bareback · winter

After a month of riding bareback…

In the past few days, the temperature, weather, and my free time have finally coincided again and I’ve had a few good schooling rides. I did not ride with a saddle from December through the first week of January, and I’m pretty pleased with myself for sticking to that. This week, the saddle went back on.

(Taken some years ago, at a different barn. We have 12″ of snow on the ground, sigh.)

I immediately noticed some good things and some bad things about the transition back to a saddle.

Pros

After a month of riding bareback, my hips were much looser, and I had a more instinctive following flexibility than I’d possessed before. It was immediately clear how much more supple my lower back was in following him at the walk, and how much smoother my posting was because I was more attentive to the thrust of his hind legs.

My legs were much stronger and steadier as well, particularly in the canter. I was able to really hold him with my outside leg – and yes, ideally he would not NEED me to hold him through my outside leg, but that is a longer term project!

I was more effective and efficient with my aids in the saddle, which I’d always known. The added security meant I could push a little harder in the lateral work, get him a little stronger and deeper in the trot, and generally take more risks. The difference between a true schooling ride and a conditioning/loosening ride, which is all I was capable of while bareback.

He’s definitely more fit. The interval work for him while I concentrated on my seat paid off.

That’s much more like reality…

Cons

SO COLD. So fricking cold. Whereas before, as we worked and he warmed up, he communicated that warmth right through to my legs and core, now I had a big piece of leather and wood and saddle pad and half pad between me and his warm, warm back. I lost all feeling in the surface of my legs almost immediately, and shivered under my coat until well into the warmup.

It’s more boring, in a way. The 15 minute walk warmup that I do during the winter wasn’t nearly as interesting under saddle, when I couldn’t feel every minute move of his back and hid end. Some people are way more sensitive than I and don’t have that problem, but I’ve never been an intuitive rider in that way.

The girth! Some of this, ok, was the harder level of work + the warmer temps (into the 20s, you guys! HEAT WAVE!), but he was damp around the girth area. Going forward, we’ll see if he sweats when he gets fitter or if I need to extend his clip a bit. I’m actually leaning toward clipping a bit more.

God damn it is a lot of extra steps to put a saddle on. Yes, I’m that lazy sometimes. Up and down the tack room stairs, up and down the barn aisle, all the buckles, the progressive tightening of the girth, on and on. With bareback, I grabbed a bridle and a quarter sheet and we were off.

6 thoughts on “After a month of riding bareback…

  1. glad that bareback month was so worth it!! i'm leaning towards making it a more regular part of my routine after reading some of denny emerson's thoughts on the 'independent seat'…

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  2. I totally agree with you on the extra work, honestly. Last week I rode in a halter three times while I did light w/t to stretch out some sore pony muscles, and the fact that I could whip off my saddle and then take off my horse's halter while walking him into the stall seriously was so dreamy…. so dreamy….

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  3. I always find my hip angle closes when I ride bareback, and my legs come forward more than they do in the saddle. That said, my “upper hip” does that make sense? Opens more to follow.

    Weird.

    I did a lot of bareback riding in the last month, too. Either to save time, to conserve body heat, or in order to keep my ride intentionally lower key. Yay bareback!

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  4. Bareback is a reminder to me to 1. keep in better shape and 2. keep things light. I get a bit obsessive and it feels good to relax and try something less structured. Plus that leg/core workout is awesome.

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