Bareback riding – it’s all about balance

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bareback riding

Removing your saddle and going for a bareback ride is a great way to improve your riding skills and better communicate with your horse. But before you mount up, make sure you know how to do so safely.

Riding bareback isn’t just fun – it can help make you a better rider and improve communication between you and your horse. When riding bareback, you can no longer depend on your saddle and stirrups to keep you centered. Instead, you have to rely on your balance. Periodic bareback rides can help develop and improve your balance, which will benefit your stability in the saddle.

Bareback benefits for horse and rider

When it comes to riding successfully, communication is key. Bareback riding helps you learn more about your horse’s movement and become more aware of what’s going on beneath you. When you remove the saddle and go for a ride, you can feel every change in movement as your horse walks, trots or canters. This awareness can help you learn to use your body more effectively – both to communicate with your horse and to avoid interfering with her movement.

Equipment choices

A bareback pad can make bareback riding more comfortable for both you and your horse. Bareback pads come in many different styles, so as you shop, look for one that’s thick enough to offer quality shock absorption. Many pads have a sticky underside to help keep them from sliding, while others have breastplate attachments to further keep them in place. Fleece pads tend to be a little more slippery, so a pad made out of a felt or wool material may be a better choice.

Many bareback pads feature stirrups, which can be dangerous. Because the bareback pad is treeless, it’s possible for the pad to slip down around the horse if you fall off, and you could get hung up in the stirrup. Because of the lack of tree, the stirrups also put direct pressure on your horse’s spine. If you’re going to ride bareback, go all the way – no stirrups.

If you don’t have access to a bareback pad, your clothes may feel unusually slippery against your horse’s hair. Wearing full-seat breeches can help give you a little more stick and security. Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t wear spurs when riding bareback.

Safety precautions

  • Riding bareback makes for an unusual sensation and will quickly expose your bad habits. Before you consider riding bareback, make sure you have an independent seat and don’t rely on the reins to keep your balance. Without an independent seat, you may accidentally pull on the reins to keep yourself balanced, which can result in an unhappy horse and possibly a fall for you.
  • Try to take your first ride on a horse who has been ridden bareback many times before. More sensitive horses might react differently when you mount up without a saddle. It’s also a good idea to enlist a friend to help hold the horse, and possibly even lunge her while you ride.
  • Start your ride with the horse saddled. This will give you a chance to get her focused on the task at hand, while also achieving a sense of her mental state. If your horse is having an “off” day and is unusually spooky or reactive, then reschedule your bareback ride for when she’s calmer.
  • Last but not least, don’t forget your helmet! Riding bareback may be a freeing experience, but if your horse spooks or stumbles and you fall off, a helmet will protect you from serious head injuries.

Top 5 tips for a great bareback ride

  1. Invest in a quality bareback pad. This can help keep you and your horse comfortable and give you a better grip.
  2. Grab some mane, but focus on sitting upright and don’t allow yourself to lean forward.
  3. Drape your legs down and around your horse. Keep your toes up or level with your heel, and don’t clamp your legs against her sides.
  4. Relax. The more you tense your legs, the more difficult it will be to move with your horse. Instead, rely on your balance rather than your strength.
  5. Watch your horse’s body language for signs that she’s uncomfortable, like hollowing her back or raising her head.

Getting started

Before you head out for your first bareback ride, practice riding without stirrups. This will help to refine your balance, which you’ll need to rely on when riding without a saddle.

For the first few bareback rides, stick to an enclosed ring or round pen. These safe spaces will lend a bit more structure to your ride, and will give you an opportunity to brush up on your horse’s halt. Make sure she’ll readily stop or slow down when you ask her to, even if you’re off-balance at the time.

Start by walking in a straight line to develop your skills. Then, add some turns, circles and even some backing up. As you develop your balance and confidence, progress to the trot. Much as when you ride the sitting trot, resist the urge to bump up and down. Instead, visualize your hips swinging forward and backward in a figure-eight motion with your horse’s body. Feel free to grab hold of the mane with one hand if you’re feeling unsteady, but don’t forget to keep your shoulders back and your torso upright.

It will take some time before you learn to ride bareback confidently, so be patient with yourself and your horse. Keep your bareback sessions short and focus on staying relaxed and in balance – and most importantly, have fun!