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Is Your Horse Bareback Worthy?

By Cindy Hale | 6-Aug-10

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Life with Horses - Is Your Horse Bareback Worthy?
An added bonus of riding bareback is being able to wear Bermuda shorts. This way I can get a tan on at least the outer portion of my legs.

I call these late summer afternoons the bareback days of summer. Sometimes it’s just too hot to cinch a western saddle around my horse, although Wally still needs regular exercise or pretty soon he’ll be waddling down the trails. So instead I toss my thick, fuzzy bareback pad on his back and away we go.

Fortunately, Wally is incredibly bareback worthy. His back is conformed just right so that I feel like I’m sitting in a bucket seat straight out of a luxury sports car. I realize, however, that not all horses have this build. Believe me, there have been many horses in my past that caused me nothing but grief and pain when I attempted to ride them sans saddle. In case you’re considering riding your favorite horse bareback this summer, here is my very own list of checkpoints—humor intended—to determine if you should skip the saddle… or not.

  1. Horses that are bareback candidates must possess withers high enough to keep you from inadvertently sliding onto the neck yet low enough so you aren’t liable to impale yourself in the event of a sudden stop.
  2. A significant portion of the horse’s back should be flat, as in resembling the Great Plains. If the horse’s spine conjures up images of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, reconsider the bareback option.
  3. The bareback horse should be smooth and therefore easy to sit. If someone offers you their horse to ride bareback, listen closely to how they describe the animal’s gaits. Avoid any horse whose jog is referred to as “springy,” “bouncy,” or “bone jarring.” You’ll thank me later.
  4. The model bareback horse should be broke but not too broke. Hypersensitivity to the rider’s aids is not desirable. Without the heft of a saddle, some horses become acutely attune to the rider’s cues. Slap a bareback pad on Old Bob and suddenly he’s transformed into Topsail Whiz.
  5. Finally, a bareback worthy horse must be easy to mount, since you’ll be hopping on and off without the help of stirrups. This means that either your bareback horse must be about 14.3-hands, or that you have continual access to apparatus like stone walls, sturdy fence rails and tree stumps. (Of course, this is predicated on the training level of the bareback horse, who must be willing to stand motionless while you take the Leap of Faith from immovable object to potentially-moving-at-any-second equine).

I hope my little collection of insights helps. If you have a bareback worthy horse on hand, climb aboard and we can jostle down the trail or around the arena together.

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Reader Comments

Prisca    somewhere, WI

10/3/2010 10:41:30 AM

Hey I have throughbred desendant of Man o' War with high withers, jarring trot(he's starting to learn to jog) and extreme speed when he wants and 15.2 when I do manage to be close to something that inables me to hop on I don't hesitate though. That guy always is careful I don't slide off. Then I have a welsh Cob (section D) at 12.2 or somthin' like that with withers hidden in fat nice flat sitting area and smooth gaits. Both stand for the leap of faith but that Cob dosn't hesitate to try rearing and crow hops lucky he's short. Rule#6 watch out for the sneaky one's even if the have everything perfect. Am I lucky that one's short!

Natalie    Austin, TX

9/11/2010 6:51:38 AM

Also thank you for the article!

Natalie    Austin, TX

9/11/2010 6:50:54 AM

I think that even if your horse has "bone jarring" gaits, and even if he is a "whirlwind" to ride, bareback riding can be beneficial, as well as fun. On some horses, mine included, when you sit back, drop your heels and lengthen your legs, he performs better; (a.k.a. slows down in this case). Bareback riding requires you to sit on the horse without the comfort of the saddle, thus, dropping your heels and lengthening your legs, and slowing him down. And as for comfort, buy a bareback pad that is nice and thick. You can actually buy breast collars that attach to some bareback pads that can keep your pad up, and keeping you from having to sit on those withers - hallelujah! Lastly, isn't it every kids' dream to be riding like an indian? Bareback and Bridleless, flying through the wilderness? Well I say, even if you can't stand it more than 5 minutes, to just go for it!

Ang    Mertztown, PA

8/13/2010 3:36:06 PM

What's wrong with hypersensitivity? It's more fun to gallop full speed bareback than in the security of a saddle...it feels more free (you're still in control of course). And as far as bouncy trots, my horse resembles a jackhammer at times, but there is one solution- skip the trot! Love bareback, thanks for the support!

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