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riding unfit horse bareback

From: Kerri

Hi Jessica,

Thanks so much for the wealth of information you so generously share.

My 15 y.o. Arab mare has quite the hay belly and is out of condition. I understand, from reading the archives, why she acts up when under saddle (western) - it doesn't fit her well any more.

For the past few months I've been riding her bareback, to avoid hurting her back and to hopefully work up the muscles in her back. But the thought just occured to me...the pressure of me riding her bareback would be different than when I ride her with the saddle, as the saddle distributes my weight (approx. 125lbs) differently. Am I wasting my time riding bareback, or should I get a completely different saddle that doesn't hurt her back when she's this out of condition. (I've already found a saddle that she doesn't mind as much as her old one, but I'm not sure it fits her "well enough", she doesn't sweat evenly under it.)

One last note...when I had been riding with the saddle, asside from backing up while on the trail, after I unsaddled her she would scratch herself vigerously where the cinch had been and where the saddlepad had made her sweat (loins). I tried a Neoprene cinch on her, but she seemed to dislike the way it made her sweat.

Thanks for any advice, Kerri

Hi Kerri! You're right - if your mare is very unfit and out of condition, there's a strong possbility that any saddle you found that fit her right now would not fit her three or six or nine months from now.

I can't answer your question about bareback riding, but your mare can. Is she comfortable with you riding her bareback? Does she move easily and well, can she track up comfortably and lift her back? If so, then she can build up her muscles correctly with you riding her bareback, and that means that there's no reason to stop riding her bareback.

If, on the other hand, you notice that she drops her back when you ride her, or that she flips her head high, or that her hindquarters always seem to be far behind her instead of underneath her, then she isn't carrying herself well or moving correctly, and won't benefit from anything she does in those postures.

I can tell you one thing, though: Riding bareback is trickier than it seems. The natural position that the human body assumes to stay on a horse bareback is not a classical position designed to help the horse move well and help the rider train the horse to respond to increasingly subtle aids. It's more of a survival position - the rider's single goal is to stay on the horse. Unless you make a specific effort, each time you ride bareback, to ride as you would in a saddle, your body will naturally shift into "riding bareback" position and you'll find that your thighs are more horizontal, your seat is behind your leg, and your toes are level with or lower than the rest of your foot. Riding bareback can be fun, and in your case, it may well be an excellent way to start getting your mare into condition, but if you spend too much time riding bareback without thinking about your position, you may find that you'll need a couple of months of "remedial riding" when you do eventually get back into a saddle.

Check your position regularly, keep a close eye on your mare, and notice any changes in either of you. As long as she is comfortable and you are careful, you should be able to go on riding her bareback and enjoying it until she's ready for her new saddle.


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