Former world champion barrel racer Mary Burger offers instruction for achieving a balanced and effective body position in the saddle.
Question: I am a total novice, new to barrel racing in the last year. I bought a good horse to start (and a good saddle, leg equipment, etc.), so I'm pretty set (and broke). I have trouble getting set down in my saddle. Most videos of me show that I lean forward, which throws the horse and me completely off. I try, I really do. Do you have any advice for sitting deep and when and how to prepare for turns? I have an "automatic" horse that knows the pattern and knows it well. This is all me. And I'm tired of looking ridiculous. Thanks! -- Kim Drautz
Mary Burger. Credit: Kenneth Springer
Answer: Hi Kim, you need to really get yourself mentally prepared for what you need to do. Go through sitting exercises everyday so that it becomes routine for you.
A very important part of all of this is making sure the stirrups on your saddle are properly adjusted at the correct length. You need to stand up in your saddle and still have room to be able to put a fist under you. This will allow you to use your legs properly and I like to say that you use your legs as springs.
First, prepare yourself mentally to sit a little more straight up and not be bent too far over your horse. If you lean too far forward, your hands are inclined to get somewhat out of control; your feet go behind you, and it ultimately your body is out of control and out of position.
Second, keep your feet positioned directly beneath your center of gravity where they are at least straight up and down, as if you could draw an imaginary line from your shoulder to your hip to your foot. It’s also important with body position that you don’t throw your hands too far in front of the saddle horn. You want to keep your hands a little up, but not forward, and it will help you maintain correct body position in the saddle. When your hands get too far forward, your body weight gets thrown forward. This cues the horse to turn, but also causes the horse to lose position/balance and will make the turn rough.
Working on this everyday and remembering to sit correctly in the saddle will help you build muscle memory. You don’t have to work on this on the barrel pattern every day. Body position is something you can work on when you are just working your horse loping circles. Practice sitting down and cueing your horse to rate by sitting down in the saddle. Concentrate on your body position all the time when you ride. You want to sit more straight in the saddle keeping your hips really in the middle of your saddle while keeping your feet under you.
To answer the question of properly approaching the turn; since your horse is automatic your best approach would be to keep your hand a little to the inside of the rein and sit straight up. When your horse gets where he would have one more stride before he is going to turn, so you must to be prepared and positioned in the saddle so that you don’t get into your horse’s mouth too much and cause him to be off balance. With an automatic horse, I usually tell people to concentrate more on riding with one hand and keeping one hand on the saddle horn. This helps you maintain your balance and sit still.
Finally, I’ll say it again – just be sure your stirrups are the right length since this is critical to the body position tips I’ve outlined.
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