Mental Toughness: Renae's Tips & Tricks


With competition season right around the corner, it's important to bring awareness to a topic that is often overlooked: the mental aspect of competing. In this feature, sponsored barrel racer Renae Cowley shares some of her tips and tricks for developing "mental toughness" and how she's used these to build perseverance on the rodeo circuit.


Mental toughness is what gets you through the high’s and the low’s to develop consistent, winning runs. Mental toughness starts with you, the rider, acting like a lead mare. Your horse is looking to you to be the leader of your herd. If you are a basket of nerves, guess what emotion your horse is going to exhibit? Below are a few tips and tricks I use to keep my spirits high during times of low:

1) Stay positive.

Being on the rodeo road is rough. There are 500 things that can go wrong long before you ever ride into the arena. I can just about guarantee that if you are a Debbie Downer and perpetuate negative thoughts and words, you will never find yourself taking a victory lap. The best of the best in any industry or any sport find a way to keep a positive attitude and find the good in any circumstance.

2) Don’t sweat the small stuff.

No run is ever 100% perfect. There is always something that can be improved, but don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of a darn good run. If your horse is a little prancy in the alley way, went one stride past the first barrel pocket, or pawed at the trailer but lays down an overall wicked run, let it go and be proud of what you accomplished when it counts.

Focus on the things that went
right and reward your horse
and yourself
for a solid effort.​

3) Develop a routine and stick to it.

As barrel racers, we have a reputation for constantly adjusting tack, changing bits, or trying the latest fad in supplements. Find a feed regimen and tack setup that works for you and your horse and stick to it. If you see signs of a change in behavior, soundness, or wellness in your horse, then by all means, consult your vet and see if it is something you need to address. In all other circumstances, for heaven's sake, don’t change everything you are doing just because you hit one barrel one time.

The same goes for how you approach your run. If your horse loses their footing once, there is no reason to retrain them from the ground up or completely change how you approach your run just because things didn’t go your way one time.

Trust in your training and try
for consistency rather than
record-breaking runs every
time you ride through the gate.​

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4) Block out the haters.

Haters gonna hate, that will never change, but what you do have control over is your attitude and approach to competition. It is equally important to surround yourself with a supportive, uplifting, positive posse. You will be amazed at the impact those around you will have on the quality of your runs.

5) Focus on what you want to go right, not what you don’t want to go wrong.

My mom always reminds me to visualize my runs. I mentally walk through a perfect run over and over again in my mind. I think about every detail in great minutiae and detail from how I will sit each stride, to my hand placement, to exactly what my horse’s foot fall will be. This helps reinforce muscle memory and when game time comes, I am able to rely on reflex rather that trying to react to every little thing and battle nerves all at the same time.

6) Preparation is paramount.

You cannot expect to have mediocre practices but gold buckle runs when you go to town. Consider time in the practice pen like making deposits in a bank account. When you go to make a run, you’d better have made enough deposits to be able to make a withdrawl big enough to win a check. Again, trust your training and when you make a run under those arena lights, know that all the preparation and practice has prepared you sufficiently for this exact moment.

7) Maintain perspective.

No matter how terrible your run was, try to keep perspective that this is not the end of the world. I have very high expectations for myself so I understand how it feels to be disappointed in a run. My mom has reminded me many times as I walk back to the trailer with a tear-stained face that my birthday isn’t canceled, that she will still take me home with her, and that there is always another rodeo to enter.

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Mental toughness takes time and experience to develop. Once you are able to maintain emotional consistency your rodeo runs will also become more consistent. Have confidence in your ability, your preparation, and in your horse and the gold buckles will follow!