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I want to be a barrel racer — where do I begin?
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World champion barrel racer and clinician Martha Josey can help you get started in this fun, fast-growing sport. Read on for Martha’s tips on selecting a horse, setting barrel racing goals, and finding places to compete.


"MOST of us have gotten what we know from experience, and experience is a very great teacher," says Martha Josey, a world champion in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, American Quarter Horse Association, and National Barrel Horse Association. "But experience takes a very long time and can be very costly."To pass on the wisdom she’s gained from her experiences, Martha conducts clinics all over the country to help barrel racers learn to ride, train, and compete successfully. She says the question she’s asked most is this: "I want to be a barrel racer–where do I begin?"

Here Martha shares her advice on how to get started in this exciting sport.

Which horse is right for me?

First of all, find somebody who can help you find that first horse. If you don’t have a horse and you want to be a barrel racer, the best thing is to go look for the most solid horse, the best-patterned horse without any bad mistakes, that you can find. It’s okay to hunt up experienced barrel racers who will help you seek out that horse, because they know what you need.

Go to shows and watch. Maybe if you see a horse that you really like that is real controllable, that goes in and out of the arena good, it doesn’t hurt to go up and say, "Would you sell your horse?" If you’re a newcomer, the best thing is to find some reputable barrel racers that you really think a lot of and ask them to help you find a horse. It’s hard to find good, solid horses.

The horse doesn’t have to be fired up with speed, but if he’s a nice, calm horse who has a decent pattern–or even if he is a horse that you have started yourself–if he’s a good, calm horse, you can learn so much more.

Probably the worst thing that is going to make you not want to be a barrel horse is to get a horse that is too much for you. You’re going to try to go too fast, too soon. If you have a horse that you think is too much for you, seek out someone else that can ride him for you and help you make that decision if this horse is too much for you. Sometimes the horse just needs a lot of riding to get him (to where he’s more controllable).

Some people may not be able to buy that horse that is trained, and they still want to barrel race. If you’ve got several horses at your place, try them all. They might make it. If you cannot afford to buy an already trained horse, and you want to be a barrel racer, I would suggest do not go buy a young horse that does not know barrel racing. If you can, find an older horse. Then read all the books, listen to all the videotapes. I’ve had a lot of people say, "I trained my horse by your books, I’ve trained my horse by your videotapes." And they’re out there winning now. If you’ve got that dedication and desire, you can train your own barrel horse.

One question that I get asked a lot is: "I have a pleasure horse and I want to do some other things; is it okay to do barrels on this pleasure horse?" Definitely! This just might be what you want to do on this horse.

Don’t be afraid to try. People say, "I always wanted to have a horse and I wanted so bad to do this and I never could take that extra step." Try!

How do I know who to ask for help?

Go to a competition and watch. Ask questions. Pick out the winner of a class and ask, "How do you do this?"

I really suggest going to some seminars and clinics. The very first time you go, don’t take a horse. Sometimes it is more valuable to watch everybody and take notes. Then the next time you’ll be ready to take that horse.

Should I have a plan for barrel racing?

Set goals for everything you want to accomplish. Where do you want to go to first? Don’t start out trying to go to the National Finals Rodeo the first week that you start.

Ask yourself: Do I want to do this as a profession, do I want to do it as a hobby, or do I want to do it for fun?

If you really want to do good as a barrel racer there are several levels that you can accomplish. You can train horses for a living. You can buy and sell horses. You can have schools and clinics if you excel. There are so many different categories that you can achieve. I’ve seen people start their own barrel racing businesses, and it is wide open right now because there are so many new riders coming on wanting to be trained.

If you are in college or high school and you want to make a profession out of barrel racing or horsemanship, you can go to college and major in equine science and that will help your horsemanship.

Where can I compete?

Set achievable goals that you can accomplish, like find your horse, then start training your horse, then pick out some good local horse shows to go to. Then a year from now, start joining some associations.

There are several great ones. One of my favorites is the National Barrel Horse Association (www.nbha.com). They were the first ones that started the 3-D format (click here [http://www.nbha.com/overview/qa.html] for a definition of NBHA’s D format system) and this has been phenomenal. I actually helped start the National Barrel Horse Association and we were so tickled. People had quit competing because there wasn’t anything that they could accomplish, and in NBHA they could. There are horses and there are riders that will fall into the 2-D and 3-D categories. That is a wonderful place to start out. They have district shows and local shows and everything.

How do I practice every day?

The next thing is try to find an hour a day to ride your horse. Not necessarily fast on the barrels, but get to know your horse, get to become a team with your horse. Give that horse the proper foundation he needs. We teach our students that they can teach their horses: They can teach them the basics, and they can teach them how to do slow work.

One of my first coaches in basketball, she taught me how to practice perfect. That was so important. Practicing perfect is so good for horses, because if you teach them to knock over the barrel, they’re going to knock over the barrel. If you teach them to run past the barrel, they’re going to do it. So you’ve got to teach them the proper pattern.

You’ve got to get your balance and your timing down before you go fast. Think of yourself like you’re trying out for a baseball, or a basketball, or a football team: You’ve got to get yourself in training too. You’ve got to learn the basics of the event before you can go out there and win.

How can I keep a positive attitude?

One of my favorite sayings is a winner is never a quitter and a quitter is never a winner. If you make mistakes, go back to that practice pen. I know, because nobody has lost more than I have.

Babe Ruth practiced just enough that he won his share and he hit more home runs that anybody else–but he also struck out more than anybody else until he started getting home runs. I like to use him as an example, because every barrel racer who is out there winning now has had their losing streak, too. They’ve had their ups and downs. The winner is the one that will be back in the practice pen getting that perfect pattern back down.

A lot of times people ask the question, "Am I too old to barrel race?" Definitely not, because I think barrel racing, it keeps you young and it keeps your mind young and it gives you something to do.

If you need more motivation in school, if you find that you don’t excel in other things, try to get your parents to buy you that horse. That could be the greatest thing, I’ve had so many people tell me when they got that horse, that was the turning point in my life.

What else do I need to know to get started?

Evaluate all your equipment. A lot of times, you need to go to another barrel racer and say, "What do I need? What kind of bit do I need for my barrel racing horse? What kind of saddle? What kind of boots?" Learn how to evaluate your equipment.

If you’re going to be a new barrel racer, a new trail rider, or just a new horse owner, learn how to properly feed this horse so you give them the right nutrition. There are several good seminars for this; there are several good articles. Veterinarians and specialists will talk to you about that.

Learn how to haul safely. Learn the proper care of the horse while saddling. When you are going to and from the show.

Video yourself and hunt up somebody to help you watch it and evaluate your performance.

But most importantly: If you don’t know how to do something, ask someone!


I met Martha Josey at last year’s Old Fort Days Futurity and Derby in Fort Smith, Arkansas. We did the interview that morning in her motor home, and then I tagged along with Martha all day, waiting for a break in the weather so we could take photographs.

I watched Martha watch a videotape brought to her by a young barrel racer who needed advice, which Martha and her husband, R.E., readily gave. I watched Martha exercise Orange Smash, the Easily Smashed gelding she rode to her NBHA world championship in 1997. I watched Martha clean stalls, fill water buckets, and wrap her horse’s legs, getting down on her hands and knees in the shavings just like anyone else.

At the end of the day I realized that Martha Josey practices what she preaches. Everything she told me for this online article and for this month’s magazine article, "For the Long Haul" (which details Martha’s methods for keeping a horse sound and sharp on the road), is something she really does, and I saw her do it. I know she wasn’t just performing for the journalist because of the details, the things you just can’t fake: how Orange Smash felt so comfortable tied to the trailer while she saddled him that he nearly fell asleep, how Smash turns barrels (like in the photo at the top of this page) with one ear cocked back to listen to Martha’s cues and praises, how Martha remembered the name of the girl with the videotape whom she’d met the day before.

Martha genuinely cares for and about her horses, and she genuinely cares for and about newcomers to barrel racing. For more information about Martha and her clinics, books, videotapes, and tack, visit her website at www.marthajosey.com.


NBHA www.nbha.com

Josey Ranch www.marthajosey.com


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