Barrel racing is all about timing and smoothness and sitting down deep in your saddle and getting up and going fast. And also staying on, in the middle of your horse.

This is what the saddle horn is for. It is there to aide you in making that winning run. It helps you to sit deep and get up and be smooth and go fast. Never overlook the value of a saddle horn for a barrel racer.

Whatever your preference, more upright, forward, a little tipped back, small, tall, fat or skinny, just please hang on. Your saddle horn can also help you to keep your horse under control by giving you leverage. But don’t get me wrong here, grabbing the saddle horn too early, or hanging on too much, can be a detriment also.

I have watched many videos, even some of mine, where the barrel racer grabs the reins too soon when finishing a turn. This leaves them only to balance on their horse’s head as the power of his hindquarters goes to drive away from the turn. I have seen this same scenario for those racers trying to go fast and run a whole barrel pattern with two hands on the reins. Never use your reins for balance.

Hanging onto the reins in the turns and not steadying yourself for and through the turns can also give mixed signals to your horse. Getting thrown back on your horse by the G forces can also cause you to jerk his head in the air. But, if you think you are a strong enough rider to ride two handed with your reins loose, well then you may not be close enough in contact to be able to help your horse in that split second when needed.

Don’t grab the horn too early or hang onto it for the whole run either. When holding the horn, we are sitting down, riding flat in our saddle, definitely not up in the go fast position. So don’t hang on that horn to long. That position will slow you down.

A barrel racer needs to use the horn to push herself deep into the saddle about two strides before each barrel. Upon leaving a turn, pull up with the saddle horn. Then about two strides out go back to two hands on the reins to urge the horse forward and to guide for that perfect position to turn the next barrel. Ride two-handed to leave the third barrel.

Going into an arena or up the alley, I like to have one hand on the reins and maybe the other on the horn or petting my horse on the rear. This leaves me sitting down deep and not up in the go position. If I am not leaning forward with both hands on the reins, I am not in the go position. This will help to keep my horse calmer. Once we are to the place where I want to take off, I will put two hands and be in the forward go position in my saddle. Try this: sit in a chair, lean forward with your hands out in front of you as on the reins. See how tight the muscles in your legs get. Now, sit back in your chair and just see how much more your leg muscles relax. Remember, we are dealing with an animal that can feel a fly, let alone the tenseness in your seat.

When the rider gets to about one or two strides from the turn when going fast, grab that saddle horn. That is why they put it there. If you are turning right first, your left hand should go for the horn as your right hand is a little to the inside of the rein and vice versa for a left hand turn. About three inches to the right of center on the rein. This is where a professional can help if you need to know exactly where to put your hands. The reins with knots on them can help also.

About one or two strides from the barrel, tighten both reins to gather your horse, sit deep in your saddle drop the outside rein and grab the horn. Hold the horn again for about two strides out of the turn and away from the barrel. Repeat the same maneuver at all three barrels. Ride two-handed to leave the third barrel. This way you are up and out of the saddle urging your horse home fast.

When I go into the turn and grab the horn, I like to grab underneath a little with my thumb on the top. I feel a little stronger this way. My personal preference is for an all leather horn, not rawhide. The rawhide ones can seem a little rough. I like a horn about three inches tall with a good sized horn cap, about two inches across. I want it to feel sturdy and not so small that it pokes my hand. Not as big as most roping saddles either. My hand would never be able to fit all the way around it. But, choose the one that feels the most comfortable to you. Beginners should talk to professionals and try some different saddles to see what is comfortable for them.

May your horse always run smooth and fast and your saddle horn always be within your grasp. Beep, beep!

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