Young at Heart
With a unique perspective as a grandmother, world champion Mary Burger discusses the importance barrel racing plays in children’s and parents’ lives.
By Mary Burger with Kailey Sullins
I’ve had a great opportunity as a mother and grandmother to share my passion for horses and love of rodeo with my family. Watching my children and now my granddaughter, Kaden, grow into accomplished horsemen and -women has been a real thrill. It’s tough watching when they struggle, but the process is just as valuable as the result. Children need to learn how to lose and overcome obstacles, whether it is with horsemanship, training or horse health and care. As parents and grandparents, helping our children grow and tackle these obstacles is one of the great joys in life. When you see your kids succeed, it makes the experience that much better.
Keep it in Perspective
When 10-year-old Kaden calls to come over to ride or get advice, I try to stay within her level of riding. This is her second year to compete in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association, so I don’t put a lot of pressure on her.
Sometimes you might have to show a child exactly what you are talking about and explain over and over again to get your point through—it just depends on if the person fully understands what you’re explaining.
Many times, parents are too tough on their kids. A kid is a kid and they want to have fun, and I know they want to learn and do well, but too much pressure bothers me. If you take the casual approach and explain what is important and which things they need to know to get better, it will make learning and competing easier and more fun. Remind your kids—and yourself—to have fun while practicing.
Helping your child can be a touchy situation. If you add too much pressure too soon or ridicule without praising the learning process, riding can turn from fun to a problem. It just depends on how the child is advancing, how much help they need, how much they understand and what speed they are going. As parents, we hope they improve instead of getting flustered, mad or giving up, which is why keeping the learning process in perspective is important for your child’s success.
The same goes for youth riders themselves. Don’t overwhelm yourself—keep in perspective your skill level, experience, and relax and have fun. You are barrel racing, more than likely, because you love it. Don’t worry about other people or if you’re going to make a mistake.
Do your homework, do your basics and do your practice. Relax, have fun, keep focused but be serious.
Start with Basics
A good starting point for a child is basic horsemanship. Children need to know the same basics you would teach a young horse—where to position the body, how to come off the barrel and make the next turn fluent.
Your equipment and stirrups should be adjusted correctly, and you should have the proper bits and gear so you begin problem-free.
Many problems for kids start because they never learned basic horsemanship. The No. 1 key to being a good rider is horsemanship and feeling where your horse needs to be positioned, where its feet are and how to come off a turn. Kids need to learn early how to apply their horsemanship so when they advance, they can continue to progress with the right frame of mind.
Another aspect of learning to ride is finding the right horse. Usually for a child, you want a finished and foolproof horse that will help your child learn the basics, rather than hinder progress.
Know Your Horse
Activities like bathing and grooming your horse give contact that forms a bond. It’s a benefit for kids to take care of their own horses. Get in there and clean stalls—it’s not just mom and dad’s responsibility. Hands-on contact and horse care from a young age is something all children need to become horsemen and -women. It teaches responsibility, compassion and fosters a bond with the horse.
That bond and hands-on contact each day can also teach you a lot about your horse, its health, personality and performance in the arena. Be sure to check your horse for health problems. One way of getting a very subtle and inexpensive view on what could be bothering your horse is Simply Equine’s horsehair analysis. Heather Benson does a great job, and her analysis is comprehensive.
World Champion Advice
If there was one thing I could say to a kid who wants to learn, advance their skill set or who may just be starting out, be serious but still have fun. Take care of your animal and be open-minded to learning. Be focused, happy and do the best you can.