I have many people ask me how they can start to incorporate bareback riding into their dressage work. I wanted to share some of my advice for getting started including safety tips and also some bareback pads that you might like to try.
Before You Begin:
How Is Your Balance?
Before you try riding bareback you should be able to ride in a saddle without stirrups at the walk, trot and canter comfortably! It isn't enough to just ride the walk and trot, you need to be prepared for your horse to break into the canter and it will be much harder bareback than without stirrups I promise! Do you have independent balance from the reins? If you ever catch your balance with the reins it is not a good idea to try riding bareback. Make sure you can ride walk, trot, canter without hands and without stirrups first!
Does your horse have a good "WHOA"?
If you have a horse that is hard to stop, rushes, is resistant or disobedient I do not recommend riding them bareback. If you have a hard time stopping your horse it is only going to be worse bareback, especially if you lose your balance! Make sure to refresh your horse's response to your "whoa", on the lunge line or on the ground before you ride bareback.
Has your horse been ridden bareback before?
Some horses have sensitive backs and may react the first time they are ridden bareback. Do not assume that your horse will behave the same as he does with a saddle. He may behave better but some are over sensitive, especially if they are clipped or have had back pain in the past. Have an experienced rider test out your horse if this is your first time. You may also want a person on the ground to hold your horse when you mount and to lead him the first time.
Things You Might Need:
- Full Seat Breeches: I recommend wearing full seat breeches to help with "stick". Horsehair can be rather slippery so you will feel much more secure wearing full seat breeches that are comfortable for you. I love wearing deerskin breeches because the material breathes with the horse and provides stick without being too tacky. Check out Aanstadt-Das Breeches for an awesome selection of full seat deerskin breeches. Click here to visit their website.
- Mounting block! Unless you are super flexible and have the ability to leap onto the horse then you will definitely need a mounting block. Try a three step for extra height. You need to have good balance and confidence to mount a horse bareback, sometimes that is the hardest part!
- A helper. Make sure you have someone with you to hold the horse when you first get on. They could even lead you around at the walk to see how it feels and to help keep the horse relaxed and slow.
- Enclosed riding area. PLEASE do not attempt riding bareback for the first time in an open field or arena with no real walls. The best place to start is in a small indoor arena or a round pen, with all the gates closed!
- A bareback pad. A good bareback pad helps with padding and stick. The withers can be quite uncomfortable on most horses unless they have a very round barrel. Having a bareback pad can help a lot with horses that have pronounced withers. Usually the material on the underside has some stick to it, like a synthetic rubber. Be careful with the all fleece pads because they may slide around on a well groomed horse. Do not use a bareback pad that has stirrups! The tree of a saddle distributes the stirrup pressure and without it you will be placing all of your weight into one spot on the horse's back.
Here are some great bareback pads!
I have been using the Comfort Plus Bareback Pad. It offers padding and has a rubbery material on the underside of the pad and the girth to keep it from sliding. It is simple and elegant. I have been using this pad for my Art on Horseback with Rovandio and also in some recent performances. There are a few places online that you can purchase this bareback pad. In my opinion it is a great pad for people to get started with at a decent price. You can purchase it for $75 at WildHorseColors.com. Click here: http://www.wildhorsecolors.com/barebackpadcomfortplus.aspx
ThinLine Bareback Pad:
This is almost identical to the Comfort Plus but has the popular ThinLine shock absorption materials in the seat. I might try this one in the future when my current one wears out. It is listed for $132.99 on Dover Saddlery but I found it on sale for $129.99 at the WarmbloodTackStore.com. Click here: http://www.warmbloodtackstore.com/eShop/10Expand.asp?ProductCode=8880-i
Sheepskin Bareback Pads:
You will find top of the line sheepskin bareback pads online at HorseDream.co.uk. They have a variety of colors and sizes including this beautiful Iberian style pad. They certainly look comfortable! And warm for winter riding. They are in a much higher price range and I have not ridden in one yet but I would love to try one in the future. If anyone else tries them I would love to get your feedback. Just leave a comment below this blog post or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out their website to see their full inventory. Click here: http://www.horsedream.co.uk/ridingpads.html
Ride! Once you have a good bareback pad and all the other suggested items just give it a try! Riding bareback will help you with your balance and reveal weaknesses in your riding that can be covered up by the saddle. I particularly love to feel the horse's back muscles and check that I am sitting evenly into my seat bones. The horse's spine will help you feel whether you sit centered or not. Horse's usually love it but you have to stay relaxed in those thighs or they might not! You will feel the incredible sensitivity of the horse and the amazing connection you can have without the saddle. Even if you just practice at the walk, try some lateral work and transitions. Feel how you can transition your horse from your seat and have the horse follow your weight in turns and circles. If you have any questions feel free to leave one in the comment section below or email me at email@example.com. Be safe and have fun!