January 7

9 comments

Bareback Riding- Warm Up Your Lessons

By TheRidingInstructor

January 7, 2016

Alycia Burton, bareback, bareback riding, Dr. Joyce Harmon, feel, independent seat, Jimmie Bergqvist, riding, seat, security, warm up

It’s winter. It’s cold.  What better way to warm up your lessons than by including bareback riding? Pull saddles off and give your students a leg up on those nice furry backs.

Bareback naysayers will tell you:

It feels weird:

Bareback riding is a very different sensation from riding in a saddle. Riders who are only used to riding a horse with a saddle are surprised to feel the horse’s back muscles moving beneath them, making them feel unstable. They’re not used to feeling the horse’s skin move either. Many riders have never actually felt the horse’s muscles work before.

I may fall off:

It’s true. Students can slide off the horse more easily when first learning to ride without the saddle but developing security while riding bareback should be incentive to try. Once students begin to develop muscle and balance, they’ll lose the insecure feeling. And if a rider is secure bareback they’re likely to be more secure in the saddle.

Bareback riding is bad for your horse:

You may hear that riding bareback is bad for the horse’s back. This is a flawed statement because any riding would be classified as bad for your horse’s back. In fact, studies have shown that there are fewer pressure points on the horse’s back when ridden bareback than when ridden with a saddle.  Check out this article on Biomechanics  by Dr. Joyce Harman, author of The Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book. Horses have been ridden bareback for as long as horses have been ridden. Riding without a saddle incorrectly, abusively or for extremely long periods could cause harm to a horse’s back but the same would occur with a saddle. Riding a horse for which you are too heavy could cause a sore back, but so will riding with a saddle and the saddle adds another 13 or so pounds to the horse. If your horse has a healthy back, is the right size for the rider, and is ridden correctly, many enjoyable hours can be spent riding bareback.

It’s helpful, particularly for adults, to have the rudimentary knowledge of riding and controlling the horse before embarking on bareback lessons. And it’s easier on the horse if the rider has learned how to sit and use basic aids. Small children benefit from learning to ride bareback from the start.

The Benefits of Bareback Riding

I’m not advocating that we have a garage sale and get rid of the saddles in favor of riding off into the sunset, closer to nature and closer to the horse, but from an instructor’s standpoint, teaching bareback lessons has many advantages for students.

Developing feel:

However impossible it is to teach feel, it is possible to set up situations that give students the opportunity to develop feel. Bareback riding is one of those opportunities. During bareback rides students have actual contact with the horse as opposed to having a saddle tree, padding and two layers of leather between rider’s seat and horse. Your rider will be able to identify the feel movement of the horse’s back leg faster from the way the back muscles flex. They’ll be able to feel the back muscles working for various gaits. They will also be able to identify whether or not they are centered on the horse.

An Independent Seat

Riding bareback helps develop a rider’s balance, which helps to develop their seat. Without the support structure of the saddle and stirrups the rider is more aware of their balance and is given more opportunity make adjustments.These adjustments are arrived at by sitting correctly rather than bracing off feet or any part of a saddle.

Strengthens Legs and buttock muscles

When students ride bareback their muscles are continuously moving and making tiny theridinginstructor.net Warm up your lessons with bareback ridingadjustments, much like sitting on an exercise ball but better.

Increase concentration, relaxation, and confidence

Bareback riders learn to concentrate on and become more aware of the horse’s and their own body parts. Plus, stretching legs down and following the movement of the horse will help riders relax. And finally succeeding at bareback riding is a huge boost to a student’s confidence.

And then there’s the benefit that started this post-

Sitting on a horse’s warm back is a great way to give cold, winter riding lessons, to say nothing of the element of fun it can add to lessons.

Teaching bareback

Horse and Equipment

  • Horse size – Choose an appropriately sized horse with low withers and a fleshy back. This is one lesson that those hard keeping TBs may have to stay in the barn because even the quietest horse can be a miserable bareback ride if he has very high withers.
  • Horse Temperament – Choose a quiet horse that is accustomed to being ridden bareback.
  • Assistants – be sure to have assistants for each horse until your students feel confident without the saddle.
  • Neck Straps -It’s a good idea to give students a neck strap especially on horses with pulled manes. This gives them something to hold on to.
  • Bareback pads – I don’t recommend using bareback pads, or blankets because they can cause a false sense of security for the rider and they have a tendency to slip.

Ist step: Mounting

Mounting can be the hardest part for some students and the easiest for others. Decide whether you’ll give students a leg up or if you will have them brace with their hands and lean across the horse’s back in order to swing a leg over. This video is a brilliant display of ways to mount the horse bareback. You’ll be able to choose the correct method for your lessons. I think you’ll agree that Jimmie Bergkvist has bareback mounting nailed.

 

 

Riding

  • Have riders sit close to the withers.
  • Encourage your rider to sit up with self carriage and discourage slouching.
  • Have the rider stretch their legs long explaining which part of the leg may be used to press into the horse. In this respect it’s no different than riding with a saddle – students need to turn from the hip so the knee points forward rather than out and any gripping they do should be done with thigh, knee, and upper calf.
  • Explain that you don’t want your student to wrap their lower leg around the horse to “hang on” as that will send the horse forward.

Beginning

For beginners or anyone who is unsure, I have my assistant lead the horse at a walk. The student holds the next strap but not the reins, until I’m sure they won’t use them as hand holds to stay on the horse. We do a series of changes of direction, weaving in and around obstacles, to get the riders used to the feel of the horse’s back and to help their stability. Once the rider is confident, she picks up the reins and the assistant leaves the horse’s side.

The Possibilities are Limitless

The photo at the beginning of Alycia Burton (photo credit freeridingnz) jumping without bridle, saddle, or hands shows the possibilities are limitless in bareback riding. You can include all of the exercises, games and gaits that you use with a saddle. For students that are willing to invest the time into bareback lessons, you can teach rising trot and jumping. And you can’t beat bareback riding for taking horses swimming.

But, of course this is winter and it’s cold. There’s no better way to warm up your lessons than by including bareback riding.

Here’s to great lessons and all of the good riding instructors out there!

Barbara Ellin Fox
TheRidingInstructor.net
USHorsemanship.com

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  • Hi
    I have only just found your article.
    The thing I regret is that Health and Safety is stopping this at so many riding schools.
    I was started bareback with a numnah and surcingle as a bit of padding and had to earn the right to a saddle.

    At a good riding school I used to get jumping lessons on their jumping lane.
    Start with full tack.
    Then drop the reins down the lane getting then at the end to go round to wait.

    Then remove the stirrups so saddle no reins and no stirrups. Then remove the saddle and no reins. They also used to teach whole lessons bareback. It improved my balance, feel and seat tremendously.
    I also rode there with a bitless bridle for the first time when they were considered unusual at best. At a pony club rally they wanted to send me home with a bitless bridle as I could not be in proper control. I pursuaded them unless I was out of control I should stay. It turned out I was in most control on the day. I got an apology at the end of the rally. It was the first time they had ever seen a horse ridden bitless.
    I have seen lots of marks caused by injuries from saddles and girths over the years none from riding bareback.
    Riding bareback reduces the carried weight by about 10kg.
    I have carried on riding bareback as an adult and in the past when working at a riding school
    I even used to teach on cold evening sitting bareback on a great pony with a big coat over the 2 of us, it kept me warmer and he like the company and the chance to move about. At the same yard we used to do one bareback hack a day at weekends. It was a very popular option but we only allowed selected riders who we knew were capable of the ride. It was a fast ride with a few fast gallops and several steep hills. We were lucky as we had access to a large enclosed deer park to ride in. I do not remember ever having someone come off on the bareback ride. The horses were always keen to be used for that ride.
    It was a chance for them to have much more fun than on most rides.
    The longest I have ridden bareback in a day is between 8 & 9 hours on a horse that had suffered a pinch of skin in a girth. We finished the day swimming in the sea with him. I rode him bareback every day for a week with a sea swim every day. This helped the injury heal quickly.

    • Hi Just John
      I hate to hear that bareback riding is being discouraged as it is so useful for a rider. I wonder if those discouraging the use have really worked with bareback? Your experiences point out how beneficial it is. And I agree about bit-less bridles and used them on all my beginner ponies. It was interesting how quickly naughty ponies behaved when their mouths weren’t being jerked. Thank you for sharing with us. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • I absolutely loved this article — you hit the nail on the head for me! When I was growing up, bareback riding was not included in any of my lesson programs. When I finally got my own horse, the first thing my mother bought me was a bareback pad. She told me to ride bareback all the time if I wanted to gain a more independent seat and become a better rider — and that’s exactly what I did! Now, as an instructor, I include bareback lessons regularly into my schooling program. I start off lunging students bareback at the walk, without reins. I have them do a series of exercises — arm circles, reaching up to the sky, touching shoulder, hip, knee, until they are comfortable reaching down and touching their toe. They reach for the poll of the horse, and then back to the croup. Eventually, we do these same exercises at the trot and canter. Once a month, I offer group bareback lessons too, where students practice mounting & dismounting, while playing relay races bareback.

    • JayaMae
      Growing up with the opportunity to ride bareback holds fond memories for me. We used to take the horses swimming in the bay. I like that you lunge your riders bareback with flexing exercises. That’s so good for balance and seat, to say nothing of confidence. Once a month bareback lessons with games sounds like a great way to develop skills, having fun at the same time.
      Thanks for commenting . It’s good to hear for you. Barbara

  • I’m a huge fan of bareback riding for my students and summer camp riders. I see MARKED improvement in their seat, leg position, and especially their confidence after a good bareback lesson! Plus, I think it encourages better understanding of the horse’s movement and better communication with the horse.
    I hadn’t considered the winter warmth aspect or using neck straps, but since reading this article, I will be adding those considerations to my program.
    Thanks so much for ever-informative articles and inspiration!

    • Chris – I agree. Bareback definitely improves a rider. Winter is a great time for people to give it a try, but you’re right. It’s great for summer too. When I was a kid my horse and I used to swim in the bay, bareback, of course. Thanks for your comment. I always appreciate hearing that someone likes my blog posts. Barbara

  • I enjoy reading these posts but have never before commented. I loved this article! My lesson girl has been going bareback for most of her lessons this winter and she loves it! And it really benefits her!

    • Edward – Thank you for taking the time to comment. It makes me happy to know that I am helpful to other instructors. It’s what drives me to have The Riding Instructor. I appreciate your encouragement. Barbara

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