The Rider’s Mind Podcast Episode 87: Interview with Leslie Kinsel

I may have had a fangirl moment when Leslie Kinsel replied to one of my newsletter emails. My email was about the concerns I have with the barrel racing industry and how it can be hard to watch the lack of horsemanship. Leslie offered to help, so I took her up on that offer and she’s here to help by sharing her wisdom.  


Leslie Kinsel has a background as both a horse trainer and a lawyer.  She is also the mother of 3 time World Champion Barrel Racer, Hailey Kinsel. 

This is a synopsis of the interview.  Listen to the audio for the entire episode and context.

Michelle: The way we connected was because you read and replied to my email about how I can’t handle watching barrel racing. I was taking a stand that things need to change because there are some things that go on that aren’t kind to horses and it’s hard to watch at times. I feel we need to be more responsible for ourselves and how we’re preparing and treating our horses. 

Would you share your thoughts on this? What’s happening out there from your perspective and how can we all work together to encourage this change?

Leslie: I’ve seen the same things you have. There is a lack of horsemanship at the barrel races I watch too. You mentioned that there is often a focus on improving the horse, but our focus needs to be on being a better teammate with our horse and doing things better together. Most of the time that starts with becoming a better horse person. It starts with becoming all we can be, learning all we can learn and doing the best we can do by these animals who are dependent on us. 

I think all kids should get some foundational knowledge about horses, including confirmation and nutrition. I had some great learning opportunities as I grew up and I try to help out with our local 4H club to support their learning. I also spent a lot of time teaching Hailey about horsemanship every day as we worked with our horses. 

Michelle: I understand that you have a lot of experience in horsemanship through your time working for Buster Welsh and Wanda Bush, plus the years of training your own. 

We hear lots of talk about horsemanship, but what can the horse person do to better themselves so that they show up as a better partner to their horses?

Leslie: Pray regularly. Practice patience. Patience is a virtue and a necessary characteristic. Don’t go to the barn without it or things will likely go wrong. Keep working on your character.

Working for those other trainers, I learned to keep my eyes and ears open. The learning moments can be fleeting. Watching them was a huge opportunity to learn. I could see how they did things and when they did things. 

If you don’t have a 4H club or mentor, go to a big event where there are some pros running and watch them. I went to a big race last week and watching those professionals in the warm up arena was enlightening. 

Michelle: I saw something on Facebook that said horse’s stress signals are being normalized.

What do you think of that claim? Are we missing the mark a lot of times and missing signs of stress? What do you look for as signs of stress in a horse?

Leslie: If there is truth to that, then shame on us and we need to do better. And I think there likely is some truth to that. We get used to seeing horses prance around and think it’s normal to have “the crazy barrel horse”. I took pride that my barrel horses were not crazy, but I spent a lot of time on my horses to make them calm. We can do that. We shouldn’t just accept that barrel horses prance around. 

We also need to keep in mind that right before your run, your horse should be amped and bouncing a bit. But, if it’s outside of that time, they should be relaxed. They reflect you. If you’re relaxed, they should be relaxed. If they aren’t relaxed, it’s probably your fault. You either are too tight in your body or you haven’t spent enough time riding them to get your signals consistent. There needs to be a “go” signal and a “relax” signal with your body position and cues.

Michelle: What precautions would you take through the training process to maintain physical soundness?

Leslie: There is a calendar that explains the structural development of a horse (you can search for this information online). Horses continue to grow (in height) and develop for about the first four years and then continue to get fatter. My caution is to be careful what you do on horses in the early years when their skeleton is still growing. Be aware that you’re on a growing body. You might need to go slow and take breaks.

Give horses the breaks they need. Many of the horses that run at the NFR get a long break after. Schedule in mini-vacations for your horse. 

I also rely on my vet a lot. For example, when Sister had been off due to an injury, I asked him if he had recommendations for bringing her back into training and he recommended a plan. 

Whatever you can do to extend your horse’s life and make them more comfortable, including rest and vacation, do those things. Find out what’s best and pursue the best. Pursue excellence. 

Michelle: If we are on the road and we are winning, how do we consider the horse’s mind so they stay mentally sound? How do we keep them enjoying their job?

Leslie: You have to work harder at it on the road. You might need to ask around and find a place you can go and trail ride. For example, at the NFR, we tried to take time to get Sister outside every day. I try to find a spot where horses can graze and relax. Take breaks with them. Get them out of the stall and walk them around, even if it’s just up and down the aisles of the barn. 

Michelle: It’s one thing to climb your way to the top, but it’s another to stay up there and not choke under the expectations of being the best. What advice would you give to someone who might be feeling pressure to win again?

Leslie: I would ask someone who has been there for advice on that. For Hailey, she pushed herself so hard, that I usually advised her to lower her expectations. I encouraged her to be realistic and set some smaller goals on the way to a big one. That way you can celebrate successes, even if you don’t reach the big goal. 

I think it’s important to have some sort of coach in your life. It can be a performance coach or mentor that can help you. 

Michelle: As you watch these barrel racers at the top of their game, what attributes do you think they have as far as their mindset goes? How do you think competitors stay at the top of their game mentally?

Leslie: The competitors I have observed are very serious, very diligent and attentive to detail, but are also quick to laugh. They keep a sense of humour. So much of it is out of their control. They roll with the punches and are adaptable. They focus on the positive and minimize the negative. They pay attention to detail and have a routine. They are focused on their job.

Michelle: What advice would you give parents to help their children and teens grow up to be responsible, kind, respectful horse people? 

Leslie: Responsible, respectful and kind are character traits we should be practising every day, at home and everywhere we go. We need to model those things for them. They learn best by watching us. 

Having pets is good practice. We teach kids that animals’ needs come first. At our house, the horses eat, the dogs eat and then we eat.

Michelle: The barrel racing industry as a whole is growing and there seems to be more money on the line. How do we run a good business while also being kind to horses? 

Leslie: There’s always the danger that we make decisions that are good for the bottom dollar, but not for the people and animals we’re working with. We need to be aware of that and work extremely harm to counteract that. If we don’t work hard at that, we could be shut down for animal welfare reasons. 

We need to police our own industry and be aware of the issues. We want to keep control, so we can protect ourselves and our horses. We need to speak up when there are animal welfare issues and to be the best stewards that we can be of our animals.

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