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I started riding when I was about 2, mostly holding onto the saddle in front of my mom while she directed the horse in the direction it was going. By six, I was clinging like a monkey to the back of her saddle, fingers wrapped around the curling edge of the cantle, short legs clenched against the flanks of the big black mare she rode. By eight, I had a shithead pony that I rode all over the county, along with several other horses and a few calves. All of the time I rode bareback. I didn’t get a saddle (other than borrowing one to use for the 4-H shows at the end of the summer) until I was sixteen. Riding bareback is one of the reasons I don’t post the trot. It also developed the balance and seat that allowed me to ride the EOH course at McCook last fall with a totally loose girth – I don’t balance on my stirrups.

That said, I haven’t really dared to ride bareback since coming back to riding seven years ago. I didn’t trust my body and I was really afraid that Ashke would over react to me being on him bare. (Amanda had the same fear last night.) I decided that since I am riding but taking it somewhat easy, that I would schedule a bareback lesson, where we could start him on the lunge line and see how it went.

Ashke being wild poneh over small leather bareback pad

My friend Chris lent me her Parelli bareback pad (anyone with one of those for sale, please let me know – I am in the market for one). It attached with one of my western cinches, and although Ashke was a fire-breathing dragon when I first put it on him, his skepticism was fairly short lived. I didn’t want to ride him without Amanda’s help to start, so I took him outside and lunged for the first time in probably three years.

As you can see he is wary, wary scardt of the pad.

I got him back inside, bridle on, and layered his halter over the top with the lunge line attached. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to be throwing any shenanigans our first time out. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him, but rather, didn’t know if I could trust my body to respond correctly to his movement. Being older sucks. 

Amanda did ask me if I wanted to ride a bit to tire him out before I got on.

I told her I was pretty comfortable with her on the other end of the line.

I figured I would know pretty quick if I was going to be able to ride him this way.

We did a brief canter in each direction while still on the lunge line and he was amazeballs.

At that point, the lesson became a normal lesson.

We worked on all of the stuff that we normally work on until my legs and core felt like spaghetti.

We even got a couple of changes, which can not be ridden one handed while holding on.

Ashke was like WTF, mom?!

So, a couple of things: Ashke was foot perfect and absolutely wonderful. There was not a moment in our ride where he thought about being anything other than the gentleman and full partner he is. Second, he is always a little looky in the arena. There is a ton of stuff laying around that gets moved on a regular basis. Last night, although he peeked at those objects, his body did not fill with tension. He remained relaxed between my legs. Third, his braces through the base of his neck and Amanda reminds me during our lessons to ask for relaxation and to not brace. That was not an issue last night. He was relaxed and soft in the base of his neck and his poll. His contact was solid, but not leaning, and he was fully present and available to me. Finally, other than a small bobble on a canter circle early on, I had no issues with riding him bareback. I can feel the difference in my core and lower back muscles today, but they are a soreness, not a pain, so I am sure I was using them more fully than I have in the past. My balance was perfect and except for allowing my fear to win the battle at the beginning of our first change, I had no issue riding any of the things. I did have to lift and move myself back into position after our trot lengthening, but I was able to do that with just my legs.

I can’t wait to continue to ride bareback this winter. It will be a great option when it is cold.

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