Why Every Cowboy Needs a Coach

cowboy coach

We pay people to do our taxes. Some of us (not me) pay people to clean our houses. We buy horses and then we pay to feed them, shoe them, doctor, vaccinate and deworm them.

And then, how many of us pound our heads against the wall in frustration when things aren’t going well with our horses? Or when we just can’t get our roping swing fixed? Yet, we avoid asking for help.

It doesn’t make much sense to spend a significant amount of money to fund a hobby that we love only to stress out to the point that all the joy is sucked right out of it because things aren’t going well for us. And we aren’t seeking any help to get back to that place of enjoyment.

It doesn’t matter if you are a recreational trail rider, a barrel racer or a bull rider, this western lifestyle hobby of yours is a lot like marriage. You get into it because you love it. But you are bound to go through periods of struggle along the way. I am a huge proponent of marriage counseling.

And that’s why if you are planning to or in the process of pursuing your cowboy dreams, you need to enlist the help of a coach or a trainer.

Here’s why:

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

My boyfriend illustrates this perfectly. He’s had horses and has ridden in the mountains his whole life. But up until we met, he had never gone faster than a trot and didn’t know his right lead from his left (we’re still working on that one).

Even though he had lots of exposure to horses, he was never around anyone who knew more about them than he did. He never had anyone to help him refine his horsemanship skills.

So, if anyone ever tells you, “I’ve been riding my whole life,” take it with a grain of salt.

Now, I am by no means the world’s greatest coach. But I have had many great coaches and I learned a thing or two along the way that I can now pass on. Sometimes it just takes having someone around who is a little more knowledgeable than you to point out some things that you could be doing better.

There is no point in reinventing the wheel. When it comes to horses or riding bulls or whatever it is you’re doing, 9.9 times out of 10, someone else has already been there done that. There is likely a best practice already in place. You just may not be aware of it.

It’s ok to not know. Nobody is born knowing everything there is to know about horsemanship, swinging a rope or riding a bull. Just be open and willing to learn. If you are, you will have a whole lot more people eager to help you. And you will develop into a top hand that much more quickly.

lyle-sankeyYou are the Average of the 5 People Who You Spend the Most Time With

This quote by famous businessman and motivational speaker, the late, great Jim Rohn makes a good point. And it reminds me of when, as a second grader, I ended up in a combined class with first and second graders. I didn’t understand why my mom was less than thrilled about it at the time, but obviously it makes perfect sense now.

People who are smarter than us and better than us, make us better. They push us to try harder, even if the incremental change isn’t easily detected. Maybe it’s due to our competitive nature or maybe it’s more like an internal set point that is regulated by what’s most familiar to us.

We know people have the ability to pull us down to their level too. Which is why we hear things like, “he was such a good kid until he started running around with that crowd,” or why well-meaning politicians end up flipping their stance once they get to Washington.

Chances are, some of those closest to you are going to lift you up, some are going to push you down and with the “law of averages” at work, you are going to end up somewhere in the middle.

But the good news is, you get to choose who you surround yourself with. If you want to improve your barrel racing and move up a division from the 4d to the 3d, don’t hang around with all the other 4d barrel racers in order to feel better about yourself. Be brave. Step it up a notch and hang with the 1d barrel racers. They are going to make you better.

Just like the second graders did for the first graders…

barrel racerA Different Perspective

We tend to be creatures of habit. And when those habits aren’t working for us, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly why. Oftentimes, another person’s perspective can easily pinpoint exactly what we’re doing wrong.

A few years ago, I decided I was going to enter an amateur rodeo in the breakaway roping. I hadn’t entered a rodeo in quite awhile and I was living in town at the time, about an hour from my horse and calves. So, to practice during the week, I bought a bale of shavings at the feed store and stuck my plastic calf head in it to rope in the backyard.

One evening I was roping the bale and my rope just wasn’t quite going on the way I wanted it to. It was going on, but I could tell there was something I was doing wrong. I just wasn’t sure what it was.

So, I called my roping coach on the phone (i.e. my brother, Bryce) and explained the problem I was having. He said, “Well, I’m not there but based on what you’re telling me…” and went on to explain what he thought I was probably doing wrong. When we hung up, I changed things up based on his recommendation and my loops started going on much better.


A good coach is not going to let you sit back and rest on your laurels. They will celebrate your accomplishments with you and they will continue to push you to do more. That’s why we hire personal trainers, right? We know that if someone is standing in our corner making us push ourselves, we are going to get better results more quickly.

I grew up in the same household as my primary coach. He taught me everything he knew and he was pretty proud of the outcome. So, I learned how to ride, how to train colts, how to ride and show cutting horses, rope, etc. all from the same guy. And after about 20 years, I felt pretty confident in my ability.

But I’ve learned a lot from people who aren’t my dad, too. When I moved away from my parents, I had to seek coaching and mentorship elsewhere. And not everyone I’ve ridden with does things exactly the way my dad does.

Which is a good thing.

I have been forced to consider alternative methods and try new techniques. I have been challenged. I have been re-taught certain things in a way that didn’t make as much sense before.

I’m not suggesting you learn from too many different people when you are first starting out as that can tend to get confusing and overwhelming in a hurry.

Just be sure that the person you do decide to work with will push you to be better every day.

And if you’d like to meet some great potential coaches and mentors who you can learn from without even having to hook up the horse trailer, click here.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Angelo pecora

    Well put. I’m a good example…rode all my life…never over a trot lol. Mite have to get a coach. Would like to bring home the mail before I take up the rockin’ chair

    1. Alyssa Barnes
      Alyssa Barnes

      I love it! A good coach is worth his or her weight in gold. =)

  2. Bryce

    Well said. Pride can be a hindrance in the western world. The disciplines have evolved. If you want to be competitive before you need a fence to get on, skipping ahead a few years from those enrolled at the school of hard knocks is a good idea.

  3. Mitch

    Great article! I’ve been riding English my whole life (despite growing up in Texas), and I wanted to give Western speed events a go. I looked all over the Dallas area for coaches, but the few Western instructors I found were teaching “skills” to beginners that, as an advanced hunter/jumper rider, I knew were total bunk. These people were practically beginners themselves, and they were teaching horsemanship skills that made me cringe to kids who didn’t know any better. Eventually I gave up on my search, but it helped me better understand WHY my parents put me in English riding lessons as a kid after we went to the rodeo and I said I wanted to be a cowboy. That was probably all they could find since there are tons of English instructors around and so few Western. I really wish Western instructors were easier to find, but I guess I’ll just stick to racing around the jumper ring.

    1. Alyssa Barnes
      Alyssa Barnes

      I think it can be a real challenge to find an instructor that fits your needs and that you click with as well. It sounds like someone with your strong fundamentals might benefit from a clinic with a top performer in the event you’re interested in. I love to try out different instructors at clinics and see who I might want to continue on with afterwards. Best of luck to you in whatever you decide to pursue!

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