"It's the thought that counts!"

"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey & The Equestrian Center, LLC Copyright 2017. Articles and/or photographs posted on this site may NOT be reproduced or copied without written permission.


The Benefits of Horseback Riding without a Saddle-Not just a brainless session

The temperatures have definitely dropped here in the Southwest and our version of winter hit; we even had ice in the water buckets over the past few mornings…

On one recent chilly day, after doing morning chores I didn’t have much time so I decided to hop on Pico with just the hackamore and ride him bareback.  I know many riders who began riding as children used to tear bareback around the field clinging to their horse or pony with sheer joy.  Later, as the ground seemed farther and harder and they had less “bounce” in them, riders rarely seem to ride without their saddles. 

I find though hopping on once in a while sans saddle can actually improve the quality of your feel, timing and understanding biomechanically of how and when your horse is moving underneath you.  Many times a rider’s tack can actually interfere with the sensitivity of the rider, along with how, when the accuracy with which they use their aids.

One of the basic exercises I ask of my students is to first learn when each hoof leaves and touches the ground at a slow walk; then you would start to get comfortable with doing the same exercise at the trot and canter/lope.  You’d be surprised at how many people have ridden for years without ever thinking about or feeling the timing of their horse’s hoof pattern.  Sometimes riders are so focused on trying to feel, it just mentally messes them up and they stop feeling anything.  So, a great time to practice at the walk “feeling” your horse’s movement is by riding bareback.

Many times lateral movements are ridden without accuracy due to several factors.  First most riders ask a movement without clearly being able to imagine where they would like to place each of the horse’s four feet in order to perform the movement accurately.  Next, the rider does not use or know how to use their body to effectively and correctly ask the horse to move a specific body part, or interfere if the horse offers an unwanted movement. 

Again, by riding at a slow walk bareback a rider can actually “play” with first sitting correctly; you’ll feel if your seat bones are “plugged in” evenly or not.  If not, you’ll continually feel like you are slipping towards the side of the horse that you are sitting “heavier” on.  The side you are more coordinated on you are more likely to slip towards, so if you’re right handed you will consistently slip to your right.

Next you can thinking about your lower leg and how you use it.  Do you find yourself “gripping” with your calf? (Is your horse constantly speeding up? If so, you’re probably trying to hold with your lower leg (from the inside of your knee to the inside of your heel.)  Instead, imagine looking at a bow legged cowboy head on; you want your leg to simulate that look. 

Take your toes and turn them towards your horse’s nose and imagine drawing your heels away from your horse’s rib cage, this way your upper leg (from the inside of your groin to the inside of your knee) will lie flat against your horse and will help reinforce your balance that began with your seat bones.

Now practice being able to apply your lower leg in multiple areas along your horse’s ribcage in order to influence his shoulder, ribs, and hindquarters.  Keep mind as you apply one leg for your horse to yield away from, your opposite leg will need to be able to move “out of the way” of whatever body part you are asking your horse to move.  At the same time that same leg that moved out of the way, will have to create an imaginary “wall” so that your horse doesn’t accidentally allow another body part to “drift” along with the one you were originally asking to move.

This brings up another topic to mention; being able to move their horse’s head, neck, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters, independently of one another.  Too many times riders have way too much motion, without accuracy.  As you ride around bareback, have your goal be literally slow, baby steps of quality.

Play with picking a specific spot in the dirt (or snow) and being able to quietly ask your horse to move a specific body part to that spot.  This should be able to be accomplished in a calm, quiet and great way to help your horse slow down his brain and think about what you are asking before he physically moves.  It also gives you the rider, a clear intention.  This in turn allows you to truly feel your horse shifting his weight or energy in response to your aid in “real time.”   By being able to really feel what your horse is offering, you can then assess what and how you are asking for a movement and then perhaps change (literally) how much energy or where your leg is in order to get a different response in your horse. 

By riding slow, intentional and bareback can often help you start to really learn more about the physical resistance, or brace, you might be feeling when you are working your horse.  It is an opportunity to experiment with how you physically are riding your horse, and will often tell you a lot about areas of your communication that may be lacking, or where the effectiveness of your aids is diminishing. 

Plus on one of those cold winter days where you may not have time for a “regular” ride or worry about being able to cool down your horse properly, you can hop on for fifteen minutes of intentional riding that can greatly influence the quality of your future rides. 

The best part about riding bareback is it does not allow us a “false sense of security”, therefor forcing us to raise our focus, intention, timing and feel, if not motivated by the simple desire to “stay on.”

One last note, if you have never ridden your horse bareback before, don’t assume that he will be “okay” with it.  You’d be surprised how many horses are used to their saddle, but the motion of someone “sliding” around on their backs can bother them.  So you’d want to start slowly in just half way mounting and dismounting, to sitting on them, to a few steps of walk to get them used to you directly touch them with your seat and upper leg. 

Also, many “warm” winter clothes are made of textures that can sound crinkly and create static when rubbed against horse hair, so try and introduce your “loud clothing” from on the ground first, or rubbing just perhaps a “loud jacket” on your horse’s body before riding in one.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment!
Sam
www.learnhorses.com