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Why and How to Ride a Horse Bareback
horse and rider tips
I’ve done a lot of horseback riding in my life and have ridden everything from Shetland ponies to draft horses. I’ve done a lot of different types of Western riding, including barrel racing, pleasure, trail riding, pole bending, and moving and cutting cattle. As a result, I’ve used all different types of Western saddles. I’ve also done a little English riding. I suppose my favorite type of informal riding, however, was always bareback riding. I’m not talking about bareback bronc riding here – I’m talking about riding horses bare back, with no saddle or blanket. This type of riding isn't just fun - it can also be a great training method for riders. You'll learn a lot more about your mount than you ever would by riding with a saddle - any type of saddle.
You wouldn’t think so to see me now, but when I was younger, I was very athletic, and I had an amazing sense of balance. I could jump on a pogo stick for hours, and my dad made me several pairs of stilts, or as he called them, “Tom walkers.” I took to the stilts like a fish to water, and Dad kept making me taller and taller pairs, to my enjoyment. I’m sure this balance helped me with my horseback riding endeavors. Balance is key to staying in the saddle, and for bareback riding, good balance is imperative. I learned to ride bareback so well that I could run barrels without a saddle, and I often raced other horses bare back, especially on my fast Quarter Horse-Thoroughbred mare.
Advantages of bareback riding
I’ve always believed that bareback riding could make you a better overall rider. Riding without a saddle makes the horse and rider closer, physically. There’s nothing between the horse and rider, so you get to feel practically every movement the horse makes. You learn to be more “in tune” with your mount and to anticipate its moves. In my opinion, riding bare back is the best way to learn how a horse moves. The animal can also feel your movements and cues more easily.
There’s a real sense of freedom with bareback riding. There’s nothing like bridling your mount and hopping on to take a ride. You don’t have to bother with saddle pads and saddles. I’ve found bareback riding to be especially enjoyable during the summer. I could always take advantage of any lakes or ponds we ran across while trail riding. Swimming with horses is an experience I always loved, and in the hot South Georgia summers, the horse and rider equally enjoyed the refreshing respite from the heat by taking a dip in cool water.
How to ride a horse bareback
I’ll tell you right up front that some horses are easier to ride bareback than are others. Equines a little on the lean side, with prominent withers, are easier to stay on. Round-backed animals with low withers are more challenging when it comes to bareback riding. That said, with enough practice and skill, any type of horse can be successfully ridden bare back.
If you’re a beginner with horseback riding, you might not want to start out riding bareback. Graduating to this level of horseback riding is more sensible. First, you need to get completely comfortable riding a horse with a saddle. Once you can gallop without holding onto the saddle horn, try riding without stirrups. You don’t need to remove the stirrups from the saddle – just take your feet out. By doing this, you’ll learn not to depend on using the stirrups for balance. Instead, your thigh and calf muscles will come into play. If you’re using a Western saddle, however, you’ll still have the cantle and the swells to help keep you in place.
For your next step in learning how to ride a horse bareback, you might want to consider a bare back saddle. Bare back saddles are usually thick pads with attached stirrups. Most also have a strap at the front that can be used for a handle, a substitute for the horn. Bare back saddles, in most cases, lack the cantle and swells, so they can get you accustomed to riding without their security.
When you first begin with bareback saddles, use the stirrups until you get completely comfortable and confident. At that point, begin taking your feet out of the stirrups occasionally. Start at the walk, and progress to the trot, lope, and full gallop. Once you can gallop comfortably and securely in a bare back saddle, without using the stirrups or the hand strap, you’re ready for real bareback riding!
By this time, your calf and thigh muscles should be developed enough for bareback riding. Also, your sense of balance should be much improved. When you first start riding bare back, you’ll probably want to grab a handful of mane. After some practice, however, you won’t need the mane or anything else. If you’re like me, you’ll find that you really won’t even need your leg muscles much. Your balance will keep you ahorse. The horse and rider will practically become one entity.
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