Holding onto the saddle horn when riding horses has gotten a bad rap, and I’d like to dispel the myths surrounding this important part of our horsemanship.
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Myth: Riding with a hand on the horn is just for beginners.
Fact: Top riders in all disciplines rely on the horn to help their horse and themselves. Picture your favorite world-class professional—in barrel racing turning a barrel, in reined cow horse during herd work, and even team roping when leaving the box—and I guarantee you that they have one hand on the reins and one hand on the horn when making a difficult maneuver. Having one hand on the horn keeps the rider’s weight in the middle of the saddle for the horse’s sake, keeping the rider balanced by not throwing too much weight one direction or the other.
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Myth: Riding with a hand on the horn is only for turning a barrel or cutting a cow.
Fact: Riding with one hand on the horn is safe for any type of riding. Even when trail riding, your horse can trip at any time, throwing you out of the saddle. Practicing keeping a hand on the horn and steering with one hand is a good tool for safety on rugged terrain or even on a flat surface, just in case your horse stumbles. When you are properly balanced in the seat of your saddle, if your horse trips, you can steady him by picking up on the reins. If you are out of balance and riding with two hands on the reins, there is a chance that your horse could pull you over to his neck and stumble severely with out any assistance from you to steady his balance.
Practice barrel racing with pop-up barrels.
Myth: Riding with a hand on the horn is a crutch.
Fact: When a rider uses two hands on the reins, that rider may not realize that he or she is sending mixed signals (or even failing to send signals) to the horse with their legs or body weight. Many times, horses are even more responsive to body language than to the reins, which most top horsemen know. So while it seems like it would be more effective to use both hands on the reins to get your horse to respond to a cue, you could actually be making them more dull by pulling on their mouth without proper body language to assist the cue. Riding one-handed, even when riding for fun, is a good way to build muscle memory for the body language signals you may want to send later. At the same time, you’re getting a feel for how to use the hand that’s on the reins without pulling too much or too little to get the response you’re looking for. Riding one-handed, even when riding for fun, is a good way to build muscle memory for the body language signals you may want to send later.
Myth: A rider should clutch the horn with all their strength to stay balanced.
Fact: The proper way to hold the horn is to lay your palm across the top of the horn cap. Let your fingers rest naturally around the sides of the horn. Use the heel of your hand to lightly push forward against the horn cap which will push your hips slightly down into the seat of your saddle. This technique will give you to best stability into the saddle no matter which event you are enjoying! H&R