I love this sport. It's a bit of my thing, I'm OCD about everything about the sport from what horses should be doing it to how people should be riding the runs. It disappoints me how much bad horsemanship I see in the sport, everything from kicking the living hell out of the horses to clinging to the horn for dear life to yanking on the horse's mouth to jerking around uncontrollably on the saddle.
It all doesn't matter, as long as the run is fast. So I'm going to share with you my idea of a good barrel racing turn and a bad one, pulled off of a Google image search.
First, a bad one.
First off, what's with being able to fit the universe between your butt and the saddle? Second of all, the hands are straining at the reins and the horn because clearly a solid seat and legs aren't going to keep her on the horse, so we'll rely on its spine and poor, sensitive mouth (click here to see a full picture, complete with BIG LONG SHANKS on the bit...) and the hopes that the horse doesn't decide it doesn't like the hat the lady on the other side of the ring is wearing and takes off in the other direction (seriously, how would she stay on? Not a hope in hell).
There's the legs with the toes down and out, heels pressed into the sides for dear life (most likely the reason for flying out of the saddle) and the look on the horse's face says it all. Head up, neck stiff and tense, shallow stride, wide turn, ears back and a snarly look on the face that says "LADY LET GO OF MY MOUTH!" At least the horse is on the right lead.
Here is another horrible position to be in. We'll let you figure out what's wrong on your own... but I can tell you one thing, your legs don't belong THERE.
Here is an example of a good barrel turn.
I would like to see the heels come down, but the legs are quiet and gentle (the probable reason for the toes being down is that the stirrups don't seem to be in use at all, which is a good sign of balance), the balance of the rider is properly turned upward and staying in center. The hands are sitting quiet and forward without straining to the side on a huge curb, the horse is turning close, tight, and quick (note how far in he's leaning), and the rider is looking where she's going. She looks to be in balance and working hard for the horse. My other complaint besides the toes is how the horse's nose is for some reason turned out, likely a product of being checked for trying to turn too fast because the rest of the body is going into the turn nicely. But notice how relaxed this horse seems compared to the picture above. He's just doing his job. The other one looks like he'd shatter if you prodded him with a chisel.
It's just a nicer picture all-round. All it is is basic horsemanship...
When I was just four years old and in riding lessons, my trainer always told me that touching the horn would burn the horse. I knew, of course, she wasn't serious (it was the middle of winter!) but I used that to never cling to the horn and learned to rely on my balance. I never learned to ride with stirrups until I was eleven years old.
And speaking of four-year-old me... I have to hunt that picture down. Little me on a big horse in a class full of adults.
And how hard are you booting your poor animal that your heels are coming this far out from the horse's sides? Ouch.