My 2018 Barrel Horse New Year's Resolutions

Friday, January 19, 2018 - 5:30pm
Carly Twisselman
My 2018 Barrel Horse New Year's Resolutions

With the New Year underway, I'm sure that we are in many stages of our New Years' resolutions.  Some of us know what we want to improve. Feeling motivated and driven, some of us are struggling to keep up the resolutions we have set or have already dropped the ball, and some of us aren't even sure what we want to achieve this year.  Well, I wanted to let you know that it's never too late to start, and if you have fallen off the horse you can always get back on.  I wanted to share with you some of my 2018 resolutions when it comes to the sport of rodeo, barrel racing and my teammate athletes, aka my horses.

I believe that resolutions are supposed to arise from your reflections of the prior year and what you hope to improve.  For me, every year I compete in rodeos and barrel racing I always learn something new and change as a competitor/rider.  My goal has ultimately always been to make the National Finals Rodeo and with every year I compete, I feel I am that much closer to accomplishing that goal.  What I have learned from this past year studying those at the top is that if you want to be the best you have to put in the work and effort more than anyone else to get there. My resolutions this year are to treat my event more like a professional athlete would in any other sport.

When you think about other sports such as basketball, football, baseball, volleyball etc…What are the things that separate the most successful athletes from the amatures?  I believe those things are: health, practice, and education (both mental and informational). Now by applying those to the sport of barrel racing and my horses, these are the ways I intend on improving and upholding my resolution this year.

Lets begin with the first thing I would like to improve on: Health.

The foundation of every athlete's wellbeing and success, whether equine or human, begins not in the arena but in the kitchen and/or barn.  What we as people and horses consume in our bodies has a huge effect on our physical makeup and ability to perform. For the last few years I have really gotten into the health of my horses and what I am feeding to have them perform at the top of their game.  Studying their grains and what different types of hays do for their bodies, as well as, what supplements they should be getting and what medications are beneficial, if any.  Every horse is different, just like every person.  It's a matter of figuring out what each individual needs and creating a health plan accordingly. I have learned that the long hauls and many days of competition can really strain a horse if not taken care of right and that their bodies need to be treated like a track star or a race car if you want them to work like one.  This means making sure they are getting all the nutrition they need as well as lubricating joints and using the right gear to keep them sound.  There are all different kinds of feeds, supplements, and equipment that can be used.  Just do your due diligence in studying these products and know what you are putting in your horse's body.  I have listed below some of the things I use to keep my horses healthy:

  • Grass hay or grazing pastures - pastures or a good grass hay are fundamental to have in front of your horses.  Horse's bodies were meant to always be grazing, and their stomachs need to constantly be processing food to maintain a good gut health.  A strain on a horses' digestive system can lead to problems such as ulcers, colic, and founder among other potential problems.
  • Stemmy Alfalfa - When a horse is working more than a normal grazing horse (i.e. performance horses) alfalfa may be necessary to add to their diet in order to give them more of the protein and nutrients they are burning from conditioning.  However, you want to pick the right alfalfa for your horses.  Their stomachs are sensitive and cannot handle the really hot leafy hays like cattle or goats can. Too leafy or green alfalfa can be too much protein and too hot for your horse's digestive system.  Try and find some that is not quite as leafy or maybe is a mix between grass and alfalfa. I love to get my hay from Bales Hay Sales in Buckeye, AZ. They have a wide variety and are great at guiding you to the right hay for your animals.
  • Grains - When you have a horse that is working as an athlete it can be necessary to also add a grain to their diet.  There are lots of grains out there, but I like to stick to a gran that is the least processed with no molasses or added sugars.  Its important that the feed actually lists what is in it so I know exactly what I'm giving my horses.  You'd be surprised how many don't tell you. A great grain that I use is American Family Feed Company. It full of natural vitamins and minerals and is one of the least chemically processed grains out there.
  • Supplements -  Depending on your horse, there are supplements that can be given for almost everything: balancing daily vitamins and minerals, promote gut health, hoof growth, joint supplements, etc… For performance horses, it's good to give some sort of joint supplement along with a daily all in one feed additive to cover a range of vitamins and minerals they may be lacking. One of my favorite brands of products to use are OE Nutraceuticals along with Formula 1 Noni.
  • Gear -  When it comes to gear for your horses, there is an entire industry built around it with tons of products made for your horses.  For the obvious in the arena is always a must; having a saddle and pad that fit your horse comfortably as well as the bit, headstall, splint boots, bell boots, etc… (I use Cactus Gear and Cactus Saddler). But outside of the arena there are other things you can use to help maintain your horse's health.  Everything from magnetic blankets to Softride boots when traveling.  There are machines for massaging horses and vibration techniques to stimulate blood flow and heeling at a faster rate.  There are ligament creams and pastes to help sooth horses legs and joints after performing.  I could go on and on.  Just be sure and do your research again to make sure you are getting a product that will work.

After so much information on my horses' health, one thing I am also going to focus on this year (that I never really put much thought into) is my own health and physical condition.   I cannot tell you how many times I have said, I wish I had treated my own body as good as I treated my horses.  Now it is time to turn those wishes into reality.  After looking at my competitors and looking for differences as to why they are a step ahead of the game, I noticed they are all petite, weight conscious and physically fit women.  In the barrel racing world, horses have to run 9-0 across the arena to then turn on dime around a barrel to then get back up to max speed all within fractions of a second. 

I once heard an analogy that really made sense to me. Imagine carrying a backpack full of bricks on your back and running as fast as you can with it on your back to then stop and turn and run the opposite way as fast as possible.  That backpack, if loaded down, will throw off your balance and slow you down.  The lighter it is and the more bricks you take out the faster and more balanced you would be.  So I may not have realized it until now but I know my horse Chanel will realize the difference when I lose the 15 extra pounds I'm making her carry in weight because I'm not physically in peak condition.  Also, the tighter that back pack is strapped to your back the more secure you will feel when carrying the weight.  This I relate to the riders leg muscles and abdominal muscles in order to keep them securely in their saddles when feeling the G-force in the horses' turns. 

I know from an embarrassing experience of not riding for the longest period of time in my life (three months) and then thinking I could go compete on my horse that had been swimming three days a week and in peak fit condition, that if my leg muscles are not in shape it's A LOT harder to say on.  Long story short, my horse worked so well and turned so fast that I couldn't keep myself in the saddle and was thrown from the turn at the 3rd barrel.  It was a long walk back to the alleyway with tons of spectators during a Saturday night performance.  Lets just say after that I know I couldn't go that long without riding again before I set out to compete.

The second aspect I want to focus my 2018 on is: Practice.

Health and conditioning really go hand in hand when it comes to being physically at the top of your game. In the last few years I have tried and tested many different ways of conditioning my horses.  There is practicing your event, arena work, long trotting, trail rides, cattle work, swimming etc… all of which are good forms of conditioning and not one should be chosen over the other. I believe that good conditioning of a horse involves all of them.  Practicing your event allows your horse to work on those muscles that will mostly be used in their sport but swimming will give a low impact endurance workout that will get your horse in amazing shape without straining joints. Doing other things like cattle work and trail rides allows your horse to still gain conditioning but take their mind off of the event.  Giving them something else to do other than their job they always do (like barrel racing) helps slow their mind down and make them more happy and cooperative when it comes to competition.

If you look at professional athletes, their life is their sport and their practice is their 9-5.  This year I want to take my practices more seriously and approach them with a purpose each day.

The purpose of practice is to prepare oneself and create instinctual actions when it comes to being under pressure in competition.  There are many different phases of practice.  One being: studying fundamentals. When you are in the practice pen you should try to be as technical and correct as possible to engrain the routine into both your head and your horses head.  I believe practice is the time to take things slow and really deeply route your foundation.  Slowing things down for your horse as well as yourself, and showing them under a non-pressured situation will help them and you better learn a correct technique that will become second nature later.  Besides working the pattern you can run different drills on your horse to work on bending and arcing your horses body, using the back end vs. the front end of your horse, and set up different patterns will keep your horse's mind fresh while still working on the same fundamentals of the event.

Another phase of practice is actually putting yourself into pressured situations to imitate what it will be like when it comes to the real competitions. In other sports, teams have scrimmages. I believe for barrel racing, we have jackpots.  There are tons of jackpots everywhere that you could attend.  It will give you and your horse that feeling you get when in a high pressured situations to be able to look back and reflect to see what went right, what went wrong, and how you can fix/adjust for the real game.

The 3rd area I'd like to focus on as part of my new years resolution is: Education.

I have been riding since I was two and I still feel like there is so much I don't know.  There is so much room for improvement in my riding and my ability to lead this team of mine to victory.  A lot of it involves actually getting out there and learning.  Researching trainers and their techniques, attending clinics and just riding with others to learn some things you may not have known.  A lot of time it is the outsider looking in that has a better view of what is actually happening so don't be afraid to ask for help or constructive criticism.  It's the only way you will get better.  Besides physically being educated, I also want to focus on mentally educating myself.  I believe that this is one of the most important parts of any sport.  To be able to control your mind and stay positive and confident is key when it comes to competing.  Event though I have been riding for decades it is something I still struggle with and I think we all do.  I believe mental education is something that has to be practiced as well in order to get good at it and stay good.  Whether it's reading self help and inspirational books or working with others that specialize in the mental game, controlling confidence as much as you can is key.  I believe a big part of it too is to not put so much pressure on yourself and remember that you are out there competing because you truly love to and it is supposed to be a passion you feel, not anxiety.

With these three places to focus on, I believe that my riding and competitive edge will improve thoroughly and help me and my horses achieve our goals. I hope that if anything I could inspire you to get a jump-start on your New Years' resolutions and stay with it!  Let's better ourselves together!

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