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Why and How to Ride a Horse Bareback

Updated on April 15, 2012

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.

A horse with good withers is easier to ride bareback.
A horse with good withers is easier to ride bareback.
Horseback riding without saddles is a great feeling!
Horseback riding without saddles is a great feeling! | Source

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.

Watch this amazing horse and rider!

Bareback horsemanship:

Horseback riding bare back at a full gallop:

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    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      19 months ago from Georgia

      Horse girl, I used to love swimming with my horses. They seemed to enjoy it, too!

    • profile image

      Horse Girl 

      19 months ago

      I have been riding ever since I was 5 and I am now 16, I hate riding with a saddle, I just jump on and ride, most of the time I just put a halter on and put some clip on reigns on the side of it. In the summer my grandpa has a big fishing pond, and he lets us ride, swim, fish, whatever in there, so I take my horse (A mustang/something) and go swimming with her in the pond. I love it. I say a saddle gets in the way.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub Holly on how to ride a horse bareback. I love horses and haven't rode one in a long time. Voted up!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      5 years ago from Georgia

      Wheelin, great to hear from another horse lover! I'm glad riding helped with your physical problems. I began riding at the age of two! I've owned, trained, and bred lots of horses, and they're still "in my blood." Thanks!

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      5 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Habee I had no idea you were a rider. I have seen you around hubpages for a while now. Although I no longer ride I have been asked to help others train horses. Horses who accept a wheelchair close to them and a handicapped rider are in demand. For years I used a modified saddle which basicly locked me to the horse.

      Having been a rider from age 15 in ways this was hard to take. My training included riding bareback. It became my preference. Looking back I wouldn't trade a minute of it. When I started riding again I was totally paralized from the waist down. Two years later I had feeling and some use of my legs again.

      I honestly don't believe this would have happened if I hadn't started riding again. There is something about the jolting which changed things in my lower back. Where I had lived with constant back pain on top of being paralized this pain became tolerable.

      I managed one bareback ride which in reality was forced on me. It wasn't long and I didn't fall off. It was though the day the horse was sold.

      The prospective buyer told me he wouldn't buy the horse if it couldn't be ridden bareback. It was probably the most dangerous ride I had ever taken. When I started to slide the horse somehow stopped it. That day I also realized my life had changed forever. Never again would I truly feel I was truly part of a whole.

      Thanks for this hub. I thought I only had one hub about breaking horses in me. Creating this comment shows me I have more.

      When you love what you do it doesn't feel like work. As as teen I spent hours daily working with horses. The horses I worked with became part of me. When I rode bareback even more so. It truly was like being as one.

      You have my vote and my share.

    • renee21 profile image

      renee21 

      6 years ago

      I love riding bareback! My horse loves rolling in the dirt, so when I ride bareback, my pants always get filthy.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Flickr, I hope bare back riding is something that comes back to me! I haven't ridden in 3 or 4 years, but when I lose some more weight, I'd like to start riding again.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Mason, I feel the same way about horseback riding bareback. Wow, what a great rush of freedom to be galloping bareback!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      jenu, good to know you're a fellow horse lover!

    • profile image

      Flickr 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting, thanks for sharing. I think bareback is the way to go. I find it difficult for me to use a saddle now. Thanks for the read.

    • mason1966 profile image

      mason1966 

      6 years ago from Louisville, ky

      I love this article. I totally agree that it makes you a better rider. My grandfather started me bareback on a round back pony from the time I was sitting up til I guess I was old enough to put a saddle on myself. It gave me great balance. I also agree with the closeness between horse and rider. It is a natural way to ride and makes you and your horse feel like your one together.

    • profile image

      jenubouka 

      6 years ago

      I agree habee, growing up we had numerous horses and one particular always bucked, her name was Little bit, but after getting kicked off, many called her Little...well you know.

      It turned out she just hated the saddle and found the reigns uncomfortable, all she wanted was a blanket and a patience rider, I really learned how to ride when taking off the saddle.

      Great info and wonderful hub!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Sord, horseback riding is one of the best experiences in the world!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      drbj, I should have mentioned to find a non-greasy horse! lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Rosa, that is too funny - sounds like something I'd do! lol

    • profile image

      sord87 

      6 years ago

      Habee,It was my comment just now,the line suddenly off!Thanks for a great videos and stories!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      It was an amazing videos,the stories too!unfortunately I never had a chance yet for a horse ride,now i really have a good coach!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Amazing videos, Holle, amazing horses, and amazing riders. Just like you - right? I tried bareback riding once but kept sliding off. Someone must have greased the horse. :)

    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 

      6 years ago from Canada

      *blush* I thought the title of this was "Why and How to Ride a Horse BACKWARD!!" It definitely snagged my curiosity :-p LOL

      That moment of silliness on my part aside, this is a great topic and article. I haven't run across it often and it's good to learn more about it.

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