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Riding Your Horse Bareback

If you’ve only ever ridden with the saddle, you don’t actually know how to ride. That may seem like a dramatic statement, but there is a huge difference between learning how to ride with the saddle and learning how to ride with just a horse. When you ride bareback you are in close contact with your horse.

You’re able to feel and move freely with the rhythm of the horse. You soon learn to anticipate his movements and his thoughts, and vice-versa. When you ride bareback, your horse is in closer contact with you and is better able to understand what you want from him.

Riding bareback makes you a stronger rider because you’re not dependent on the saddle to hold you in the correct position. Instead, you constantly use your core muscles, thigh muscles and glutes to maintain your position and move in harmony with your horse.

Riding bareback also helps build your balance both on horseback and on the ground. All of this combined improves your posture and helps you become a stronger and more flexible rider and person.

Is Riding Bareback Harder Than Riding With A Saddle?

is riding bareback harder than riding with a saddle

If you’re used to riding with saddle, you may find that riding bareback tires you out quickly at first. At first, start out riding bareback for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. As with any other physical exercise, practice makes perfect. Riding bareback more often and challenging yourself and your horse with faster gaits and more difficult movements will eventually build up your strength so that you can ride bareback for extended periods of time.

When you ride bareback you can perfect your communication with your horse. You’ll find that you use your reins less and less and use the shifting of your body weight, light leg cues and your thoughts more and more.

Should You Throw Out Your Saddle?

If you’re a horse man or woman who “couldn’t ride” with any saddle but your own, you are no rider at all. A consummate horse man or woman should be able to ride bareback, Western and English. You don’t necessarily need to be able to master either Western or English disciplines perfectly, but you should be able to ride any type of saddle and ride without a saddle comfortably and securely.

The way to get to that point is to learn to ride bareback first and then graduate to riding with a saddle. If you do this, you will probably find that riding bareback is your preferred method of riding. You may decide to use a bareback pad or treeless saddle as your every day saddle and turn to more confining tack for showing and rodeo needs.

When you do ride with a saddle, you are sure to find that riding bareback has made you more secure in the saddle. When you ride bareback you develop your hip and thigh muscles and your reactions and responses. If you’re riding in a situation where your horse may be subjected to unexpected surprises, you’ll find that you’re able to adapt and respond more quickly and stay in the saddle more securely.

How Do You Get On?

There are several ways to mount up when riding bareback. Among them are:

  1. Stand on a mounting block or similar stable object and swing your right leg over your horse’s back.
  2. Get a “leg-up” from a bystander.
  3. Vault up from a flat-footed standstill.
  4. Stand by your horse’s withers on the near side (left side) , jump up to put your waist over your horse’s withers and then swing your right leg over his back.

Which method you choose will depend on your athletic abilities, the size and temperament of your horse and the resources you have available to you. It’s a good idea to practice several different methods. It’s not smart to be dependent on a mounting block or a friend to give you a leg up. If you happen to be thrown or to fall from your horse, you could end up walking a long distance if you aren’t able to mount up on your own.

Be Safe When You Ride Bareback

be safe when you ride bareback

Like many people, many horses are unfamiliar with riding bareback these days. If your horse has never been ridden bareback before, he may react strangely at first. This is because your weight will be distributed differently when you ride bareback than when you ride with the saddle. It is more concentrated towards the front, near your horse’s withers.

This is actually easier for him since horses carry most of their weight on their front legs and having your weight forward puts less stress on your horse’s spine. Even so, you and your horse may need to practice a bit to get used to this new sensation.

It’s always a good idea to start off any new practice in your riding in a safe area. Go to a round pen or an arena with the soft surface underfoot. Start off at the walk and only proceed to trotting and going through your regular routines once you and your horse both feel comfortable with riding bareback.

Good posture when riding bareback is a must for both safety and comfort. You should sit up straight with your head up and your shoulders back. Be careful not to cling to the reins or grip with your heels. You’ll want to stay on your horse’s back by the virtue of your balance and the strength of your thighs. You can also hold onto the mane if you want to.

Remember the old pony club rhyme:

Your head and heart keep up.
Your hands and heels keep down.
Your knees close to your horse’s sides
And your elbows close to your own.

Keep your legs relaxed and your “sit-bones” settled on your horse’s back. Hold your shoulders down. Don’t hunch them up near your ears. Your silhouette on horseback should be tall, straight and rather proud.

Once you’ve mastered bareback riding, you are sure to enjoy the spontaneity it can bring to good horsemanship. Riding bareback can be very freeing because you don’t have to bother with a lot of tacking up. If you just want a quick spin, you can give your horse a good brushing, bridle up, hop on and go.

Tips For Riding Bareback

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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