Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bareback

A few summers ago, I decided that I wanted to improve my riding ability.  Just because I put hundreds of hours on the back of a horse during the season doesn't mean I'm a great rider.  It just means that I put hundreds of hours on the back of a horse during the season.  I'd also realized that I'd ridden myself into a slump, taking the "easy" horses or horses that I knew wouldn't cause me any problems at all.  My parents put me up on Estes, who I fell absolutely in love with, but also re-inforced that I needed to work on my seat.

The best way I knew to work on my seat was to go back to bareback.  I hadn't ridden bareback since I was a kid, easily twenty years.  I shared my plan with my parents, who decided that they would join me in my quest to become a better rider.  Though we all knew that riding bareback was a sure-fire way to improve our seat, it took a little courage to actually do it.

Estes was unavailable to lease that summer, so I was leasing her daughter, Meeker.  Meeks is a touch more mellow than Estes, which was a good thing.  I'm not sure I would have had the courage to climb aboard Estes bareback without some practice under my belt.  Estes is quick; she can spin on a dime and change directions in the blink of an eye.  Meeker, while she's super agile like Estes, was not nearly as prone to spin out from under me.

We started out with very short rides.  Literally just once around the block and we were good.  I spent the entire ride reminding myself to breathe and relax, to let Meeker's legs be mine and just move with her.  It was tough.  The next time out, we went twice around the block, which was a fairly flat ride.  We repeated the twice around the blog thing for a week or so.  Our goal was to be able to do the one-hour loop in Roosevelt National Forest by the end of the summer completely bareback.

Once we were comfortable riding at a walk on flat land, we increased our distance and began to incorporate small hills.  In order to meet our goal of riding the one-hour loop across the street in the forest, we'd have to be able to climb and descend hills while staying on our horses.  We added in the Ski Road loop, which included not only gradual climbs and descents, but scary things like traffic and barking dogs.

More rapidly than I thought would happen, we began to enjoy bareback riding and in no time, tacking up our horses for a short ride seemed more trouble than it was worth.  As we increase our time bareback, we began to see improvements in our riding while tacked up.  My knees and ankles stopped hurting while I was riding in the saddle, because I was no longer bracing myself in my stirrups.  I hadn't even realized that I'd been bracing.  While taking out rides for the livery, of course, I couldn't go bareback, but I began to feel like the saddle was in the way and began riding with my feet out of the stirrups.

Over the course of the summer, we all saw changes in our riding abilities and were able to meet our goal of riding the one-hour loop in the forest.  Not only did we manage that by the end of August, but we continued to ride bareback until it was time for the horses to go down to winter pasture in November.  During our traditional year-end ride, I rode Washoe for almost four hours on the trails at Hall Ranch Open Space and had a ball!

I have to say that going back to the basics and re-learning how to ride bareback was the best thing I've ever done for my riding skill.  The increased balance and confidence has saved my rear-end on more than one occassion since then.

2 comments:

Quixotic said...

I was very lucky in that my Grandpa insisted I learn to ride on a pony pad - basically just a leather pad with a girth, they usually have stirrups, but he never put them on. I learnred to ride essentially bareback with no stirrups. Years later, I was competing in a 3 day event, showjumping portion when my stirrup leather broke. I tried using one stirrup, but it upset my balance, so I kicked the other stirrup loose and did it loose-footed. I still got a clear round (came 2nd overall) and got a special mention in the ceremony for being a "proper" rider. My Grandpa nearly passed out from pride, only that would've stopped him being able to tell all and sundry I was his protege!!!

T!nK said...

I just... cant.

sorry.