I have been riding bareback almost exclusively for over 20 years.
It’s not that I dislike a saddle, it’s just that I prefer bareback. I don’t risk my 60+ year old bones: I don’t gallop or jump, etc bareback. I’m not foolhardy. I guess I’m just lazy. It’s so much easier to merely groom, hop aboard, and ride. Besides, when I take off my sweated/begrimed jeans, my cat takes one whiff and goes berserk. She LOVES the smell of ‘horsey pants’. It’s almost obscene, watching her rub and writhe like a porn star, inhaling the scent of horse. Hey, cat, I love the scent of horse, too.
|Ooooh, horsey pants. I LOVE Mom's horsey pants.|
Riding without the intervening barrier of a saddle enables me to have an enhanced conversation with the horse. I can feel what his body is thinking. It’s easier for me to project my desires to him, i.e. turn left, and I feel his response that much better.
But what I like most about riding bareback is that I can more easily see the world through his eyes.
Horses are exquisitely aware of their surroundings. Not a thing can be moved in the world without their seemingly instantaneous awareness of the change.
Fortunately, they are fairly calm with the fact, but there are times when it means Something Is Very Different and Therefore, Scary.
My Arab, Jordan, was always a ‘looker’. He would routinely look UP into the trees as we rode underneath them. His ears were constantly moving, his nostrils working, sampling the air, listening for anything that may be important. He would routinely stop on a trail ride and just look around. I learned this wasn’t just laziness. Once, he stopped, ears pricked and I could feel his back tensing up-to bolt? He was an Arab, after all, one who had to have a shy a day before he would settle down to work.
But no, this time, after a good five minutes of our standing for no apparent reason, a hiker with a dog emerged from the forest. I had no way of seeing him or knowing he was approaching, but despite the man being downwind of us, Jordan knew he was coming long before he arrived.
One time, I was trail riding Jordan bareback and exited the forest into an open area. Jordan shied-because the last several times we’d ridden in that area, it had been chest high in Scotch broom. In the interim, all the broom had been cut down. It had changed.
He jumped sideways, and I fell off. (the best reason I know for riding a short horse is one doesn’t have that far to fall). I had held onto the reins, and Jordan immediately stopped moving and looked at me curiously, as if to say, what are you doing down there?
I was able to scramble back aboard (another reason for having a small horse) and then we just looked. I could feel his back muscles tensing, his ears were pricked, nostrils expanded, taking everything in. Something Is Different Here.
Even after he had accepted that the sudden opening of a previously overgrown area was harmless, still..he took no chances. He double timed through it.
Now, when I ride Raven, I allow him to stop and just look. I think he appreciates it.
I enjoy just sitting on a horse, I don’t need to be doing something all the time. Yeah, I know. There are horsemen who tell me I should always have a plan for when I ride, a goal, always be in a training frame of mind every single time I ride. Every step is supposed to be asked for, every motion rewarded if it’s good and worked through if it’s not. I am supposed to do everything the same way every single time. Every single ride. Really?
Sorry. That’s not me. I don’t have the focus and my goal has always been ‘don’t fall off.” When I mount, I usually do so without a thought in my head other than it feels so fine to be riding this magnificent beast. I am not a horse trainer and I am not an expert rider. If he does what I ask when I think to ask it, I’m happy. If he thinks I’m an inept bungler for being inconsistent, he doesn’t seem to hold it against me. He’s kind and loving and patient with me. And I am with him.
|Not my best photographic effort...after all, I am taking from his back, but it does show his lovely eye and frame of mind.|
What I do seek with my horse is that ‘silent lucidity’…that feeling of one mind and two bodies, the link between his mind and mine. I have to purposely and forcibly shush the constant narrative voice in my mind. Only when I stop listening to my mind, and allow myself to hear his, do I see the world in a different light.
Though I’ve seen it before, still, there is a different look to the world. I see the sunshine dappling the ground beneath the trees. I hear the wind in the grass. I feel his muscles swish his tail. I see a mare grazing in her paddock, her head moving in a semicircular pattern…step, bite, step, bite, left, right, left, right. I feel his breathing expanding his ribs. I feel the muscles in his back tensing, relaxing. I hear vireos singing in the trees, a raven knocking, a train’s receding whistle.
This is HIS world, his vision, and I can peer into his mind best when I empty my mind and am bareback. It’s the very same world as it was before I got aboard, but somehow, there is a clarity, a precision of vision that one normally ignores.
So if you see me seemingly doing nothing, sitting bareback on lovely, black warmblood gelding, the only motion his tail, his eyes, his nostrils, his ears…we’re really not doing nothing.