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  • Writer's pictureKarl Avdek


Updated: Oct 29, 2021

Barrel Racers and Motorcycles; two things that scare the Be-Jesus out of me. Both really really fast and, if you aren’t prepared and equipped … filled with fear.

Let’s talk motorcycles first. I can sum up my feelings about motorcycles in one word. You ready? Okay, here it is …


Not enough? Okay, here are TWO words …

“Will not” … as in I WILL NOT ride a motorcycle. Will I get on a bike and go screaming down the highway at 70 – 80 miles an hour (or more) with nothing surrounding me but … pavement??!!??

Again … no!!! No. No. No. Wiiiiiiil not!

The barrel horse thing? On board a thousand pound animal running at speeds between 40 and 50 miles an hour? Whoooeee baby!!! Now that’s a different story. Am I scared? Yes. Am I also thrilled beyond words?


What’s the difference?

Well, for starters, I’m a horse guy; not a motorcycle guy. I HAVE ridden barrel horses. Now, I am NOT a trainer or an expert or a competitive rider but I am a professional horseman. I am a clinician / trainer and have, consequently been asked a couple of times to tune barrel horses for other riders and I actually felt lucky. VERY lucky. Why lucky? Well, because I was JUST the trainer guy rather than the rider. I was able to spend my time getting the horses supple, balanced, and fitted in the bridle and (here’s the best part): I was the one who got to go around the barrels sloooowly over and over and over again; repeating correct positions in, around, and out of the barrel.

NOT fast. (Except for a couple of times …)


I liked that part.

People who compete in barrels are phenomenal athletes and personalities. I respect and admire them. A LOT!!! I am ENVIOUS of them and their courage. VERY envious. Not only are these athletes performing at high rates of speed but they are trying to WIN … all at the same time.


I am going to be doing a series on fear coming up but let’s just START today with some simple “bullet points” for barrel racers that should help.


Virtually EVERYONE who competes in ANYTHING must deal with fear. In barrel racing fear is a “double edged sword” because riders are simultaneously dealing with (a – “performance anxiety”; apprehension attached to their performance as well as (b - the very real fear of harm.

Here are some small tips to help you cope with both. As I said, I will put up some more work on these issues in forthcoming articles.


I am neither Chinese nor a philosopher but this is, in simple terms the concept that opposite and contrary forces are, in fact, complementary, interconnected and interrelate to each other.

For a barrel racer this is typified in the moment when you enter the ring, about to put spurs to your horse; flush with apprehension but SIMULTANEOUSLY pumped with adrenaline and excitement; thrilled and ready to compete.

How can you ride forward and give it your “best shot”; your top performance?


The Pauli exclusion principle is the age old and very familiar law which states that “two objects cannot occupy the same space simultaneously”.

Interestingly this law does not JUST apply to objects in physical space but to thoughts as well In other words two THOUGHTS cannot occupy the same space (your mind) at the same time. It’s the same with feelings. Two conflicting FEELINGS cannot occupy our consciousness at the same moment.

With that in mind, we need to CHOOSE what thoughts and images OCCUPY our mind. Our feelings will follow because our thoughts shape our feelings.


The Beatles were right when they sang about “love is all you need.” The first thing for you to VERY CONSCIOUSLY fill your mind with is very simply, “love.” EVERYONE in the horse industry looooooooove horses and working with them.

So … what got you here in the first place? What got you into the barn? What go you onto your horse’s back? Love. Why do you do … what you do with horses? Love.

Now, when the temptation appears to let that fear rise up in you, pull the plug on it. Better yet …


Start this particular exercise when you are OFF your horse. Go find that old scrapbook with all the old photos of your first racing events. Sit down; open it up and have a “look see.”

Why, there you are; grinning from ear to ear, looking as if you were the person who invented sliced bread.

Who IS that? Why it’s you of course. It’s just the “you” who has been misplaced or forgotten about. It is the “you” that you have lost sight of and connection with but … who is very definitely still in there. Find that person again. Find that joy. Remember it. Feel it. See, it IS in you. Still. Now.

Whoops!!! Forgot about the fear for a second or two, didn’t you? Okay … let’s do some more. Let’s do it … again. Let’s do it …

… on your horse. Go out, saddle up, and mount. WALK your horse to the arena and stop; close your eyes and return to that picture in the scrapbook; the sounds, the smells, the feelings. Turn that channel on.

It’s there and the fear CAN’T be in the same place. Now …


I am NOT a believer in “… feel the fear and do it anyway.” Fear can be the size of Godzilla; seemingly invincible at times. Fear can quite honestly, also be common sense in disguise and should be acknowledged and always … dealt with. As an athlete I do know that you CAN perform with fear. There are a great many top athletes who perform at an extremely high level despite harboring performance anxiety. “Familiarity” with the athletic task and the surrounding environment often is what gets them through the fear. “Preparation” also helps defeat fear; imprinting feelings of safety and confidence through the repetitive “imprinting of “been there / done that” into our minds.

But all those are big bites. BIG BIG!!! Maybe too big at first and … all at once.

What really defeats fear, of course is courage. Courage can come in different shapes. It often comes from “logic”; explaining and ultimately realizing that a barrel horse event (a – it is, in reality, still a “recreational and leisure”; a “game” and and NOT “life and death” (Nobody gets shot if they don’t win a barrel event) and that (b - there is no failure; just information and the subsequent opportunities for success that arise out of that information.

In other words, there are no consequences; only means of improvement; of getting better.

Courage is of course also a “feeling”; a confidence; an assurance, a knowledge and conviction of one’s own abilities, and the projected outcome of those abilities … which is success. That “feeling” of courage can come from ANY achievement. It can also come in small, “bite size” portions which, when added up, can overwhelm fear; can REPLACE fear inside us.

I once did a large group session on this topic with collegiate athletes. I asked them to recall past accomplishments where they had used courage to overcome challenges and be successful.

At one point, one athlete piped in with, “I won my grade school spelling bee … when I was only in second grade.”

Now THAT brought some laughter from the crowd but … a moment later another athlete came up with, “… the first time I kissed a girl.”

That brought FEWER laughs probably because many of the athletes shared that same event in their lives but also because they were all starting to “get it”.

ANYTHING wherein we exhibit courage is vivid and real to our consciousness; it can be RECALLED in detail and, most importantly, it can be used to REPLACE; even if it is in small parts, the emotion of fear; anxiety, or apprehension.

This method of recalling vivid instances of courage; even if small, can “chip away” at fear until … (remember that two thoughts cannot occupy our consciousness at the same time) … it can overcome the fear; it can occupy the space where the fear WAS …

… but now is NOT!!!

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