Finding Coaches and Mentors

Ok, I think I am finally putting things together on my new barrel racing journey:

  • Horse - check.

  • Barrel saddle - check.

  • Fringe breast collar because all barrel races seem to have a fringe breast collar – check.

  • Winning mentor and coach - *crickets*

It is like buying a manual transmission muscle car, packed with raw power, and having no earthly clue how to drive a stick shift. What the heck do you do? You find someone to teach you, duh. Easier said than done because winning strategies in any game are closely guarded secrets. Finding the right coach is hard but not impossible.

Here is what I did: 

Attended a clinic. I knew that if I was going to be a barrel racer, I wanted to learn from the best. In my mind, that was Fallon Taylor. She has proven her prowess in and out of the arena. She is a woman who surrounds herself with strong, positive women who want to lift others up. I knew this is the type of rider I wanted to learn from, so I packed my bag and headed to a clinic in Texas. It was here that I met Jenna Smeenk who has become my personal hero and most trusted mentor. She even flew out to Utah for a one-on-one intense training session to support me during my very first jackpot - ever. I will forever be indebted to her for her ongoing kindness and mentorship.

Local heroes. There are talented riders all around my local horse-community. Several of these coaches were mentors to me in 4-H and during the rodeo queen days. I dusted off the old address book and started cold calling a few of them. Each one was excited to see me start on this new journey and willing to share their wisdom. It doesn't matter that they aren't 15-time NFR qualifiers; they know more about this game than I do right now which means I have a lot to learn from them.

Talk their ear off. This isn't rocket science. Find the jockeys that are winning and talk to them. Ask them about their equipment, their warm-up routine, their training strategy for flexing, anything! Now keep in mind that not all riders will give up their secrets, but you lose nothing by trying to chat them up and learn from their experience. I have been surprised at how many riders are willing to give me just a few tips out of the goodness of their heart.

Observation and down right eavesdropping. I have received countless lessons that I haven't paid a dime for. How? Listen, observe, absorb. There are always trainers at jackpots giving their riders race-day coaching. They are in the same warm-up pen as you are, riding right next to you so go ahead and take advantage of that proximity. I have picked up some full-second-saving tips just by sitting in the warm-up pen, watching others get lessons. No shame. None at all.

YouTube is on fleak. If we are being 100% honest, the digital content out there for this sport is relatively weak, but there are a few nuggets of wisdom if you dig deep enough into the interwebs that are downright earth-shattering. If you haven't already, I strongly recommend digesting every single piece of content in the video library of Also check out the Martha Josey and Ty Mitchell videos, if only for the adorably retro western fashion (but really, Ty is the master of a perfect pocket). Charmayne James has some good videos online as well, short and easy to understand.

DVDs. I have always been a big fan of Clinton Anderson, but his DVD series with Sherry Cervi is amazing and jam-packed with helpful information. By watching these DVD’s, I gained a lot of confidence that what I learned as a reining horse competitor is still applicable in my new role as a barrel horse jockey.

One is never enough. I learned in my reining horse days that trainers are like owning horses; if one is good, then two is even better and a whole herd is a dream come true. No one person has the market cornered on everything it will take for your unique ability, your unique style, your unique horse, to become champions. You can learn something from everyone. This is a business arrangement with coaches, not a romantic relationship. Cheating on your trainer with another is not a thing so play the field a little.

What are you waiting for? Saddle up and get to it.

Renae´ Cowley