Making History At The RFD American Million Dollar Barrel Race

If you’ve got anything to do with the barrel racing industry at all, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz about the first million dollar barrel race, The American, hosted by RFD-TV and sanctioned by Better Barrel Races. With the semi-finals held in Mesquite, Texas and the finals at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the American is a not only the most lucrative rodeo in the United States, it’s also the first time in history that men have been allowed to run barrels at a rodeo event.

Some of the top male riders in the country qualified to compete at the semi-finals but only one young man made it to the top twenty. That young man is Clint Sherlin of Athens, Tennessee. Bully By Design, also known as Red, is the horse that took Clint to the semi-finals. Red is the product of a long standing business partnership between the Sherlin family (Clint, his parents Joel and Nancy) and the Hayes family (Chris and Shelley, and daughters Bayli, Lilli, Maddi) of Philadelphia, Tennessee.

Clint and Red first shined in the spotlight when the pair won the NBHA World Championship in 2012, appearing on the cover of Barrel Horse News. The Hayes’ daughter, Bayli, has also gained notoriety with Red at several large barrel races as well and is becoming quite the jockey on such a powerful horse under Joel, Nancy, and Clint’s tutoring.

Having purchased two barrel prospects from the Sherlin and Hayes families, I have watched The American with great interest. However, it goes a whole lot deeper than that. You see, I’ve known Clint since he was a young kid riding any horse that was  thrown his way and making it look good. Joel has also been my farrier for many years, not to mention that Joel and Nancy both have invested countless (and selfless) hours in me while trying to make me into a better jockey.  We’ve went on road trips to barrel races together, and it’s always been an adventure from dodging tornadoes  and mud to dealing with flat tires. All those memories are very precious to me and are the reason that I’ve taken such an interest in The American.

For Clint, and the rest of the Sherlin family, the road to The American has not always been an easy one. They definitely didn’t start out with the best horses. In fact, it was horses that no one wanted that gave them their start. For many years, they honed their riding and training skills on horses with issues that most people gave up on. Although difficult, and most certainly with a delayed pay day, those years of riding problem horses  and making it work have not only turned them into one of the best riding and training teams in the country, but it’s also created a family that I would describe as “salt of the earth” type folks.

In a sea of top kicks and hundred thousand dollar living quarter trailers, it’s not unusual to see the brown and yellow  “Double OO” trailer, or a 1975 Mercury Grand Marquis if the Sherlin clan is in town. While the rest of the world has to have the latest and greatest, its their genuine down to earth practicality and their focus and dedication to making the best horses that make them a rare gem in the barrel industry.

Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s been a historical race as full of hopes and dreams since the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. The common man was a contender in that race too. In a couple of days Clint and Red will be making their run for the finals at The American. Not only will that run be making history, but it will also represent the hopes and dreams of two of the finest and most down to earth families in the barrel racing industry.

Ride hard Clint & Red!

Joel & Nancy at the parade with their draft horses

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Joel shoeing SV Shawne Fire N Te, aka Fireman.

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Our trip to the Futurity in Fort Smith in the Double OO

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The Mercury on the way to the BFA in Oklahoma City. By the way, we’d blown a tire!

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Setting Goals

Setting a measurable goal is important if you want to accomplish certain things in life. Working with horses is no different. While measurable goals are necessary for the big objectives, they’re also necessary for the small steps you take with your horse on a daily basis. If you don’t set goals every time you handle your horse, you run the risk of not only losing focus, but upsetting your horse as well.

Most of us that show have no problem setting a big goal for competition. That’s an integral part of competing, really. But sometimes what we don’t do is set a goal for every time we ride. Sometimes we get so rushed that we focus on warming up or doing our routine that we forget about the details. In the end, we ride mindlessly on our horses and /or we wind up drilling too much on certain things.

 Years ago a good trainer friend of mine said that horses have the mentality of a three year old child. That concept has come back to me time after time and it’s a good one to hold on to. While the image of a three year old child conjures up a limited understanding, it also brings up the subject of attention span. Most three year old children can’t concentrate on something for more than just a couple of minutes before they’re thinking, “Ooooohhhhhh…. Look at all the pretty colors!” Then most parents are struggling to get their attention back. Horses are absolutely no different.

 Your first basic goal should be to keep your training sessions short, especially when working with younger horses. You want to focus on the important stuff while you don’t have to fight for their attention. If you work for a longer period, they’re going to get frustrated because you’re going to have to battle that desire to “look at all the pretty colors.” Quit before that happens.

 You might think that short sessions don’t do any good. Horses learn by repetition and have a wonderful memory. It doesn’t matter how long the session is or really even how long it is between sessions. What matters most is the consistency and number of sessions.

Another goal should be to focus on only a couple of things per ride. Don’t start your ride thinking you have to accomplish everything that’s needed to do your class or event. Focus on only a couple of things and accomplish those. Then the next ride, focus on something else.

For instance, green horses don’t travel well in a straight line. They also don’t keep a consistent speed, and depending on how far along they are they may not know how to take a correct lead. The absolute worst thing you can do is go out there and try to make that green horse do all three of those things during your work session. Break it down and focus on only a couple of things, like a straight line and a good forward tempo at a trot. Then next time you can work on your canter.

A repetition goal is also important and needs to be determined before you ever step up into the saddle. How many times are you going to lope on the left lead? How many times are you going to ask your horse to back? How many times are you going to jump over that particular jump? Decide these goals ahead of time and then keep track of them while you’re riding so that you don’t over work your horse to the point of being sour.

Last, and probably the most important goal is to quit your ride on a good note. If you have to set your horse up to quit on a good note, by all means find something he’s good at and quit on that.This is especially critical if there’s something that your horse is struggling with because quitting speaks louder to a horse than drilling on what you’re trying to teach.

If I’ve got a horse that’s really struggling with something, I’ll make that the goal for the day. If my horse reaches that goal in just a few minutes, I’ll quit for the day right then. I can always ride tomorrow but that horse just tried and accomplished something he couldn’t before. Quitting on a good note tells him he did the right thing, and it boosts his confidence.

So what goals have you been setting for your rides? How do you determine those goals?

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