Thursday, February 23, 2012

A barrel racer, a legend, a friend....

Growing up, did you ever have that person that you looked up to and thought "I want to be just like him/her when I grow up"? Today I found myself thinking of someone that has had a profound impact on my life and barrel racing career - Mary Ketchum.

Mary is one I'd call a legend and pioneer in barrel racing in these parts. Breeding and training many winning barrel horses as well as coaching many barrel racers to championships all over Montana and the Dakotas. Her horses are known for their perfect patterns and consistency.  She's a force to be reckoned with.

Mary has been very instrumental in helping me become the barrel racer that I am today. I first met Mary in 1999.  I spent 3 days at her house learning the ins and outs of barrel racing. I did my best to take in all that Mary had to say, but the woman is a fountain of knowledge! She left a lasting impression on me. Before spending the weekend with her, I "liked" barrel racing, but upon leaving, I LOVED barrel racing and was hooked!

I was always in awe over Mary's ability to make everything look simple.  She has the feel of a horse that can not be learned; she was born a horsewoman. Sure, she had to work at it, but she has something few people have. Just like her horsemanship, she keeps training and running barrels just as simple. She has a few exercises that she does other than the pattern but a lot of the problems that many have training a barrel horse, never work themselves into problems because of her amazing feel, timing, and balance.

I learned most everything I know about barrel racing from Mary.  Every time I talk to her I become a sponge trying to soak up all her knowledge.  My foundation is much the same and I follow her principles of keeping it simple.  Sure, I've changed a few things to develop my own style, but my roots still run deep from Mary's teaching.

Through the years, I've been so grateful of our friendship. I can come to her with any problem and she will give me her honest answer. She has been with me whenever I've went to look at a barrel horse, no matter the distance.  She has a great eye for potential and a good horse that I can't imagine not having her thoughts before buying another barrel horse. She came with me to most all of my high school rodeos my freshman year when I was first starting out and she never missed a state finals. Whenever, I'm at a low spot, I'll find myself calling Mary. She gives me encouragement and advise. She never sugar coats things but her honesty has helped me become a better barrel racer and person.

Mary has been a great inspiration to me. She has gone through so much in her lifetime that many without a strong work ethic and will would never have made it through. Years ago, Mary was kicked in the head by a young horse. She was in a coma and her chance of returning to a life of normalcy and productiveness were bleak.  The fighter in her fought for her life and by the grace of God, returned back to the saddle. Many if put in her position would have gave up.  She did not stop or give up hope.

I don't know where I'd be at in my barrel racing career if it wasn't for Mary. She's been my coach, motivational counselor, business adviser, but most of all she is a best friend. I value her friendship more than she'll ever know and she's taught me so much that I'd been lost without her.

Not everyone is as lucky and blessed to have someone like Mary be a part of their lives. Others may have someone just as influential but overlook it.  I however, will always treasure my many summers at Mary's, the road trips and hours upon hours of conversation on the phone and in the saddle with her.  She is amazing and I'm a better person and barrel racer due to her influence on  my life!

Mary with her stallion, Ketchums Ote Blitz.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


When you do it wrong, a horse develops a defense mechanism. To undo it, you must do it 100 times correctly. To solidify, it will take 100 more. ~Don Dodge

I came across this quote and found it pretty fitting for my day.  Coming from a horseman such as Don Dodge, who rode some of the greatest cutting horses of all time, I am not going to dispute it but rather take notes!

Often times we look for that "quick fix" whenever we have a problem with our horses. That is why many of us (myself included) have hundreds of bits and training aids. We have hundreds of drills or exercises we do for any and every problem, expecting instant results that the problem is fixed.

I'm not saying that owning a tack room full of bits or using hundreds of drills is a bad thing; It's the mentality behind it that is. I don't believe that there is such a thing as a "quick fix". Those bits and drills will cover the problem like a patch until you've done whatever you're trying to achieve correctly so many times that it becomes habit - second nature. It will take days, weeks, months or even years depending on the problem before the problem is truly "fixed".  It can't be rushed, it can't be drilled.  Repetition is the name of the game, but there is a fine line between repetition and over doing it.

I have a few exercises that I keep within reach on most every ride. It's not always because I have a problem that I do them, but rather I want to steer clear of any problem that I do them. I'm in that 100 time correctly stage, stepping on the toes of 100 times to solidify.

One of my favorite exercises is called "Direction." I learned this from a great horseman, Wade Black. I took Wade's colt starting class while in college and picked up many things from him that I knew would transfer over to barrel horses and make things so much easier, but my favorite is called Direction.

I could write pages upon pages on things that a person needs to understand to fully grasp this exercise, but I don't have the time nor do I feel I could explain it like Wade so I will do my best to summarize.

One of the most important things I took home from Wade was in order to achieve anything and have that true bond with a horse, you need "willing submission". By having willing submission, you've placed a stepping stone to achieve greater tasks. So you might be wondering, "What is willing submission?"  Willing submission as defined by Wade is when a request is made, the horse willingly performs the task requiring little to no pressure; it is the horse's idea. After initial contact, the horse performs the task on a loose rein with no leg pressure.  Willing submission is a horse seeking relief rather than just giving to pressure. The horse chooses to do what is asked and tries to please their rider. This is achieved by feel, timing, and balance.

With this in mind, I'll attempt to explain the "direction" exercise.  Barrel racing can be argued to be won or lost in the horse's turns. Regardless of how you feel on that topic, turns no less are a huge factor.  If you can not get your horse to do a perfect circle without a barrel, you surely can not expect them to be able to do it correctly with one. That is what direction is all about.

Good position, no white in the eye and slack is in the rein. You might not get a true idea in the picture, but he is not pulling on me and is meeting me with my rein. His body is in a C shape, being soft in the poll, shoulders and loin, and is driving with his hindquarters forward.  
I ask my horses to start out walking a small circle. What I'm looking for is my horse to have softness in the poll, the nose directly under the eye and to see the corner of the horse's eye.  Showing too much of the eye ultimately will put your horse off balance and out of position so you don't want to over do the horizontal flexion.  If you attached a pole to the horse's nose so that it made a line in the sand, you would want the horse's feet to walk slightly to the outside of the line or directly on it.  The horse's body should be in a C shape - soft and flexed in the poll, shoulder, and loin. All of this you are wanting to do under willing submission.

Here he has good position, but take note of his eye (white), everything else is good.
To know if your horse has willing submission, you want to look at his head. Is it elevated? Opening his mouth and resisting the bit? Is he putting slack in the reins or is he putting pressure on them? How about the eye? Do you see white in the corner or is it brown?

Although he doesn't have white in his eye, this is too much lateral flexion.
I find the eye is a huge part of this exercise. If you're horse is showing white, it is looking straight ahead rather than where it is going to go (circle). This ultimately cases the horse's whole body to tense and not be working under willing submission. When the horse shows brown in it's eye (corner), release and let the horse walk straight for a few steps. Remember, it takes pressure for relief to be effective and relief for pressure to be effective. Ask the horse to come into a circle again, making sure to "release" the very instant when he shows brown in his eye. Once they have it down at a walk, work your way into a trot and lope. You want to keep their feet moving forward and not pivoting so don't be afraid to use your inside leg. You should be pulling the rein towards your hip and you should be putting your weight on the outside and "opening up" the inside to turn. Smaller circles are easier to master, but with added speed, you'll want to increase the diameter.

With this fundamental exercise, my horses are softer throughout their whole body and if they can master this, barrels are a breeze!

Who knew that you'd be able to work a horse on barrels outside ON DIRT in February in Montana!

In summary, there are no quick fixes with horses. We are on a continual journey striving for perfection and unity with our horses. We should never cheat ourselves from becoming a true horseman for taking the easy route of gimmicks and such to accomplish a task, but rather work for it constantly so that we become something even greater than ever imagined with our equine partners.

To learn more about Wade, be sure to check out his website, 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Take a deep breath....

There is something about horses that can just take you away from all your thoughts and fears.  Whenever you are having a bad day, just by swinging a leg over, you can be transported to another place about as close to heaven as you can get here on earth.

I find that there are certain horses that take me to this place and give me this feeling more often than others.  We have that special bond and connection that takes your breath away and warms your heart at the same time.

I felt this way not long ago with my stallion Elvis. I was not having the best of days and had the opportunity to saddle up. Elvis was the first in line for a reason.  That horse can take away my stresses within seconds of even looking at him.  When he looks at me with those big kind eyes, he looks into my heart and I feel it swell with love.  During our time together, he frees me of all my worries and carries my burdens. It's been a bond that has started since he was just born and as the years go by, just grows and grows.

Sometimes we are so focused on the training of our horses, preparing them for that big race that we over look that connection that separates a good team from a great team.  Our world and culture have us hustling from one thing to another that much of our lives move in fast forward.

I challenge you to take a day a week out of your busy training schedule and just go for a ride.  Enjoy the simpler things in life and enjoy your horse.  Take a deep breath and feel the connection between you and your horse grow.  You'll be surprised at how far your training will go even with that "day off". 

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Valentine....

Regardless of what many will say, I classify barrel racing as a team sport. In addition to your horse, you have your vet, farrier, coach, traveling partners, nutritionists, chiropractors and massage therapists who all make up part of your team. For me, I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the love and support of my husband.

My husband wears many hats in helping me with barrel racing and horses in general. He is my biggest fan. He is with me every step of the way from the start to the end. He does more work behind the scenes and never asks for the credit or acknowledgement.

My husband is my trainer.  He starts all of our colts, giving them that perfect foundation that makes starting them on barrels easy.  Whenever I have a problem, whether on a colt or finished horse, he will take the time to ride them or watch me and give me an honest and thought out assessment. Although he is no barrel racer and is proud to say that he's never even put a horse through the pattern, his knowledge about how to make a barrel horse work is outstanding. He is my second set of eyes. He keeps me and my horses in line whenever there is a problem and just keeps us clicking.

My husband is my farrier.  He went to a school to learn how to trim and shoe horses a few years ago. He has an eye for horses and the mechanics of their feet. He keeps all our horses' feet in good shape and sound. As barrel racers, we know the importance of a good farrier and well ladies, my husband is worth his weight in gold!

My husband is my business adviser. He has been a very crucial part in the improvement of our horses.  We've always had nice horses, but with his vision, our horses continue to improve in all aspects.  Our breeding program is where it is due to his vision of only raising the best.

My husband is my coach.  Sometimes, I really don't want to hear what he has to say because it rings the truth that I wish wasn't. He is always genuine and keeps our best interest at heart. He keeps me in line and keeps me grounded. He helps me set goals and to reach them.  He keeps me motivated.

My husband is my right hand man.  Whenever a fence is down, water isn't working, etc. he is right there to fix it or give me advice on how to fix it.  He's taught me a lot over the years, but my fence mending skills aren't quite up to his standards yet.  He keeps my barrel patch worked and the best ground possible to work the horses in.  He also helps me do chores and keep everything in check. 

My husband is my best friend. He deserves so much credit for where I am today. He constantly helps me be a better horsewoman, barrel racer, and person.

So on this Valentine's Day, I want to pay tribute to an amazing man and all his hard work and insight.  For every success I have in the barrel racing arena, a large part of it is his as well.  He is truly wonderful!

I love you Philip!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The O Ring

I'm a bit-oholic.  I love bits and it shows in my tack room.  I have dozens of bits but only use about a half dozen regularly.  I think a lot along the same lines as Fred Hunter who says that different bits make up our tool box just as the hammer, saw, and a level may make up a carpenter's toolbox. Without those tools, he'd have a hard time completing his job.  The same can be applied to bits.

My all time favorite and most used bit is an O ring bit.  I use it on everything from a colt's very first rides to my finished horses and every thing in between. This bit just molds to my hands and presents a clear signal to my horses for what I'm asking.  If I could only have on bit in my trailer, this is it.

However, I haven't always been loyal.  In fact, I feel like I have cheated on my faithful companion the past few months. I've been riding a horse lately that honestly needed a step up bit when fast working the pattern. He is so powerful that I felt I needed a little more to help him to come back to me when the speed and adrenaline was added.  As time went on, more regular colt problems sprouted up.  I wasn't alarmed as it's all part of the learning process, however, instead of going back to the O ring and fixing the foundation, I thought I needed a different bit - something bigger.  I don't know how many bits I've been through, but it's been a handful. He was doing good, but I could just "feel" that something wasn't quite right.

After a lot of thinking and pondering on what I should do next with him, I had come up with a few drills I was going to try the next few times I rode him.

Nature stepped in and the next few days were not the greatest of weather. Instead of working the barrels, I opted to just go for a ride and stretch his legs. I was in a hurry so I just grabbed the first bridle within my reach - my trusty O ring.  Within minutes into our ride, I could feel the root of our problems. He was getting stiff in his jaw which followed through to his poll and shoulder.  With the other bits that I was riding him in, he wasn't quite as bad because they helped cover it up.  Regardless, the resistance was really the start of our problems.

The O ring can't cover up problems like those other bits can. It doesn't lie to me and my hands.  It gives me an honest evaluation of where my foundation has it's weaknesses. It won't take me long to get the jaw back to being soft and anything else that isn't quite up to par with the help of the O ring, but with those other bits, I would struggle and struggle moving on and on until I realized that bit did not fix it, so I needed another one. 

Thanks to the O ring, it saved me and my horse from creating more problems due to the weakness in the foundation.  Although it really isn't the answer for when I'm running this particular horse, I will never over look this bit again. It sure saved me from a heap of trouble in the making!

The moral of the story is bigger isn't always better and even the brokest horse needs a reminder here and there to make sure the foundation is strong. 

Until next time, Happy Trails!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Meet Honey

A barrel racer is nothing without her/his horse. With that in mind, I planned on introducing my horses on this blog eventually.  Today, I want to introduce Honey.  Honey is a two year old filly that we raised by our stallion, Elvis and my main barrel horse, Holly.  She is our only colt from Elvis' first crop and the fact that her dam is Holly; well let's just say that she's been special from the start. 

 Even though she's not a barrel horse yet, my hope and dreams ride on her back.  She's smart, willing, athletic, and sweet as can be.  I may be a little biased but I see a lot in store for her future. I dreamt about this filly for a long time before she was born. The way she floats out in the pasture, I can just picture her flying towards that first barrel and inhaling it like her mother.  Like I said, she's special.

As a two year old I was very pleased with how she was looking.  In fact, I was thinking it was time to get her in and start doing some ground work in preparations for Philip in riding her. My heart fluttered at the thought of getting to swing my leg over her back! All looked like it was going to be smooth sailing until....

About a month ago, Honey stuck her head between a fence post and gate. Needless to say, she pulled back trapped and ended up breaking her jaw.  It could have been worse. She could have broke her neck.  All the trauma caused a lot of swelling around her head which in turn pinched or damaged the facial nerve.  This resulted in her left side of her face to be paralyzed. Basically, it looked like her face was lopsided.

Luckily, from the beginning, Honey was able to eat well enough to sustain herself with senior feed, alfalfa pellets and beet pulp. She ate hay, but not much at first. However, she was doing really well.  In fact so well, I turned her out to pasture after three weeks when she started eating hay easily. 

Yesterday, four weeks after the accident, Honey was looking much better. She's eating her regular diet and doing well. Her face has returned to 90% normal. The only remnant of what happened is that her left ear droops down some but it continues to improve. She looked to be on the mend and everything was going to be smooth sailing from there.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Today, Honey came in from the pasture with her eye swelled up and sunken in.  At first glance, I thought her eye was gone.  It turns out that her nerve to her eye has been injured and has left her unable to close her eye. 

I really don't know where it will go from here. We will see what she looks like tomorrow and reevaluate.  There's a chance that the nerve will get better with time.  I don't know what will happen if it doesn't. 

So with that in mind, Honey needs your help.  I don't know how many, or if anyone will read this post, but if anyone does, we sure would appreciate your prayer.  The power of prayer is an amazing thing. I know that regardless of the outcome, He is on our side. 

Again I am reminded of one of my favorite verses mentioned in my previous post. Jer. 29:11

Thank you all for reading and for your prayers.  Give you horses an extra treat tonight!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mentally Tough Through Faith....

Barrel racing is a competitive sport.  Yes, I do it for fun but it is a because I'm a competitor that makes me want to come back for more.  There are many key elements you need to be a winner.  You can have the best horse, fanciest tack and equipment and be the best rider there is, but if your mental game is not part of that equation, you're going have a hard time winning.

I will admit that my mental game is pretty weak. I haven't always done bad, but if I was tough mentally, things would fall into place a lot easier.  There are times such as when I was in high school that my mental game was in pretty good form.  My horse Smoky gave me confidence and allowed me to know that no matter what, we could win.  We didn't always win, no - but we always came out a winner mentally.

Nowadays, I am running a variety of horses from some nice 1D horses all the way down to colts just starting out.  It has been hard for me to get my mental game back to par after Smoky, even though I've had success since.  With winter here right now and not competing all that much the past few months, I've been trying to spend some time to figure out how to become that mentally tough competitor.  There are many books and articles to read, videos to watch and even personal coaches, but what I keep coming back to day after day on my journey to mental toughness is a bible verse...

"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."  -Jer. 29:11

The way I see it is I wouldn't be here or have the opportunity as a barrel racer if the Lord had not blessed me with it.  I know that if I say, "Lord it is in your hands. Lead the way." that he's not going to lead me astray. He is going to lead me to "hope and a future." 

There are many times that I have forgotten the power of this verse.  However, I have never forgotten the Lord's power and his gracious heart.  He gave us this gift. He will see us through.  Sure the books, videos and personal coaches will help, but faith is what I believe to be the first step and most important in order to be mentally tough.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Blessed Are The Broodmares

"My name is Andrea and I'm a broodmare addict."  I've been told that the first step of recovery is admitting you have a problem. However, I've admitted that I've had this problem for years and well, it has only gotten worse. My husband might say that I'm a horse addict, which is true, but I love my mares!

Our stallion, Elvis.
I'm a dreamer. I'm always dreaming of that perfect cross on my stud, Elvis which will result in that perfect foal.  I love looking at bloodlines and studying them. Trying to figure out what will work best not only on our stud, but for the goals we are trying to accomplish. 


I could look at mares for hours, days, get the picture. If money and pasture were not a factor, I'd really have a problem! Luckily, these past three years we have been blessed with several nice mares. Some I have rode personally or rode a sibling or similar bloodline, some have ran and won money on the race track or barrel pen, some have famous sires and are proven producers.  Regardless of what category(s) they fall under, they all bring something special to the equation.

This year will be an exciting year for us as we ride our first Elvis foals and as those 2012 foals start arriving, it will be our best set of foals yet! And it should only get better from here. 
It is exciting to think of these foals and what they will become. Hopefully all the countless hours of dreaming of broodmares will pay off.  Which seeing all those healthy and correct foals are payment enough for me. The saying "Blessed are the broodmares", rings true for us; We are BLESSED!