Is Your Horse Bareback Worthy?

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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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    10 COMMENTS

    1. Loved the article. My horse is very broke, but his back is a little boney for me, even though he is a good weight. I think I’ll stick with my saddle.

    2. my paint horse is a great bareback horse – shes like riding a couch! my other horse has the so called springy trot – aka anything other than walk and canter and you might be on the ground after two strides. i love riding bareback in the summer, it makes everything so much easier when you dont have to deal with the saddle, and martingale and countless other straps. i even jump bareback!i especially love riding bareback in the winter. it makes everything warmer.

    3. my tb has withers way to big to ride bareback (he would probably measure a full hand shorter if you didn’t include his withers!)and is a little bony even at a healthy weight. But for what it’s worth he is very smooth and does good with mounting, dismounting, upward and downward transitions bareback! I just need a leg up every time onto his 17hh frame =)

    4. oh my gosh, this article would have saved me a few weeks ago when I hopped on my 17.2 hh oldenburg. I guess without a saddle he’s too sensitive and when I realised that, I was glad to have practiced emergency dismounts. 🙂

    5. Hi Cindy, I don’t know if you remember me – my name is Shanna Franklin, I used to ride with Sue Smith. I had a horse named Simon who I believe Sue had until fairly recently. I live in NY now and I actually came across your blog when the owner of a barn for which I’m the horse trainer printed out one of your articles for me. She thought I would be interested in the content, and boy was I! I was so excited to see your name, I just had to send you a note. I would love to hear from you – if you’d like, check out my website at ShannaFranklin.com. Feel free to email me anytime!

    6. HI SHANNA! YES I REMEMBER YOU. WHAT HAPPENED? HOW DID YOU GROW UP? WHY AREN’T YOU STILL A LITTLE KID? GLAD TO HEAR YOU ARE STILL INVOVLVED WITH HORSES.
      DEFINITELY, MY FAVORITE BAREBACK HORSES ARE THE COUCH POTATOES! NOTHINGS WORSE THAN ATTEMPTING TO RIDE A HORSE BAREBACK WHO IS SPIRITED AND HIGH WITHERED. IT’S LIKE YOU’RE HOLDING YOUR BREATH THAT AT ANY MOMENT YOU’RE GOING TO END UP PERCHED ON A BONY PROTRUSION. OUCH!!!

    7. 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!

    8. 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!

    9. 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!

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