I grew up riding my little palomino pony bareback everywhere. He was a “spunky” pony, so I developed a very good seat and a distrust of the dirty spook, spin and/or buck/rear. Really, until Jet, I always preferred to school quite a bit bareback, even on my crazy Hanoverian mare. She was awesome bareback in a hackamore, which should have told me something about my seat, riding tact, and much, much more. Anyway, you would think with my history of 30+ years of riding bareback on everything I owned that Jet would be rock solid bareback. You would be wrong.
When I’d had Jet for about a year and he was going well, I tried our first bareback ride. All was well until we went by something spooky, he dropped his shoulder and did a nice big spin and dropped me on my head. I was fine(helmet), got back on, schooled a bit, and called it a day. And never rode him bareback again. Many reasons for this, including small children under my care, deepening realization of how big that spook and spin could be, and also the thought that I was riding for fun and being worried about being dumped was not fun.
Fast forward to today, where I ride in a treeless saddle because it has a feel as close to bareback as I can get with a saddle. Where Jet is much more solid about everything, even going bit-less, and much less inclined to spook. Where I have, essentially, an indoor round pen to make things a bit safer. Where I feel like I am missing out on ways to develop my seat, timing, and feel by not being able to school once in a while bareback. So I gave it a shot. Pushing the envelope a bit.
I deliberately chose a warm day, closed the doors to my teeny tiny indoor, and decided I would only go as far as I felt safe. Even if that was just getting on and off or just taking a few steps. I pulled Jet up to the sawdust pile and the look on his face. He was really trying to tell me I forgot something. So funny. Anyway, to make a long story short, he was fabulous. We did all our usual work except for canter. He was a little tense, but I think more about the shadow from the doors being closed than the more full contact sensation. I did a second ride a couple of days later with the doors open and he was tension free and we even did a few steps of canter. Very pleased with him.
I already feel like I have learned a couple of things besides the fact that bareback is a WORKOUT and my balance is still pretty good. Our first ride he was a bit tense so I didn’t ask for more energy. This led to a compliant horse that was a little low energy, slightly BTV, with shoulders slightly dropped. Sound familiar from my show recaps last year? He gets tense, I feel a little insecure either because I am at a show or have no saddle for security and I let him tool around underpowered. Nothing wrong with this in either circumstance, to keep things from devolving quickly, but something we need to learn to work through to get to better connection and gaits. Much easier to ride bareback at home than haul out to endless shows to practice this. The second ride I went in with the thought that if he was chill, I would think about adding energy even though I felt a bit precarious with no saddle. Be a little brave. He was chill, I did add a little energy, and we got nice swingy gaits with him reaching more to the connection. I thought my legs were going to fall of by the end but I think this is going to be an excellent learning tool to add to my toolbox. All sorts of things to explore.
Do you ever school bareback? When and why?