If you barrel race, you probably use or have seen riders use their saddle horn when going around a barrel. I have read several articles, watched videos, and gone to clinics that say people tend to use their saddle horn wrong!! They are right too!
If used wrong, you may hit barrels, lose balance, lose control of the horses head and add seconds on to your run!
Hitting a barrel could be due to how you are using your horn. If you are heading into the barrel and grab your horn too early, obviously you are dropping your outside rein. You should know that when using two hands, the inside rein guides and the outside rein keeps the horse balanced. When you let go of the outside rein too early coming into that barrel, it will unbalance the horse and can cause you to hit the barrel. If you have a horse that tends to lean into the barrel and drop their shoulder a "barrel hunter" as I refer to them as, well you need to push them through that point where you would normally grab your horn especially if your horse starts slowing down to early. I used to have a horse like this who knew whenever I grabbed that horn, he knew it was time to turn...I later started pushing him past the barrels and then grabbing my horn and turning. We did so much better. Otherwise a good place to grab your horn is right after your "rate spot" where you are starting to sit in that saddle more.
Another problem is you lose your balance if you aren't holding the horn right. Ever see those people who come out of the saddle AND were even holding their horn (or perhaps that's happened to you...) this is because you arent using it to steady yourself and rather just holding it. Move with the horse. It will be a much more comfortable ride rather than holding on and not going with the horse around that turn and really feeling him.
Hmm you lose control...probably because you take your hand off the outside rein to early just like I talked about before. Except this time, if you have more of a powerhouse, you may be pulling that horse to much with your inside rein and holding on incorrectly on that horn. This may cause him to lose balance also and he may sidestep out of that turn more also costing you seconds. Really wait till your around your rating spot or even on the back side of that barrel before you grab the horn. I have noticed with my horse as previously mentioned, if I grabbed the horn too early, he would go right into that barrel no matter how much I lifted my inside rein to get his shoulder off of it and he would trip. I was causing him to lose his balance and footing.
So how do you fix these problems?
Well, grab the horn when you feel you need to. If you have a horse that likes to slow down early. Don't even think about grabbing that horn till you are near that barrel because you need to push him to it!! Then when you get near that backside, grab the horn. Where if you have a horse that knows his job, then after you rate him and he's ready to turn that barrel, sit and grab that horn. When holding the horn most riders just use it to stabilize themselves. What you really want to do is take your hand and push against that horn when your in your first part of the turn. What this does is pushes you into the seat and actually gets the horse on its hind end. Then as you are coming out of the turn, you want to pull up on the horn so you come out of the saddle. What this does is gets you in sync with your horse.
If you are sitting down when you come out of that turn while your horse is getting back up to speed, you are going to fall behind. If you pull up, you get right with your horse so you don't fall behind and slow him down.
Hope this helped!! People probably have different opinions on how to use it but this advice has come from a lot of different people including Martha Josey, Charmayne James, and Sharon Camarillo.
If you have any things to add on, Id love to hear them!!!