Dialed in with Dena: Balancing a Busy Lifestyle

How to find balance in the day-to-day tasks of life. 

By Dena Kirkpatrick

Dena Kirkpatrick competing at the 2015 San Angelo Stock Show Rodeo. Photo by Dudley Barker.


I am writing this month’s column from my hotel room in New York City. Both Sarah, my oldest daughter, and Hannah, my youngest, are here with me. Sarah has business to do in New York and Hannah is here to interview for summer internships. I have just finished doing a clinic in upstate New York and before the clinic spent 10 days at Rodeo Houston trying to compete against the toughest girls and horses in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. Being here to help the girls and thinking about the horses left at home that need to be ridden, the clinics I have coming up, and which rodeos I think I may be able to enter has reminded me of one of my favorite movies, “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” Sarah Jessica Parker plays a happily married but very busy executive mother of two. Her career takes her out of town often, which leaves her husband home with the two young children and his job.

Bringing up kids and horses
Thinking of this movie also reminds me of my life when both my girls were growing up and I was traveling a lot training and showing barrel futurity horses. I homeschooled the girls for their early school years so I wouldn’t have to leave them for long periods of time. The two of them, any pets they wanted to take, usually five futurity horses and myself would load up and go, juggling their schoolwork, training and traveling for weeks at a time. It was busy but manageable and we certainly had some great bonding moments along the way.

When the girls were a little older, they went back to public school and became very involved with sports and academics. The school they attended was 40 miles away and they could not drive yet. They were both playing basketball, volleyball, taking tests, having friends over and stressing over the seemingly dramatic struggles of junior high and high school. One would think that all of the extra worries that come with juggling family along with the horse training would have caused my horse training to suffer, but in fact, the opposite was true.

Gaining perspective
Having all the more serious things to worry about helped me put my horse training problems in perspective. Knowing the most important things I needed to do in the day were to make sure the girls completed their homework and got something decently healthy to eat kept me from obsessing over the one wrong step my colt took during exhibitions. My horses began working better than ever. You can’t retrain a colt at the futurity anyway, so not picking on them the day before they ran was best.

During those years, I learned how to stop overthinking my training, and my horses were so much better for it. I was able to train my horses, but I didn’t put too much pressure on them. My time was precious and had to be used wisely.

I knew better than to start trying to fix a problem that one of my young horses might be having without allowing plenty of time to work out the issue. Instead of dwelling on it, I would walk the barrel pattern correctly, and then take the horse and his problem back to the barn with the idea that I would just work on fixing it during the next training session. I was amazed many times, because it would be as if the problem had disappeared or, at the very least, seemed much less pronounced when I came back to it the next day. I learned that time, even if it is just overnight, was a better healer than cramming and jamming on the horses. I’m not saying that horses never need correction, but when bigger problems arise, it’s best for both horse and trainer to relax and forget about it. This way, the trainer can think about it and get over any frustration or anger and the horses often forget their frustration, as well.

I am certainly not the only very busy barrel horse trainer or competitor. I recently interviewed Lisa Lockhart for “Racers Edge,” and discovered that she is even more like the character in the aforementioned movie than anyone I know. She and her husband own a ranch and have three children between the ages of 11 and 17. Lisa not only trains and competes on her horses, she has served on the school board in her town and makes it to as many ball games and school functions as she can for her children. She relayed a story about how she once drove straight through from Amarillo, Texas, to Oelrichs, S.D., by herself in order to make her son’s ball game. Another time, she drove a continuous day and a half alone in order get her daughter a horse to run by the next night at the National High School Finals Rodeo.

Lisa’s determination is easy to see, and her busy life drives her to accomplish more and to make the best use of her time possible. When I asked Lisa the question, “How do you do it?” her reply was, “When it seems that I literally have too much to do and too much to accomplish, I get an unbending kind of determination. This seems to drive me to find some way to get it done.”

The job of training horses is not easy, nor is raising a family. When you are busy doing both, you have to find the right balance in order to do them both well. Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” This is true for all working moms and dads. Making the best use of your time and keeping Lisa’s kind of determination will help you be successful in all aspects of life.


Article originally published in the May 2015 issue of BHN.

Dena Kirkpatrick is a professional barrel horse trainer and clinician based out of Texas. For more information on Dena and her clinics and videos, visit www.denakirkpatrick.com.

Tags: dena kirkpatrick, Lisa Lockhart, Dialed In with Dena, Balance, family life