How to Ride a Horse Without a Saddle


Intro

Riding a horse without a saddle is simply called riding bareback. Without the security of a saddle, some find it more challenging to ride in this fashion. However, it is a form of riding that allows a horse and rider to form a connection that cannot happen when using a saddle. With effort and proper training, bareback riding can be a fun way for you to bond with your horse while enjoying the benefits of riding.

Girl Riding Bareback

What is Bareback Riding?

Simply put, bareback riding is riding a horse without a saddle. The rider sits directly on the horse’s back, with a direct connection of their seat to the horse’s back. As a rider, riding a horse bareback can strengthen your bond and connection with your horse. Riding bareback can also give a rider a strong core and a sense of balance on the horse’s back. 

History of Bareback Riding

When humans first started riding horses, there were no saddles used. Bareback riding was the traditional way of riding horses until saddles became a useful tool when invented. Think back to the Indians, specifically the Native American Nez Perce Indians, some of the greatest horsemen on the plains, as prime examples of bareback riders. Still to this day, bareback riding is the fastest and easiest way to learn how to ride a horse. 

Learning How to Better Sense Your Horse

Without a saddle, a rider has a line of communication with their horse that is less obstructed. Seating aids and weight distribution, no matter how subtle, will be more quickly picked up by the horse from bareback riding than when a rider uses a saddle. This also forms a stronger connection between horse and rider.

Riding bareback not only improves a rider’s own balance, lower leg strength, and suppleness, but it also helps them develop a feel for their horse. A rider can sense a horse’s body more readily when not using a saddle by using their natural movement underneath the rider’s seat. Utilizing the ability of the rider to read their horse’s natural movements, anticipating their next moves, and using their own position to travel forward with the horse comes from the sense gained while riding bareback.

How to Ride Your Horse Bareback Step-By-Step

Start By Riding Without Stirrups

You can start to learn how to ride your horse bareback by taking your stirrups off your saddle. Many riders end up using their stirrups as a crutch, relying on them for balance. Once taken away, you don’t have something securing your feet, forcing you to create your own balance in the saddle. Work on getting balanced without using stirrups in each gait before moving on to learning how to mount your horse bareback. 

Mounting the Horse Bareback

Once you are confident in your ability to ride your horse without stirrups, it is time to learn how to mount your horse bareback as this will be very different than mounting with a saddle. Don’t just mount up from the ground, use a mounting block to assist you. Without a saddle or stirrups to put your foot in, the mounting block will help give you the height you need to swing a leg over your horse. 

How to Get Comfortable Without the Saddle

Being able to mount your horse bareback is one thing, but learning how to get comfortable on your horse’s back is another matter entirely. Take things slowly, there’s no race to win here. Get comfortable with balancing in your seat first. Try to feel your horse underneath you, even if you are just standing still. While working on balance, try keeping your heels down as if they were in a stirrup, along with your legs in the position they would be in while in a saddle. You can take small, few steps at a time, and grab your horse’s mane if you feel wobbly. 

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Have Someone Lead or Lunge You Around First

As you develop your balance and get comfortable riding bareback, have someone lead you around or put you and your horse on a lunge line when first starting out. This way, you can concentrate on your own body position without worrying about where the horse is going. Have them not only walk you forward but also back up and do some circles. Get a feel for how your horse moves underneath you. When you feel ready, pick up the reins and try to steer you and your horse around with the lead next to you. Get comfortable steering, stopping, and starting with someone next to you for security. 

Practice at a Walk and Trot

Now that you have become comfortable with sitting bareback on your horse, it is time to learn how to ride bareback at different gaits and paces. Practice riding bareback at a walk first, getting comfortable in being able to move with your horse while using all of your aids. First work on straight lines, as this will be beneficial in finding your inner balance. If you feel as though you are going to slip to one side, grab your horse’s mane. Once you are comfortable riding your horse bareback at a walk, practice both sitting and posting trot bareback, as well as transitions between the trot and walk gaits. 

Once you are comfortable with walking and trotting in straight lines, start to add in circles. These tend to be more challenging when you are learning to ride bareback. If you need help, use a leader to walk and trot these with you before steering on your own. 

Work on Transitions, then Move to the Canter

Before moving on to the canter, make sure you are comfortable in both the walk and trot, along with all the transitions associated with each gait. Think extension, collection, turning, and transitions up and down between the gaits. When you are ready to move up to the canter, you may want to be on a lunge line again. This can help in maintaining the size of your circle, while you as the rider focus purely on your position and seat. Find balance in the new gait and allow your seat to follow your horse’s movement. 

Practice Circling

Once you master your balance and position at all three gaits, it is time to start to circle at different sizes to test your balance. Start on a large circle, such as a 20m circle. Get used to turning and steering your horse with your leg aids while maintaining your balance and seat. Slowly decrease the size of your circle. This may take time! Don’t do a sized circle you are not comfortable balancing in. 

bareback rider

Start Slow, Then Increase Your Ride Lengths

Once you are feeling balanced and in control of your own body, and your horse feels confident and comfortable with bareback riding, start to increase your riding times. At first, you may just practice at the end of your ride for a few minutes. Stay inside the arena, ring, small paddock, or any fenced area. When you are fully confident in all gaits, you can move out onto trails. Increase ride times within the area slowly at first, going at your own speed.  Becoming completely secure in your bareback riding ability will take time. 

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What Muscles Do You Use to Ride a Horse Without a Saddle?

The muscles you use riding bareback without a saddle are not that different from when you ride in a saddle. These muscles should be used while riding but are not as engaged as when you ride bareback. You will find you may want to let your legs droop down on either side of your horse. Using your thighs to keep a proper leg position as well as keep a grip between you and your horse, you may find they are sore the next day. Your core and abs will be the other muscles you use while riding bareback. These muscles will help you stay up and balanced. In the beginning, you may find yourself tensing your core up to avoid slipping, but over time your balance will increase and you won’t notice as much. 

How to Stay Balanced and Avoid Confusing Your Horse While Riding Bareback

Staying balanced while riding your horse bareback is essential in helping you make sure you are using the proper aids. It will also help keep you from confusing your horse, as your constantly losing your balance means that you are sending confusing or improper aids that make it hard for your horse to know what you want it to do. There are a few tips that can assist you in preventing this confusion from occurring.

Sit Up Straight

While riding horseback, it is important to stay up straight and balanced as this will engage your core muscles. If you feel yourself starting to slip to one side or the other, grab your horse’s mane. This will be an easy way to keep yourself upright without giving your horse an unnecessary cue.

Stay Relaxed

Staying relaxed and not clenching your body will help give your horse the cues to be relaxed with you. Becoming stiff will assist you in becoming unbalanced, causing you to grip with your legs or jerk on the reins. You may also find yourself bouncing hard against your horse’s back. If you find yourself becoming unrelaxed, take a deep breath and slow down. If you need to continue walking before a trot transition or only trot a few steps and go back to a walk, that is okay. Take your own time to stay balanced and relaxed on your horse’s back.

Focus on Your Core Stability

Finding your core stability will greatly benefit you in staying confident, relaxed, and secure on your horse’s bare back. Like riding in a saddle, your core will help establish balance. Focusing on your core can help stabilize you, as well as allow your seat to follow your horse’s movement easily.

Drape Your Legs

When riding bareback, you don’t want to be gripping so hard with your legs that you feel you are in a jockey’s position. However, you also do not want them so draped down that you have no leg aids for your horse. Draping your legs will help you not tense up, allowing you to still use your legs in a proper position. You want your legs to lay naturally along your horse’s sides. 

How to Train a Horse for Riding Bareback

Once you are prepared to ride bareback, make sure you are on a horse that is comfortable with accepting a rider without a saddle. Just like riding with a saddle, a horse will have to get used to a rider without one.

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Preparing Your Horse

Take things slowly, accustoming your horse to your weight on its back. Slowly building up their time bareback while you build up your ability will help you work together. Your horse should have a healthy back, as well as a quiet temperament and smooth gait.  Sometimes you can become chafed while riding bareback; if this is a concern, simply apply petroleum jelly to any potentially sensitive areas before heading out.

Is Bareback Riding Bad for Your Horse?

Some riders may wonder if riding bareback is bad for your horse. The answer to this question is no! In fact, bareback riding is a very natural way of riding that dates back to the Native American Indians and was the only way people were able to ride horses until saddles were invented.

The Biomechanics of Riding Bareback

Bareback riding is only considered bad for a horse if they are in pain or discomfort in where a rider’s seat bones will sit on their back. For a horse, bareback riding is no less comfortable or harder work than it is with a saddle carrying a rider.  

What is Bareback Riding in Rodeo?

Bareback riding in the rodeo is not the same style of bareback riding you would casually do with your own horse. Riders in the rodeo endure a lot more abuse, suffer more injury, and carry more long-term damage. Rodeo bareback riding has been compared to riding a jackhammer with one hand. 

A bareback rider (or bronc rider) will have a leather strapping that he holds onto with one hand, located at the horse’s withers secured with a girth (or cinch). Bronc horses also have a strap at their back, known as a back cinch. Bronc riders will have their spurs touching the horse’s shoulders until their front feet hit the ground. With each new buck, the rider rolls their spur up the horse’s shoulder while bending his knee and lowers the leg down to the shoulder as the horse’s front feet touch the ground once again. 

Bareback Bronc Rider

FAQ’s:

Is it bad to ride a horse without a saddle?

No, it is the most natural way of riding a horse, as long as the horse does not have any pain or discomfort in their back. 

Is bareback riding better than saddle?

Yes, bareback riding allows the rider to gain strong leg and core muscles, balance, and stability on their horse’s back. 

Do your inner thighs get sore from riding bareback?

At the beginning of riding bareback, engaging different muscles can make you sore. While you ride with your thighs with a saddle, engaging them more without using a saddle will make them sore the first few times. 

What are the benefits of riding a horse without a saddle?

Bareback riders will create balance, core, and leg strength, as well as gain a strong bond and connection with their horse.

Does bareback riding hurt the horse?

No, bareback riding should not hurt a horse. If a horse has any back pain or discomfort, bareback riding is not recommended. 

Conclusion 

Bareback riding is a great tool for a rider to have. Creating stability in the core, balance, and leg strength, a rider will become more confident in their riding ability. Gaining a strong connection with their horse, the partnership will grow as a rider continues to ride their horse with and without a saddle.


1 Comment

  1. Barbara
    January 20, 2023 / 7:25 am

    Having come late in life to riding and fulfilling my dream of trail riding bareback, I found the use of a vaulting belt with rigid handles very helpful. It allows me to position myself correctly without the fear of slipping forward. It also prevents me from ever (ab!)using the reins for balance. I started bareback trotting and cantering with the reins in one hand and the other lightly on a handle before becoming confident that I could keep the reins in both hands without ever pulling on them for stability.

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