Wenda Johnson’s Tips to Winning in Different Barrel Racing Setups

Wenda Johhnson competes in barrel racing at Logandale, Nevada.
Wenda Johnson got the win in Logandale, Nevada. Image by Hailey Rae Photography

Wenda Johnson shares some of the top tips for switching setups between indoor and outdoor arenas on the ProRodeo trail thath have helped her make multiple trips to the National Finals Rodeo.

Recently, Johnson dominated two of the major spring rodeos: Clark County Fair and Rodeo in Logandale, Nevada, where she warned $8,146 for a 17.09-second run., and Clovis Rodeo in Clovis, California, where she swept the first round, second round and aggregate to rake in a totaled $9,204.

Johnson managed to keep her rodeo count low, earning $38,269.37 in just 13 rodeos on the 2023 season to date, which sets her at No. 09 in the WPRA world standings as of May 23, 2023. She hasn’t just been winning at the large, outdoor pens, but had a strong showing at the winter rodeos on all types of dirt in indoor arenas and in varying pattern sizes.

Here are some of Johnson’s top tips for keeping your horses happy, healthy and winning on the ProRodeo trail to dominate at major rodeos all spring season long, and how she switches it up between varying setups.

Tip 1: Set your goals.

Wenda Johnson: The great thing about barrel racing are the various options offered to competitors. One of the most important things I ask myself is, “What result am I trying to obtain and will it help me work toward a specific goal? “

Ultimately it is important to me to support both geldings’ individual needs, continue to help them love to compete, and keep them as safe as possible.  Therefore, selecting which race to enter may vary depending on the current need. 

In the case of Logandale, a friend was looking for someone to travel together for the “California run,” and I had never gone before. I was free and up for the adventure, as well as excited to get both horses outdoors to let them fly.  We entered Logandale on our way out to California.  

Logandale is a standard pattern, center open gate, and the ground had a noticeable slide at each barrel. My goal on Mo was to stay safe on the ground and let him pick his path. His runs are all fairly consistent, therefore I strive to let him go to his spots and leave him alone as much as possible.  

Tip 2: Get familiar with the pattern.

WJ: Anytime I arrive at a new arena I evaluate the set up. If open arena or practice time is allowed, then utilize the opportunity.  After that point I prepare for the run by being aware of the mental aspect of racing. During the run I breakdown each spot and like it when the run feels slow and am able to remember each aspect of the run. 

Tip 3: Know your horses.

WJ: Both (Mo and Mac) are so special and talented  and there is not a wrong horse to choose for a competition.  A few factors that may help in my decision to choose include Mo acclimates to a new area quite quickly, and Mac handles rodeo ground well. 

As for the arena size and shape, both the horses and I adjust quite easily. In my opinion, it’s fun to run in different sized and types of arenas.

The ground is a completely different topic, and one of my biggest areas of concern.  It can be very detrimental to compete on ground that is dangerous or not properly worked.  One injury can be a huge setback if not career ending.  That’s why I completely support a tractor drag at every five or six runners and commend committees that start ripping and working the ground prior to the start of an event.  

Tip 4: Understand the unique challenges of rodeo.

WJ: There is definitely a difference between barrel racing pens and the rodeo pens. At a rodeo, both you and your horse literally need to be able to handle anything and everything!

Last summer at one rodeo, right as I started to run in the arena, a lady pushing a stroller crossed my path. I had to pull up to let her pass, then resume to make my run. It’s the reality of rodeo and anything can happen.  It’s important to stay calm and think your way through any situation.  

Tip 5: Go for it.

WJ: For someone interested in competing at ProRodeo events, there is so much to learn! Majority of rodeos and the “in’s & out’s,” you learn through doing it and personally gaining the experience.  It helps to get insight from another competitor who has already has been there, but it’s great to ask questions. Even if some questions are not answered, it will usually point you in the right direction.  Most importantly, enjoy your time competing with such talented ladies and the time we get to spend with these incredible horses that try so hard for us.

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