Getting Back In the Arena

I haven’t shown my horse in over two years. I’ve ridden, sure, but there’s something completely different about being back in the show arena.
I am a barrel racer. As a child I showed Western Performance for one year, decided I wanted to go fast, and quit the world of lipstick, chaps, and too many bobby pins to go play in the dirt. As soon as I ran my first set of barrels I was hooked. Almost 17 years later, with a two year hiatus, here I am getting back to it.

This journey hasn’t been easy. The last time I showed I worked part-time and ignored my school responsibilities, which meant it was really easy for me to work my mare every single day. I also boarded back then and had an indoor arena which meant that I could ride at anytime of the day or night in whatever weather might show up. Now I have a full-time career, a farm to tend to, and I have no arena at all to work in. If it rains I can’t ride, if it’s dark out when I get home from work I can’t ride. Basically there are a lot of days where I just can’t ride.

You can’t change your circumstances but you can change the way you deal with them. When I have days that I can ride, I make them count. I have a grassy area designated as my riding arena that I’ve walked foot by foot to check for fox holes or rocks. If I can’t fit a full ride in I at least lunge so that my mare stays in shape, and my horses are outside 24/7 which helps her stay limber and allows me to warm her up faster.

The other obstacle I’m dealing with is my competitive nature. I love to win, who doesn’t? I often lose sight of the fact that my mare and I haven’t done this in over two years. I forget that we’ve both changed. I’ve lost weight and that has a effect on the way I ride. I’m in the best shape of my life, and that has made me into a more athletic jockey. My mare has filled out and matured to where she runs differently. She used to be a very push-style horse, and now she’s much more a free-runner. We have to learn how to communicate again and how to work together again.

I constantly find myself watching others work their barrel horses with envy. Last weekend I threw down a run that I was pretty proud of. We had shaved a good second or two with room for improvement. The run had me sitting 2nd. I was one of the last to run in my class, but by the time they placed the class I had dropped down to fifth. Instantly my run was no longer something to be proud of. It only took two minutes for me to hate myself for the errors in my run instead of focusing on how my second week running barrels I was still cutting checks and earning back my entry fees. I was shaving time off each run and working out the kinks one at a time. Keeping a positive mindset is one of the hardest things about surviving as an athlete in this sport.

The problem with leaving a sport and making a comeback is that when you return to it you aren’t always as good or as prepared as when you left. I know that when I start running for points on my circuit that I am not going to be placing where I used to. I took two years off while everyone else kept working. During this season I’m not just competing against my peers or the timer, I’m competing with my ghosts and insecurities. 

The bottom line is: It’s okay to go easy on yourself while you’re getting back into the swing of things. Appreciate the small improvements and don’t let yourself focus on the few mistakes that may have happened. In this sport there will always be something else to work on.