the timers are and the angle to the first barrel. If you can get in the pen and check the ground conditions that is a bonus.
For me, I just want to be able to look at my spots. There is a certain spot beside the barrel that I am guiding my horse to so I want to see that.
As far as the ground conditions go, I want to know if it’s deep, shallow and shifty, hard, or muddy and slick. I’ll try to do a couple things different in my warm up if I know what I’m dealing with. If it is deep for instance, I will quicken up my horses feet and I probably won’t do a lot of walking or slow circles. I might hustle them around a bit at the trot to help make sure they won’t get bogged down in the deep stuff.
If it’s muddy and slick I’m going to make sure my horse is keeping their shoulders up and rating on their hind end and staying square. I might do more straight lines and stops then smooch them forward out of the stop and practice a really upright turn.
5.) Put some imaginary blinders on yourself. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing in the warm up pen. Don’t watch other people’s runs and compare it to yours. Trust yourself and your preparation a little and remember that this is probably not the last run you will ever make so there is no need for all the added pressure.
If you are worrying what anyone else is thinking about you and your horse or your run, you are fooling yourself. Most people will forget your whole run two seconds after they have seen it. So take the pressure right off your shoulders and just go turn three barrels!
I hope these things help you get prepped for your next run! Let me know how it goes!
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