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Bareback Riding - Your 3 Step Guide To Giving It A Go!

Taking inspiration from the recently completed infamous Bury Farm Bareback Challenge, I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks on learning how to ride bareback and how to do it successfully. 

If you follow my Instagram page @lily.equestrian you’ll know that I have quite the reputation for my bareback riding, especially after snagging 2nd place at the Bury Farm Bareback Challenge 2019. I am constantly being asked to spill my secrets on what super glue I use, alongside many questions about how to learn to ride bareback. The thing is, every horse and rider are different! Just because you struggle to ride bareback does not make you a bad rider, sometimes the way you ride will rely on different parts of your body which can leave you grappling at a handful of mane and bouncing all over the show the minute the saddle is removed.

Balance is key. Balance and learning to relax; if you’re stiff as a board you’re going to slide off as easily as if you’d balanced one on your horse’s back and got them to canter round. Like riders, some horses have an affinity for bareback and some do not. My super bareback side kick, my 14hh Connemara mare Crystal, took to it like a fish to water, whereas many others I’ve owned have had their brains completely blown and hated every second of it. Don’t worry if your horse doesn’t take to it straight away, with a lot of patience, time and practice, most of them adjust. 

STEP 1 - Where to start?

The most common question I receive is ‘Where do I start? Shall I just whip the saddle off, leap on and hope for the best?’ Well, you can if you like, but I’d recommend completing a few things in preparation beforehand. Start with testing your own balance by trying some no-stirrup and no-hands work. Practise just working a usual schooling session without your stirrups to see how balanced you are and how comfortable your horse is with you being slightly off balance. NOBODY is ever going to manage to sit perfectly while riding bareback, so your horse needs to be able to feel you slightly off balance without deciding to enter panic mode.

STEP 2 - Goodbye saddle!

After some basic steps of preparation it’s time to take the plunge! Take that saddle off! If you and your horse are both comfortable, there’s absolutely no reason as to why you won’t walk, trot and canter on your first attempt. Make sure you are careful not to use your horse’s mouth and the reins to balance. Instead, grab a handful of mane or stick on a neck-rope if necessary; you want to make it a positive experience, you don’t want your horse to associate bareback riding with being hauled across the face as you try to balance. If you or your horse aren’t so comfortable, take it slow! There’s absolutely no rush and it will benefit you in the long run.

Start small, for example, try just walking off bareback after a successful session, riding to and from the field bareback at walk, or going for a walk across your yard bareback... things like that. Sneak it into your usual routine, it’s no big deal! Nothing to worry about! When it comes to trotting, for most people, trot is honestly harder than canter. Very few horses have a comfortable bareback trot, so just squeeze your thighs and prepare for the “Ow, ow, ow, ow” you will be chanting until you’re accustomed to it. What’s important is to grip with your thighs, but let your legs stretch and relax down; you need to rely on your core balance to keep you centred. 

Don’t worry about your horse’s frame or getting them working correctly, just focus on staying balanced and quiet, the rest will follow.

STEP 3 - Jumping 

Now, if you’ve watched the Bury Farm Bareback Challenge you’ll see us nutters careening round a 90cm course with jump off turns and a 1m25 joker fence at the end, all completely bareback. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t recommend this to start with unless you’re wanting a spectacular fail video for Instagram (I mean who doesn’t? Views right?). Some horses might be a dream to jump bareback, and others may morph into Satan himself. Some will carry on as if nothing has changed, and some will take this golden opportunity of the two legged moron being slightly off balance to give you an impromptu flying lesson.

To be honest, practise makes perfect. You need to be brave and you need to accept that it’s likely you’re going to come off when you first start, but pick yourself back up and try again. Start with cross poles, and get comfortable with seeing strides while bareback, turning corners and riding your horse correctly into a fence. Once you’ve cracked this, adding height won’t make a great deal of difference.

I hope this has given you some insight into how to crack your bareback riding (instead of your skull) and that you will be brave and give it a go - it’s a lot of fun! At the end of the day, you may be able to jump 1’30 bareback yet still slip off as you canter round a corner. It’s all fun and games (as long as you catch the fall on video!) and isn’t something to be taken too seriously. Don’t feel down if you or your horse don’t enjoy it, it’s not for everyone. In that case, you can laugh at the rest of us stacking it.

Lily Chandler
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 11-06-2020
Lily is an 18 year old BE Eventer & BS Showjumper from the South East of England. She is most well known under her social media name ‘Lily Equestrian’ with a large following on her YouTube Channel and Instagram @lily.equestrian. If you’re scrolling through Instagram and see a small grey pony rearing or an excessive amount of bareback riding, you’ve found her! She is proudly sponsored by a multitude of brands and is well known for her strong ‘matchy matchy’ game.