Saturday, July 25, 2020

Anxiety - A choice to live in it or defeat it.

I never expected have have anxiety.  Sure, I've experienced that anxiety before an event, the nervousness, butterflies in your stomach, kind of anxiety.  However, I've never had true anxiety. The kind that stops a person in their tracks, takes hold of their life, and doesn't let go. The kind of anxiety that you never know when it was going to hit or how it was going to.  From crying, to trembling, to hyperventilating to blacking out; when it hits you, it hits you right between the eyes. Yes, that is the anxiety that I faced after my accident June, 2019.

It's not that my accident was so traumatic that it warranted this level of anxiety.  However as I've came to find out, that's not how anxiety works.  It doesn't care of the circumstance, it just takes hold of any insecurity it finds and digs it's claws in.  No one gets to make the choice for you if what you've dealt with in the past is bad enough to have anxiety or not.  That's up to you and sometimes like in my case, it's out of your control.

It took me two months to physically heal enough to ride again, but still 13 months later, I'm battling to heal emotionally.  Some days are easier than others, while some days it takes all I have to saddle up.  The last month has been a huge break through for me and slowly the anxiety is losing its hold on me. I refused to let anxiety be the end to my story. To let it change me or the passion I've had all my life. 

I've started to share more and more of my story the last couple months.  In doing so, I've realized just how many other people are also battling this same fight. In life we like to keep our struggles to our selves, to only show the highs and highlights of our life, but that doesn't help others in times of trial.  With that in mind, I've decided to talk about some of the vital things that have helped me literally get back in the saddle.

  • Don't wait.  The longer you take in taking action, the harder it will be to defeat your anxiety. 
  • Get back on the horse, but the right horse! At first, I knew I couldn't get back on the horse I had my accident with. It actually took the greenest colt I had to help me through my anxiety. She was forgiving and did not take advantage of my emotions. She was priceless in my time of need.
  • Small steps are better than no steps. Sometimes just saddling was a struggle, but it's better than nothing. 
  • Find your trigger. For me, my biggest anxiety was stepping on and those first few steps. 
  • Ask for help.  My husband helped me back on my horse. Since we knew my trigger, he literally held my horse while I stepped on and walked me around the corral like some kid on a lead line pony. 
  • Be mindful of negative energy. Those rodeo wrecks or bloopers seen posted all over social media are not something you need to be watching right now. 
  • Energy flows where attention goes.  Don't dwell on negatives or the past or that's where you'll end up. 
  • Let go of the fear of judgement.  Remember, NO ONE has walked in your shoes, therefore, they don't have the right to decide how you should feel. 
  • Find and understand your horse's trigger.  Learn from your horse and try to understand what caused him/her to react the way they did.  This will help you better prepare you and them for the coming rides. 
  • Breathe and be ready for detours. Anxiety doesn't keep a schedule. If you find yourself in a position of anxiety, stop, breathe and regain your composure.  But, KEEP GOING! 
  • Create a Goal, preferably with a timeline. For me, I wanted to ride my horse within a year.  Had I not set that goal, I might never have gotten back on her and just settled for riding something else.  Getting back on the horse in question might not work for everyone, but for me, it was vital.  
These are some of the key things that have helped me regain my life and love of riding. Please don't get me wrong, there were more times than I can count that I was just going to sell my horse or never get back on her.  There are still times that I have to mute the negative self talk and force myself to saddle up.  With work, EACH. DAY. GETS. EASIER.

No one wants to be vulnerable; to show their faults and weaknesses.  However, everyone has something they struggle with. That's life. As a whole, the horse industry stays silent about anxiety. But I won't.

Disclaimer: Each individual and situation is unique, so what works for me, might not apply to you.  However, I hope that this helps those that need it or those who have not experienced it, receive some insight to help others.  

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Holey Jeans

Throughout the years, in my slow work I had made a habit of making a small effort to praise after every barrel.  A simple pat on the neck and a "good job" were all I'd do.  I wanted my horses to know they had done well, beyond the release of getting to go on to the next barrel.  I'd done this so much that I didn't realize I was even doing it. It became second nature.

Several years ago, I was at a barrel clinic with a horse that I felt oozed with confidence. When sitting at the gate, he had this air about him, a feeling that was palpable through the saddle.  He felt unshakable and he knew his job.

As I was doing my slow work at the clinic, the clinician stopped me. She said that I should reward my horse with a praise like that after they did something more significant.  Not something as simple as turning a barrel at a slow trot or lope that at that point, this particular horse could do in his sleep. I took her advice and saved my praise for the really "significant" breakthroughs we had.

When I came home and started making more runs on this horse, I felt him second guess himself.  His booming confidence dwindled.  It took some time and trial and error before I realized what was lacking. Praise.  That little pat on the neck of reassurance meant more to that horse than I or the clinician could ever have known.

Just like a kind word, a praise, or acknowledgement is often overlooked, something so simple can mean so much to the person or animal on the receiving end. It can have an impact that can reach far below the surface. In this case, an outside look saw a touch of a neck, but the horse felt something so much more beyond that.

I thought of this story as I was cleaning and came across a pair of jeans. These jeans have a small hole in the leg. How that hole appeared, was a result of an accident when a horse stepped on me.  My husband was with me at the time.  At first glance, he thought a band aide or at most a little vet wrap would fix what was beneath the surface.  When beneath the surface (my leg) was revealed, he saw that the impact was much greater than what the surface (my jeans) had originally shown.

This visual is the same for horses and people.  However we aren't often able to go beneath the surface.  Don't underestimate the value of something small.  A good word, a pat on the shoulder, a smile, all can go a long ways and will spread well beyond, just like it did with the hole in my jeans.

Viewer discretion advised.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Seasoning Your Colt At Home

Ten years ago it was nothing for me to load up a trailer load of colts, head to the barrel race and camp out for the day or weekend.  Now, something about having four littles to take care of, it’s a different story and my time away from home on my colts just got a whole lot shorter and that much more valuable.  

I’ve had to reevaluate how I train day to day on my colts in order that I can maximize the limited time that I have actually seasoning them. Here’s a few things that I do at home so that I don’t have to do them on the road.  

Tie them up saddled.  It doesn’t matter if I’m going to ride them right away or 3 hours from then, my colts can stand saddled and tied.  They learn that they can be patient and respectable just like I expect when they are tied to a trailer at a barrel race.  Even if you can’t ride them that day, saddle them anyway.  

Take them to water.   The old saying, “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” is no excuse, especially at home.  Let them stand tied for a few hours and let them get a little thirsty.  I’m not talking take the water away when it’s 110 degrees and you rode them for 2 hours nonstop.  I’m talking that they can stand an hour or two and then given a drink.   I have horses that now will drink anytime they are offered water, home or not.  

Ride them rain or shine.  I know that this is easier said than done, especially if you don’t have an indoor arena available during the bad weather.  However, it’s important that these colts know that even though it’s blowing, that they can still keep their cool and ride despite the weather.  If I don’t have someone to watch my kids while I ride, then they at least get saddled. 

Put their nose on fear.   I’m a pretty non confrontational person so this is a hard one for me.  However, it’s sooo important.  If your colt even cocks an eye to look at something or if it’s full on blowout, work that colt to where you can put their nose on what scared them in the first place.  I’ve found by doing this that colts get more and more confident and less likely to spook when they confront their fears. 

More chaos the better.  Walking through my yard with four boys feels like I’m riding into a jungle.  You never know when a monkey, ahem....kid, is going to spring out of no where whether on a bike, throwing a basketball, or swinging a rope.   This goes hand in hand with putting their nose on fear.   I encourage my boys to run and play, shoot the B.B. gun, ride bike, ride their ponies, light the firecrackers, and whatever else they just might be doing when my colts are tied up.  If they are doing something and I’m able, my colts aren’t too far from them.   Later then I’m riding them, they are not nearly as apt to be scared from that runaway stroller or screaming child that we are bound to see later in their careers. 

Put them to work.  I don’t get to ride on the ranch nearly as much as I did ten years ago, but I try to apply the same principles now as I did then.  Get on and go to work.  I want my colts to be able to be put right to work and not have to go ride them down first.  

Sit on them.   How many times do we get to a barrel race, hurry and warm up only to sit and wait.  It seems like by it’s your turn that you need to warm up all over again.   I like to stop every so often during my rides and let them sit.   Wether it’s watching my boys or just sitting there thinking, learning how to sit still and chill is often overlooked. I want them to be able to keep their cool to where I don’t have to warm them back up to get them ready mentally, only physically to loosen muscles back up.   

Keep them stalled over night.  For some this is commonplace.  However, I rarely keep horses in the barn and I don’t think about it until I finally have to spend a weekend away from home and my horses are going have to be in stalls for the first time. It’s good to get them used to that environment so that life on the road isn’t such a shock.  The same goes for an electric fence.  Get them introduced to it and used to it.  You will be happy that you did at home and they didn’t have their first experience at a jackpot.  

Getting colts seasoned is a process.  Some horses take more to season while others are born seasoned.   It’s one of my least favorite things to do but doing just some of these simple things has helped shorten the seasoning process for me.  I hope that these tips will help you as well.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


When I started 2019, I was exercising and eating right. Spending every evening on the treadmill, I challenged myself like never before and was running 4-7 miles every night. I'd spend time listening to podcasts and reading books to help sharpen my focus and improve my mental game.  I was finally at a place mentally and physically that I hadn't been since high school. 2019 was going to be it; it was going to be my year.

One of my favorite books is "Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success, Building Blocks For A Better Way Of Life" by John Wooden and Jay Carty.  It is eye opening and inspiring to me.  Within it, Wooden talks about each characteristic or building block needed to be successful and then related it to the Bible.  At the beginning of the year, I decided that I'd pick out a word to be my focus word.  A word that when I got to a low spot, that seeing, hearing, or thinking it would help me out of the hole and give me the push I needed to keep going.  My word was "initiative."

Defined by Wooden, initiative is to "cultivate the ability to make decisions and think one. Do not be afraid of failure, but learn from it." This hit home because I have a hard time going outside my comfort zone and beyond something that I've done before. It's been a word that I started the year clinging to when I wanted to quit because it was just too hard or I was too tired, it helped me push through to that extra mile.  It helped me reached for more knowledge on a variety of subjects. It helped me push myself further in my horsemanship despite my fear of failure.  It pushed me to be healthy.  I took any extra step I could to do better.

I felt it in my bones and in my heart; this was it. This was the year that things came together. 2019 was my time.  Until tragedy struck.  The loss of my father-in-law in March rocked our family down to our core. The hurt and pain is something that I wish on no one. Our lives came to a standstill as we struggled to find our new normal.  Yet the duties of the ranch and the kids stayed in full force.

Our spring and summer were spent with dodging what's next to go wrong. Horses hurt, colts dieing, calves lost, kids hurt, our bad luck seemed to just keep coming.  Duties on the ranch and for the kids were starting to settle down and I was getting excited to finally be able to put the time into what I'd spent the first part of the year preparing for when the what's next came; I had an accident.

I didn't see it coming. I was taking my foot out of my stirrup when she turned into me, knocking me down to the ground.  The next moment seemed to happen in slow motion as I laid there and my horse stepped on my leg, just on the inside of my calf. Luckily my husband wasn't far away and took me to the house. After seeing my leg, he rushed me to the ER and then onto another hospital three hours away for surgery.

I'm thankful and blessed through my ordeal because it could have been so much worse.  The horse had scraped 3 inches of my tibia and had she landed a fraction of an inch over I'd have had an open compound fracture and a much different story.  As it ended up, I had a deep laceration through my calf but luckily nothing that couldn't be stitched back up and put back together.

It's been almost two months since the accident and I'm healed up beautifully for the most part.  Nerve pain is a nuisance that's been hard to deal with and kept me from riding. However my negative attitude and depression were my biggest hang ups in my recover.  I've had a lot down time to think, to read, and it led me back to my word, initiative.  Except in that moment, that word wasn't working for me. It didn't help push me or bring me out of the hard times like it had helped me do those extra squats or hold that plank for just a little while longer. I needed something else for that moment, not A word but THE word.

I began to dive into my Bible and in my searching I found, "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope." Romans 5:34. Hope, I felt like I had no hope at that time, something that desperately needed.The more that I read this verse all I could think of was one word, perseverance.  Perseverance as defined is steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

It brought me a whole new attitude.  Suddenly the nerve pain that I deal with, especially when I ride, is worth dealing with and although I don't have the same mindset as I did at the beginning of the year, that 2019 is my year, I do know that all is not lost, it just no longer has a timeline attached to it. I will endure and I will push on in my journey and quest to my work on my passion and goals because I know in the end that I will take the initiative to do today despite the fear of failure of tomorrow, have perseverance to keep on going, but most of all faith in God.  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to her purpose." Romans 8:28.

I share my story and my struggles with you today not for pity or recognition but for those that may be in the same pits of despair as myself. I pray for you in your struggle however different or similar it may be to mine.

Photo credit: Tina Graham

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Deeper Meaning of Horsemanship

One of my favorite phases of barrel horses is first starting them on barrels and getting them solid in their foundation.  My passion for horsemanship is really put to work as I help develop these horses into not only the athlete and competitor but also give them the confidence that they need and a love of a job through willing submission.

I'm going through this phase right now with a four year old.  I. Love. It. Due to life circumstances; something about having a baby and having four kids kinda slows things down, this mare is behind.  However, that doesn't change the game plan.  The ultimate goal is still the same.  A horse with a solid foundation that will willingly do a job that I ask.  It seems simple right?

When I start a horse on the pattern, some might say that I micro manage.  Meaning, I really spend a lot of time making sure they place their feet right here and there, their body soft, correct, and supple.  I find if I do it in the beginning, I don't have to do it later on so it works for me, even with the not so pleasant title of micromanaging.

As I was working my mare around a barrel, I was riding with two hands.  Although I try to be quiet, my hands are moving, my legs are moving, my whole body is moving to help encourage the horse to take the correct path around a barrel.  One step here, two step there, three step...wait, no, over's a constant game, something like pin ball.  Soon, there won't be so much picking up, moving, or micromanaging, but right now, I feel like I am putting up road blocks here and there with my body to help encourage my horse to take the correct path around a barrel.

And then it dawned on me.  As I was working my colt, it hit me....this is what God does for us.  You see, I know my God has great things in store for me.  Just take a look at Jer 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  However, He doesn't always just open the door right away.  In fact, we find ourselves in trials and struggles, but with God, all things are possible; "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13. We might see road blocks here and there, speed bumps, detours, etc. in our journey of life, but through it all, God is there, picking us up here, moving us there, encouraging us too to take the correct path in life.  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4 His ultimate goal for us is much the same, to be a believer in Christ, be confident in our Lord and Savior, and to willingly summit and love the Lord.

I've always felt closest with God when I'm on the back of a horse.  I don't know why, but I always have.  And then revelations like those today put it all together for me and show me why.
Photo by Tina Graham 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Preparation, Patience, and Priorities

Preparation, patience, and priorities.  These three words swim in my head as I'm thinking of my barrel racing goals for this year.  Sitting out a year leaves a person craving to return to the arena but sometimes life doesn't always let that happen right away. Mother Nature and calving sure has put a damper on my hypothetical barrel racing schedule among other things. Spring weather and above freezing temperatures are coming, sooner or later. Although, patience for such things hasn't ever been my strong suit.

This year I feel it will be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants kind of year. Never knowing what is to come, in what order to do it, or when it's going to happen, these three words come back into my mind. Preparation, patience, priorities. I might not know when I will get to go to a barrel race, but I can prepare as best I can and have the patience that it will happen someday.  One thing I've always felt is if I have my priorities in line, then the rest will fall into place. I just have to be ready for when the opportunity is within my grasp.

I think these three words can be applied to our horses as well. Especially for those goals with timelines such as Futurity horses. Lately I've been asking myself these three questions when I'm riding.

1. Have I prepared my horse for the task or job that I'm asking to complete? Whether it's getting them in shape enough to run barrels or making sure that I've given them the foundation in our training to have the tools to complete the job, this question is valid in every level of horses and can also be applied to ourselves.
2. Have I had the patience? Getting a horse in shape doesn't happen over night so being patient and making sure I'm preparing my horses go hand in hand. In the same token, it's hard for a horse with a kindergarten education perform a high school level task.  These things take time.
3. What are my priorities? This follows the same line as what are your long term goals but also short term day to day goals as well.  Am I rushing a process for short term gain/long term loss or am I operating for the long term?  There might be a barrel race this weekend but is my horse in shape? Am I ready? What is more important, running to run and not being prepared, loosing confidence, etc, or working hard to be ready for the next one and setting your horse and yourself up for success Whose agenda is more important? Your's or the horse's?

I heard legendary Coach Wooden say, "Failure to plan is preparing to fail." This year I might not be able to control the circumstances but I can control the outcomes by being prepared, having patience that our time will come, and making sure that my priorities are in line with my long term goals.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Overcoming the How's

A year ago My husband and I found out that our lives were going to drastically change.  With three boys already, we were pretty content and happy with our family of five but God said we weren't done yet....and we found out we were pregnant.  When I say that we were content, I mean we had given away pretty much every last shred of anything baby we had.  We were done having kids...done!   But God's plans are greater than our own and we welcomed another baby boy into our family in October. Now there's no way I could imagine our life without those four boys that I'm proud and blessed to be their Mom.

However, I'm going to admit that baby #4 has came as a shock and certainly rocked our world as we were in the midst of buying a place, fixing it up and eventually moving to.  Our plates were beyond heaping full with all that we had going on in addition to our horses, cattle and of course our boys.   As a result, my horses have been set to the wayside as I try to care for and do the things that are set on a strict timeline.  Suddenly with a baby, our little trailer house was not going to fit our family and the house we had been working on got a huge promotion on the priority list. Horses I never planned on selling, were sold, and we just got by this last year, doing what we could. Survival mode.

When you have so many dreams and goals of your own, spending a year sitting out and being on the sidelines sure is hard.  It's even harder when you don't even get to watch the game due to your hectic schedule! The hardships that have came with the baby to be able to work on my horses and goals for some reason have been much harder with this time than the others.  Most of the time I feel like I'm drowning.

I'd be lying if I said that I've been upbeat and positive about my horses and our program.  I'm one of those "all in" kind of people and haven't felt like I've been able to devote enough time into the horses and with that I thought very hard about selling out. Quite frankly I was throwing my sucker in the dirt and maybe stomping on it a little too.

I recently started reading a book by John O'Leary called "On Fire". I haven't finished it yet; something about four little boys makes it hard to read much at one time.  However, early on in the book something grabbed me, a quote. "When you know your why, you can endure any how."  As I fight back to my journey to the saddle, I have been saying a lot of "How's"? My life feels consumed by "How's". "How am I going to ride with a brand new baby?" "How am I going to get my colts rode?"  "How am I going to foal my mares out at our new place?" In addition to all the how's of just every day living with four kids. "How, how, HOW?!?!?"  The list of "how" grows by the day that it becomes overwhelming - crippling almost.

It was about this time that I finally was able to bring our stallion, Frenchmans Elvis home.  It wasn't a plan to bring him here yet. But due to safety concerns where he was at, we brought him home early without a safe place to put him but in the corral.  After spending his whole life out in the pasture, spending his days in a corral left him bored and you could tell he wanted to stretch his legs.  Luckily for me, one day Philip got home early from feeding cows and kicked me out the door to go ride.  He expected me to go ride Honey but I wasn't eager to walk the quarter mile in deep snow to go catch her with Elvis in the corral within easy reach. After not being rode for over two years I wondered if I was crazy as I saddled him up to give him a little exercise.

You know the saying, "fits like a glove"?  That's how it felt that day as I stepped on him for the first time in years.  I rode him through the cows as they were happily munching on their hay and headed out to the back pasture. As we were riding the hilltops, deep with snow, that quote came to me and hit me hard.  "When you know your why, you can endure any how."   Right there was my "Why", Elvis. There is a connection to everything I do with a horse and Elvis.  From the breeding side of things to personal barrel racing goals; he's part of it in some way, shape, or form, through himself or his foals.

As much as the horses are a part of me, this season of life that I'm in with my kids is something that I don't want to miss out on. While the obstacles ahead of me or the "How's" may be great, the simple reminder of "Why" has helped change my attitude.  It might take me a little longer this time, but in the end it will be worth it.

What is your "Why"?