Whether you are making a barrel run, galloping your horse or riding a colt using the saddle horn is more than just a tool to help you stay on your horse! Your ability to stay balanced while allowing the horse to move freely can truly be enhanced by your technique and timing in using the horn.
How you hold the horn matters. In the first photo, the rider is holding the top of the saddle horn and pushing her seat against the back of the saddle. This position assists the rider in staying on however during fast work it often results in the rider’s upper body getting behind the motion by bracing on the top of the horn. The likelihood of loosing a stirrup is increased since she is anchored into her seat and there is not as much weight in the stirrups.
Holding the horn with a firm grip on the throat and focusing on pulling your weight down into your feet and seat enables you to have strength and balance in your horsemanship. In the second photo you can see the rider holding the throat of the horn with her feet, seat and core all in alignment. This powerful position allows the rider to stay balanced and help the horse drive through the turn. Additionally the rider can use her entire leg to drive and help the horse as necessary.
In the third photo the rider is pulling through the horn, using her stirrups and is shifting her balance forward with her horse as the horse finishes the turn. This helps the horse drive forward and leave straight and strong while finishing the barrel. Use of the horn helps the rider avoid balancing off of the horses mouth! And staying on the horn for at least two strides away from the barrel allows the horse to build speed. It also gives the rider a chance to stay balanced while reaching for the outside rein. Remember to stay slow with your hands for smooth and consistent performance.
There are times that it might be necessary to stay two handed during a run to help a horse that is green or when running on shifty ground. There are also riders that think they do not need to use the horn or they don’t trust their horses to turn and finish barrels one handed. Often times the horse learns to lean on the bridle or the rider pulls on the reins through the finish. This can end up in stalling the horses front end or the horse throwing it’s head. Training your horse and then allowing him to work takes a leap of faith! In our next article we will talk more about the timing of using the horn and drills to make taking this leap of faith muscle memory. Remember that “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes Permanent!”