Take off those saddles and give Bareback a go!

Many of us started out learning to ride without a saddle, either because we didn’t have one,or because, if you were like me, your parents insisted you weren’t allowed to use it until you could stay on without one. It’s become a bit of an Aussie bush tradition, and while the thought of simply ‘chucking your kids on’ saddle-less may horrify some today, riding bareback is actually a great way to improve your balance, secure your seat, and develop a closer connection with your horse – literally!Riding without a saddle is one of the best and most fun ways to help you develop a closer relationship with your horse.

But before we get into some handy tips on how to ride bareback, it is important for us first to look at when NOT to ride bareback. Saddles were invented for a reason and serve a very particular purpose, which varies depending on the saddle. You won’t see someone show jumping at the Olympics in a western saddle and you won’t see a cowboy working cattle in a racing saddle. Apart from these specialised functions, a saddle of any kind distributes the rider’s weight over a larger area on the horse’s back. The structure of a saddle, by design, also provides support for you as a rider, helping you maintain good balance and correct posture. If you or your horse isn’t used to bareback riding, always use a saddle when you’re going to be working hard or for any significant length of time. As with any activity, start short and sweet, and gradually increase the time and workload as your fitness for the task increases. It is also important to take into account your horse’s training and temperament. Many horses that are flighty by nature, have never been ridden bareback before, or have a tendency to be cold-backed may need a little time and patience before you can go cantering off around the countryside without a saddle.

So you think you’re ready to ride bareback. You’re a pretty competent rider and after all, it’s so much quicker to just jump on and go, right? Well, yes and no. If you’re comfortable with it and your horse has no worries, then sure! But a lot of people – and a lot of horses for that matter – become a bit nervous when it comes to bareback, and that’s okay. The following hints and tips will have you feeling comfortable and happy riding without a saddle – and literally closer to your horse than ever before.

Ride without stirrups

You’ve probably heard it a million times before, and yes we know it can be hard, but riding without stirrups really does work wonders! Riding without stirrups improves your balance and makes you think harder about maintaining your posture and correct position, making your aids more effective. It’s also great practice for making the transition to bareback, because you won’t be using stirrups if you haven’t got a saddle.

That being said, many bareback saddle pads do come with stirrups attached. However, if you are considering spending money on a bareback pad, opt for one without them. Unlike a saddle, a bareback pad has no firm structure for support, and if you press too much weight into one stirrup, the whole piece of gear is much more likely to slide off to one side and take you with it. In the interests of safety, take the stirrups away.

Use a bareback pad

Bareback pads can be a great piece of equipment, especially if your horse is naturally slender, or has a high wither. Choose one without stirrups like we just discussed, and find one that suits you and your riding style. Pads come in a wide range of styles and materials, and you may find that in some you feel as though you tend to ‘slip’ on the pad. Microfiber suede pads are a bit pricier, but generally last longer through every day wear and tear, and can give the rider a bit more grip on the material. Some pads even come with an attachment at the front for you to hold onto should you lose your balance. If bareback is something you’re seriously considering getting into, or if your horse is a bit cold-backed without a saddle, a bareback pad is a great investment to consider.

Getting on and off

Getting on without a saddle can be a little trickier than with one. If your horse isn’t too tall, you can simply stand on a mounting block and slide your leg over that way. If you’re fairly athletic, you may find it easier to jump up and lay your belly across his back, and then swing your leg over. If you have a helper nearby, asking for a leg up is by far the easiest way to get on bareback. Unless your horse is very quiet and used to the more unusual ways of mounting, it pays to have someone hold his head for the first few sessions just in case he spooks or moves while you’re trying to get on.

Conversely, getting off again is actually a bit easier than with a saddle, since there’s no gear for your leg to get tangled up in. Simply lean forward, swing your leg over to one side, and then slide off.

Trotting is often one of the hardest gaits to master bareback if you haven't had much practice before. Hang in there, and before you know it you'll find yourself performing both sitting and rising trot bareback AND with a saddle like you've been doing it all your life.

Gait control

Gait control is crucial to any form of riding, but especially when learning how to ride bareback. Walk and canter are the easiest gaits to sit to bareback, especially if you haven’t yet mastered the sitting trot. Start with a walk, and canter if you can comfortably make the transition. When it comes to trotting, start out slow, and really push those lower legs down. With practice, you’ll soon master the sitting trot and yes, the posting trot too. It has been said that performing the posting trot bareback is an excellent test of the quality of your seat. This is where practicing riding without stirrups when in a saddle really helps. You need a really secure seat and lower leg, with independent balance. Try not to think of it as gripping with your legs, as this is likely to make the horse want to move faster than you asked for. Use the opportunity to help lengthen your leg, letting them stretch down (always keeping your heels down, of course), while trying to maintain balance through your seat bones – don’t roll your weight forward onto your pelvis! The good news is, it’s a lot easier to feel what your horse is doing when you are sitting directly on his back, so that you can move with him. The more relaxed and balanced you are, the better you will ‘flow’ with the movement of your horse and the more enjoyable riding bareback will be.

Don’t worry!

As with anything to do with horses, letting nerves or fear get the better of you isn’t going to help anyone. If things aren’t going exactly according to plan, take a step back, breathe deep, and start again slowly. Letting it get you worked up will only make you tense, which will transfer to your horse and exacerbate the problem. Work through the activity until you reach the point where both you and your horse are comfortable, and end the session on a good note. Your horse will remember how fun it was to go without a saddle, and you will build your confidence. So smile! Done right, bareback is incredibly fun and extremely beneficial to all your riding, with or without a saddle.



*Australian Country Life Magazine recognises that legal adults who ride horses are fully responsible for their own safety, including the wearing of all personal protective equipment. The use of a proper fitting riding helmet is recommended, however we also respect that individuals have the right of choice in this matter.*

Courageous Mare Uses Own Body to Shield Foal From Fire

from – http://www.equinechronicle.com/courageous-mare-uses-own-body-to-shield-foal-from-fire/

Bella on the day she arrived at the Humane Society of North Texas. HSNT photo.

During the early morning hours of April 6th, 2014, a North Texas family awoke to every horse owner’s worst nightmare. A heating lamp located within their barn had shorted out and sparked an electrical fire that quickly engulfed the entire building. Trapped inside was their beloved pony, “Bella,” and her new foal, “Butterscotch.”

The pair narrowly escaped but sustained life-threatening injuries as a result of the blaze. Of the two, Bella fared the worst enduring serious burns over the majority of her body. In addition, the damaging effects of smoke inhalation was a major concern.

Due to the extreme nature of the ponies’ injuries, the family reached out to the Humane Society of North Texas in hopes they could save Bella and Butterscotch.

“When we arrived, it was clear that Bella’s prognosis was bleak,” says a HSNT representative. “She suffered severe burns to the majority of her body and the billowing smoke she had inhaled had scorched her lungs. We rushed the pair to the care of an equine specialist, fearing the worst.”

Bella and Butterscotch just five days at HSNT. HSNT photo.

“Just two weeks later, Bella has made amazing progress thanks to the meticulous, around-the-clock medical care provided by our dedicated staff and volunteers.”

The latest update from veterinarians on April 23rd showed both ponies to be in good spirits. The once terribly frightened Butterscotch has become more inquisitive and is beginning to make new friends with staff and volunteers. Bella’s condition is improving, however she does have signs of an infection in some of the deeper burns on her neck and may need specialized ear surgery.

In an effort to raise money for the ponies’ treatment, HSNT set an initial goal of $4,000. Through the help of animal lovers from around the world, that mark was quickly met. However, it has become clear that Bella and Buttersotch’s treatment will cost much more than  was anticipated.

“Bella is currently in an equine clinic who is providing advanced around-the-clock care to help her fight off the beginnings of a skin infection,” says HCNT. “Our medical team is also concerned that she may need ear surgery and lifelong ear care. Butterscotch is doing extremely well and is staying strong next to her mother through all of her treatment.”

Photo courtesy of HSNT.

“Donations help us cure these deserving ponies and animals like them who are in need each and every day. We are in contact with her former owners and are giving them updates about her progress. Once she has healed, we will be assessing her medical needs and she and Butterscotch will either return to their former owners’ care or enter our adoption program to find a loving, forever home.”

‘Horsing around’ reduces stress hormones in youth

April 24, 2014 – By Rachel Webber, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

PULLMAN, Wash. – New research from Washington State University reveals how youth who work with horses experience a substantial reduction in stress – and the evidence lies in kids’ saliva.

The results are published in the American Psychological Association’s Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin this month.

“We were coming at this from a prevention perspective,” said Patricia Pendry, a developmental psychologist at WSU who studies how stress “gets under the skin” and the effects of prevention programs on human development. “We are especially interested in optimizing healthy stress hormone production in young adolescents, because we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems.”

NIH grant to apply hard science

Her work is the first evidence-based research within the field of human-equine interaction to measure a change in participants’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“The beauty of studying stress hormones is that they can be sampled quite noninvasively and conveniently by sampling saliva in naturalistic settings as individuals go about their regular day,” Pendry said.

A child leads a horse during a 12-week equine assisted learning and prevention program. (Photo by Patricia Pendry, WSU)

A child leads a horse during a 12-week equine assisted learning and prevention program. (Photo by Patricia Pendry, WSU)

While human-animal interaction programs with horses, dogs, cats and other companion animals have been credited with improving social competence, self-esteem and behavior in children, scientifically valid research to support these claims – and an understanding of the underlying mechanism for why people report a positive experience in these programs – has been limited.

Three years ago, the National Institutes of Health began asking researchers to tackle big questions about the effects of human-animal interaction on child development. With the support of a $100,000 NIH grant, Pendry led a research project to engage students in grades 5-8 in a 12-week equine facilitated learning program in Pullman, Wash.

Stephanie Roeter, WSU graduate student and co-author, processes saliva samples to measure stress hormones. (Photo by Patricia Pendry, WSU)

Stephanie Roeter, WSU graduate student and co-author, processes saliva samples to measure stress hormones. (Photo by Patricia Pendry, WSU)

She approached the coordinator of PATH (Palouse Area Therapeutic Horsemanship) at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, which had been offering a therapeutic riding program for over 30 years. Pendry has been riding and working with horses since she was a child and reacquainted herself with therapeutic horsemanship when she began to look for her next research project at WSU.

Higher hormone levels pose potential risk

She said stress hormone functioning is a result of how we perceive stress as well as how we cope with it. Stress is not just what you experience, she said, but it’s how you interpret the size of the stressor. A child in front of a large, unfamiliar horse may experience more stress than when he or she encounters a smaller, more familiar animal.

Working with PATH director Sue Jacobson and Phyllis Erdman from the WSU College of Education, Pendry designed and implemented an after-school program serving 130 typically developing children over a two-year period that bused students from school to the barn for 12 weeks.

Sue Jacobson, left, Patricia Pendry and Phyllis Erdman with two PATH horses. (Photo by Kate Wilhite, WSU)

Sue Jacobson, left, Patricia Pendry and Phyllis Erdman with two PATH horses. (Photo by Kate Wilhite, WSU)

Children were randomly assigned to participate in the program or be waitlisted. Based on natural horsemanship techniques, the program provided 90 minutes weekly to learn about horse behavior, care, grooming, handling, riding and interaction.

Participants provided six samples of saliva over a two-day period both before and after the 12-week program. Pendry compared the levels and patterns of stress hormone functioning by measuring cortisol. The results were exciting, she said.

“We found that children who had participated in the 12-week program had significantly lower stress hormone levels throughout the day and in the afternoon, compared to children in the waitlisted group,” she said. “We get excited about that because we know that higher base levels of cortisol – particularly in the afternoon – are considered a potential risk factor for the development of psychopathology.”

Evidence to support human-animal work

Pendry said the experimental design underlying the study gives more scientific credit to the claims of therapeutic horsemanship professionals, parents and children who have reported a positive impact from these types of programs. In addition, she hopes the results will lead to development of alternative after-school programs.

While the research focused on prevention, Pendry said she believes it could provide a starting point to look at the impact on children of high levels of stress and physical or mental health issues.

“Partly because of NIH’s effort to bring hard science to the field of human-animal interaction, program implementers now have scientific evidence to support what they are doing,” she said.

Learn more about the Department of Human Development in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources sciences at http://hd.wsu.edu.

Patricia Pendry, WSU Department of Human Development, 509-335-8365, ppendry@wsu.edu
Rachel Webber, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources Sciences (CAHNRS) Communications, 509-335-0837, rcwebber@wsu.edu

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