Skip to content

Behind the Scenes with McKenzie Morgan: The Calm Before the Storm

By McKenzie Morgan, originally published in the July 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News

As the old saying “the calm before the storm” goes, as a fellow barrel racer I know how it feels to be next in the drag. You have all these nerves built up, your heart starts beating really fast and you can feel your horse start to get nervous. This is something many barrel racers struggle with, and your mental game is the key to a perfect run. For me, this is something I really used to struggle with. I always take extra time to tack up and get ready, which is something that has always kept me focused.

The first thing I do is plan a perfect run. I know firsthand this can be very challenging. Everyone has experienced that one difficult horse, and staying calm and keeping a perfect run in mind can be very hard as a rider. For me, any time I get nervous or upset I always pet my horse and take deep breaths, which helps keep me calm.

Now that I’ve talked a bit about keeping yourself calm, have you ever wondered how everyone else keeps their horses calm? I always warm my horses up really well and keep them walking in circles or figure-eights so they don’t have enough time to get upset or nervous. This works really well for them. I have one horse that gets nervous with loud noises, so I put “POMS” ear plugs in his ears to block out loud noises and keep him relaxed during the calm before the storm.

We ask a lot out of our four-legged athletes, and we all get so worked up about making an amazing run that we forget how lucky we are to have these horses in the first place. This sport is all about having fun, and I’m guilty of being too hard on myself. I want to encourage everyone to just go have fun, run your run and always make your horse feel like it won the world—even if you hit all three barrels.

One year at the Josey Junior World, world champion Mary Walker was speaking during cowboy church right before the finals. She said something I’ll probably never forget: “I’ve been in your shoes being nervous waiting to run in the short round, and I just want you to go run your run for me.” That’s something I always try to keep in mind before I run. No matter how upset you are with your run or horse, there is always someone who would love to live in your shoes, and little eyes are watching you at all times.
Our athletes give us 110 percent every time they enter the arena, and you should always be thankful for that. Horses are incredible animals, but they aren’t around for your whole lifetime. Always cherish every run you get to make on that once-in-a-lifetime horse.