Getting Around the Barrel

Natalie Martin

Keeping forward motion to get around life's obstacles.
Team Horsethief Rider-Danika Verhoeven

Team "Horsethief" rider, Danika Verhoeven

Raise your hand if back-to-school time holds its own special brand of ass-kicking magic for you? Whether you’re still in school yourself or raising a family with little ones to get through, there’s just something about back-to-school time that creates all kinds of anxiety and angst as you try to trade the laid-back feeling of summer for rigid schedules and homework.
This yearly transition wasn’t always so challenging for me. As a young student, I enjoyed going back to school to see friends and stay busy (summer didn’t hold a lot of excitement when I was a kid). And when my boys were first reaching school-age, I enjoyed starting school each year because it meant the beginning of another year of homeschooling adventures.
But this year I find myself a little stuck. Our transition was vastly different this year, as I sent my oldest off to “real school” for the first time in his life and considered how best to implement our homeschool curriculum with just one kiddo at home for a change. As a small business owner, there’s something about the beginning of the school year that feels a lot like a shot-gun starting line as somehow it seems to signify the that the holiday season will be upon us soon and I begin to consider preparations for new products and ponder the prospect of holiday fairs and shows. Our rodeo and roping seasons will begin to wind-down soon as well, with association finals springing-up over the next couple months. And let’s not forget that the holidays and gatherings of November and December seem to land right on top of us in the blink of an eye.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1
And just like that, with the beginning of the school year my whole perspective on life changes. Gone is the freedom of summer, and I find myself racing toward all kinds of goals and targets that seemed so far away just a few weeks ago. The real challenge becomes reminding myself to just keep moving forward. Because, when I become overwhelmed by life and all of its inevitable tasks, my nature is to just try to do everything all at once. If there are 20 thing on this week’s “to-do” list, it obviously makes perfect sense to do them all at the same time, right? Unsurprisingly, this invariably has the reverse effect, completely halting all progress as I jam-up my mind with too many instructions and too many targets.
Enter barrel-racing lesson.
Most of you already know that team roping is my sport of choice, and since I come from a family old-school team ropers who believe that a rope horse shouldn’t even know there is such a thing as his right lead, I don’t do much barrel racing. But every-so-often I get a wild hair to try the pattern a few times on my son’s junior rodeo horse, since there’s just something so appealing about running that fast (and not having to swing a rope and aim at the same time).
It always starts-out fun...we line-up for barrel #1, pick-up the right lead and run straight for our target. We approach the barrel with enough room to get around it. But as we approach it, the nervousness sets in. Will we get around it? Will we blow by it? Will we crash into it and leave my knees screaming in agony? Should I leave more of a pocket? Turn now? Now? How about NOW? And so I sit down, go to the horn and BAM! All forward motion ceases and we turn and crash right into the barrel.
While it certainly isn’t my plan to stop moving and crash the barrel, it sure does mirror my prerogative during life’s craziest times. I’m overwhelmed with the possible outcomes. I wonder and worry and question if my actions are the right ones to get me to my next goal. And while I race head-first toward achieving my objective, I let anxiety and frantic decision-making halt my progress, usually when it counts the most.
I believe that, just like me, most of us are driven by our internal fires toward achieving our goals. We start out with clear vision and purpose. We line-up and try to make a good start at our goals. And it all feels good when we’re running wide-open toward a target. But then, it’s time to hunker-down and see it through and all of a sudden, we are keenly aware of all the things that can go wrong.
So, we stop forward motion. And if you’re not moving forward, you’re already crashing (NOT crushing) your goals. If you’re waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect plan or the guarantee that you’ll make it perfectly and effortlessly around that barrel, you’re going to be waiting a long damn time. Goals, and our journey toward achieving them, are absolutely imperfect. Sometimes we will overshoot and have to work a little hard to get back on course. Sometimes we’ll cut it too tight and bang-up our shins. But no matter what, the only way to get there is to keep moving forward.
So, as our first week of school winds to a close and I re-set my goal-achieving strategy, I’m going to remind myself to think like a barrel racer: “See the target, line yourself up, practice a smooth departure, accelerate toward your goal, and for heaven’s sake, don’t quit riding until you’re safely around it.”

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