Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reflecting Back

Looking back on a year of blogging, you can see the changes in my interests and passions, the love of my sport, and the advancement in my writing. I've attempted to keep a blog many times in the past, for several topics, and seem to always let it slip out of my mind, and it always ends up as a blank page that never goes anywhere. Well, for once, I had to make sure I kept it up because I had a grade for it. I think that motivation was really helpful and helped me learn how to keep a blog fun and engaged, so it never really gets old or outdated and you'll always have something to write about. I've always struggled with one problem when it came to creating a blog: what do I want to write about? It seems like there's a million different things I want to put out to the world, but I can't ever find a label for what that "topic" is. Writing in a graded blog made me realize that you can't fit all of your ideas under a title, or a file it away in a blog archive. Sometimes, the best blogs are all about what makes you tick, what inspires you, and what you love more than anything. Even if you can't fit it all under one large heading at the top of your page, it's fine just being random and spontaneous. I mean, at the beginning of my blog, I tried to be inspirational in all my posts, as if I was writing to the world, but eventually, it was feeling forced and the inspiration in my tone was fading away. That basically defeated the purpose of my posts in the first place. I had to explore and find things I love and care about to bring back the passion I started writing my blog posts with. I think that blogging, for me, is more than writing a couple times a week about something for a class. The idea of blogging is a hope that somewhere in the world, there's a person reading your words. Everyone wants to be heard, and everyone wants to be understood and accepted, and I feel like even if no one actually reads my posts, I'm being heard. The world has my opinion, in text, available for anyone to see. That represents peace for me: to know that I'm being heard, and I don't have to hold it all inside. And the best part? I know I'm not alone in that feeling, or in my troubles or fears. Because even if we never cross paths, there are people out there who think the exact same thing, and want the world to hear them, too. I occasionally looked at other random blogs, and clicked through to read all of them. It's amazing to see a glimpse inside other people's lives, just from clicking a button and reading. I feel like I was listening to what they wanted the world to hear, just like what I wanted. I read blogs from new mothers documenting their kids growing up, nature activists who want to feel as natural as the creation around them, and even blogs about a bride-to-be's feelings the night before her wedding. Even though it's simple and subtle, blogging brings people together through words and experience. Just like that, you can step outside of yourself and imagine how it feels to be someone else, and see what the walk looks like from their shoes. It's inspiring when you reflect on it. So if I got anything out of blogging this year, it's that life lesson. Everyone in the world wants to be heard...so we should all take the time to listen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Feelings Before The Season Opener

The arena is being drug, and the timers are being set. Preparations are being made for the rodeo season opener: the Spring Fling Barrel Race at Kirkwood. We're just about eight days out from when the first runner will take to the arena, and there's a lot of things to be done, in and out of the practice arena. First of all, the week before the season is crucial for practice. Though you make practice runs and go fairly fast in your own arena, you push the limit ten times more when you are actually competing, so it's very important to make sure that your horses are on the path to proper conditioning. It's important to protect them from injuries, especially ones related to the barrel pattern, such as pulled ligaments or out of line spines. This is the time when we really get down to business on maintenance.

We stretch out our horses every day we ride, twice: Once before we ride, and once after, to keep them loose and comfortable. It's very important to make sure their muscles are warmed up, just like if a person were going to do strenuous activities. It's also important to hit a full range of motion in their legs, stretching everything from the hock (right above the hoof) to the withers (right below the neckline).

Another huge aspect is perfecting our training. This is where the cues get really specific, and you have to be extremely hard on yourself to maintain a flawless, consistent pattern. Remember that you have to look to the same spot, have your hands in the same place, say the same commands in the right spots, push with your legs at just the right time, all while going up to 40 miles an hour. It can be a lot to keep track of, and is very hard to master. A lot of barrel racers take this time to examine the scientific aspect of barrel racing: they look at aerodynamics, the exact best place for the horse to make their turn according to their body shape and leg length, and they start looking for the smallest, simplest ways to cut off 100ths, even 1000ths of a second off their time.

All in all, there's a lot left to do before the first show...check in on it later!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Never Giving Up

In the rodeo arena, you are expected to perform: every single time. Sure, tough runs come once in awhile, but you should be able to stay fairly consistant with your times and how you turn the barrels. In order to achieve that standard, we barrel racers spend countless hours in the training arena, trying to find that consistency. What do I mean by running consistantly? Well, for all of you city people out there, running consistantly means that if you have a fast horse, you are almost always placing, because your barrel pattern is so consistant. To make a barrel pattern consistant, you have to push into the gate the same way, put your hands in the same place, sit the same way, look to the same spot, say your commands in the same spot, and warm up and cool down the same way...EVERY time. If it sounds easy, trust me, it isn't.

Every arena you run in is different: they all have different dimensions, ground conditions, alley ways, set ups, and atmospheres. Keeping your horse consistant while your conditions are constantly changing around you is very difficult. But that is how you know a horse has been worked with, and the rider has worked hard, if they can be consistant. As my trainer, Theresa Baumgartner, puts it: You have to go through the practice patterns at least 50 times to get 1 smoking run. Details and dedication is what makes great barrel racers.

Twelve time National Finals Rodeo champion, Charmayne James, has the same idea as my trainer when she asks aspiring barrel racers, "Are you willing to work an extra half an hour every day to improve your time by 1/10 of a second?" And that's a question that anyone wanting to barrel race needs to think on, and really ask themselves if they are patient and determined enough to put up with all of the hard days, all of the days where your horse isn't going to cooperate, all of the days where you might get thrown off, and all of the work that comes with one good run. But the truth is, you really can't keep a good cowgirl down, because good cowgirls NEVER GIVE UP. That's what makes us winners...in barrel racing, and in life. NEVER GIVING UP.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

To Explain the Feeling...

Here is a poem about barrel racing that pretty much sums up the feelings of why we love it so much. Enjoy!

"I’m a barrel racer, Lord. A quick time is all I need
Just to turn these three barrels, with a decent amount of speed
I’ve hauled a lot of miles, to run this horse of mine
to make each barrel race and then the next one down the line
If it’s a spill I take, Lord, please keep the dirt soft
for another run I’ll make, just as soon as I dust off
My chin I’ll keep it up and my tears I’ll try to hide
The I’ll climb back in my saddle, ever anxious for my next ride
With heart and will in hand, to win or lose with grace
For some other person will want to win the very same barrel race
So let us ride as one, Lord, my barrel horse and me
For hard work and perserverance, I believe is the key
We’ve trained and worked hard, and if I win, you know of course
To you I’ll give the glory, to you and my horse."

"Lord, as we gather today to celebrate the bond between horse and rider,
we ask that you grant us safety now until the last horse crosses the finish line.

As we send our horses hard toward the first barrel
help us remember the many people in public service
that work hard each day to make our lives safe.

After we turn that first barrel
help us to remember that there is more to life than winning.
As we push towards the second barrel
and make a beautiful turn,
may we think deeply and appreciate the pleasure we get
from the horses that power our way.

Lord, as we turn the third barrel towards home,
help us remember the many hours of hard work that go into training
a horse to run the pattern and win.
This is an amazing sport, a sport that makes us laugh and sometimes cry.

A sport of sure determination and often luck.
Help us not to blame our animals for our
lack of preparation and respect them for who they are.
We are all here for one reason so help us celebrate our common love for barrel racing.

Lord, help us remember that even when all goes wrong,
you are always right!
Keep us safe, God Bless each of us today"

Friday, February 18, 2011

NFR Dreams: Part 4

People ask me all the time why I want to barrel race. After all, it is one of the most dangerous and risk-taking sports in the world, it costs a lot of money, and is ultimately a gamble in which you could lose hundreds of dollars in a weekend. But what these people don’t see is the reason I do it. They can’t feel your horse’s heart beat when they get into starting position. They can’t see the crowd, who’s so excitedly waiting for you to run out into the arena. They can’t understand the rush of taking off on the wings of faith, leaving everything behind in reckless abandon. And most of all, they can’t comprehend the trust between horse and rider, truly a team. When you win, you celebrate together. When you lose, you grieve together. You and that horse trust that you will not lead each other into danger, and will keep each other safe. It seems like a pretty intense bond for a human and animal, but that undying commitment and trust in each other is what keeps us going, win after win, lose after lose, fall after fall: and the feeling is addicting.

That’s what drives our dreams, that addiction: The dream to run at the National Finals Rodeo, with the most exciting crowd of any barrel race in the country, the dream to be seen as a serious competitor and winner, and to be victorious at the highest level possible, and the dream to have an unbreakable bond with an amazing, powerful animal. I’ve qualified for the National Barrel Horse Association World Championships four times in a row, and have run my horses to district, state, and national titles, but when it’s all over, it comes back to you and your horse, simple as that. Because as wonderful and exhilarating as the win is, it couldn’t be done without a team with a strong foundation, a good heart, and an honest faith that they can take on anything with a little hard work.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NFR Dreams: Part 3

14.682. “Good, but I know you guys can go faster than that. Loosen up on the inside rein about four feet before your turn, remember to look at the wall, not the barrel. Oh, and make sure you start kicking as soon as you get out of that first, with two hands on the reins so you can get over right away to make that pocket. If you can remember all of that, you could probably take about 3 tenths off your time. Let’s try it again.” These are the all too familiar words of my trainer, Theresa Baumgartner. She’s worked with 12 time world champion, Martha Josey, she’s run at some of the biggest shows in the country, and is one of the most respected trainers in Iowa.

 Oh, and when she says 3 tenths, she means of a second. It doesn’t seem like much, but winning or losing comes down to hundredths, even thousandths of a second. I’m in her arena with my three barrel horses, training to perfect our form. She watches me for any little mistake, because any little mistake can determine whether we win, or we walk away with nothing. She watches where I put my horse for his turn, where my hands are, where I’m looking, how I sit, and all of my cues. There’s a lot to think about in 14 seconds: and that’s the heart of the sport: learning to be precise and on the top of your game.