Horseback Riding For Dummies
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If you like riding Western saddle, hunt seat, or dressage but think you may want to try something a bit different, consider experimenting with another, more unique discipline. You don’t have to give up your main discipline—just add one or two horseback riding styles to your repertoire. Of course, if you try an alternative discipline and like it better, you can give up the tried and true and just be different!

If you decide to try a new way of riding, make sure you do so with a qualified instructor. If your current instructor isn’t familiar with the discipline you want to learn, seek out someone who is.

Holding on with bareback

Before stirrups were invented in Central Asia back in ancient times, everyone rode bareback. Feet dangling and upper thighs gripping the horse for security, soldiers went into battle on horseback with nothing to hold them onto their horses other than talent and sheer will.

Centuries later, I grew up riding bareback on my little bay mare, Peggy. She roamed all over the hills of Southern California with me clinging to her back like a monkey. Although my bareback riding was borne out of being a teenager who wasn’t able to afford to buy a saddle, the experience ended up being a blessing in disguise. I figured out how to stay on a horse using balance. When the time came to ride with a saddle, I was ahead of the game.

Riding your horse on occasion with just a bareback pad, which is a cloth pad held onto the horse’s back by a cinch, can help your seat and balance — after all, you don’t have a saddle to support you. (You can see a rider using a bareback pad in the following figure.) Bareback pads are available at tack and feed stores, in equine equipment catalogs, and online.

bareback pad Photo courtesy of Sharon P. Fibelkorn

An equestrian uses a bareback pad when riding without a saddle.

Bareback riding is enjoyable for a couple of reasons:

  • Getting your horse ready for a ride is easier when you’re going bareback. No saddle to haul out of the tack room — just put on the bareback pad and you’re set for a ride. You can also ride without a pad, but be aware that your horse will sweat where your legs touch him. This sweat can leave you with big, embarrassing, horsehair-covered sweat marks on your seat and the back of your legs!
  • Riding bareback makes you feel at one with your horse. No leather comes between you and your mount. You experience the movement of the muscles in your horse’s back and sides as you ride. You also feel a bit wild sitting up there without a saddle to hold you or stirrups for your feet.
You can ride bareback in any discipline. If you normally ride English, you can use the same bridle and cues on the horse even though you’re riding without a saddle, and the same goes for Western. If you’re a Western rider and are so inclined, you can even compete with your horse in bareback classes at horse shows.

When riding bareback, make sure your pad is tightly cinched and doesn’t slip as you ride. And be sure to wear a helmet in case you and your horse should happen to part company.

Wait for your instructor to give you the go-ahead to ride bareback before you try it. You have less to support you when riding bareback, so you need to be skilled enough to stay on the horse on your own. Your instructor can tell you when you’re ready.

Getting your kicks in saddle seat

The English discipline of saddle seat is the youngest of the three styles of English riding. Developed in the Southern U.S. during the 1700s, this type of riding was created to give estate owners a comfortable way to ride when supervising their large tracts of land.

Saddle seat riders sit deep in the saddle, and they sit farther back on the horse to help elevate the animal’s front end. This setup is in part the purpose of saddle seat riding: to allow the horse to lift his front legs high, producing a showy action.

In saddle seat, you can ride a horse with a single rein bridle or a double bridle. The double bridle is unusual in that it has two bits, whereas most bridles have one. Riders using a double bridle have to figure out how to use each bit by manipulating the reins on each side individually.

Saddle seat riders may ride for pleasure, but most are into showing. They compete on gaited horses such as the Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking Horse and on other breeds with showy action, including the Arabian and the Morgan. Check out the following figure to see a saddle seat rider in action.

saddle seat Photo courtesy of Sharon P. Fibelkorn

Saddle seat riding, which features high stepping movement, was developed in the Deep South during the 18th century.

Sidesaddle: A feminine tradition

One of the most interesting styles of riding is sidesaddle, a discipline that started during medieval times during an era when gallant knights rode forth into tournaments and battle to impress their ladies. In order for these women to truly appreciate the heroics of their knights, they needed to follow them on horseback. Sitting astride a horse was considered unladylike — and impractical given the elaborate dress women wore back then — so someone conceived the notion of riding with both legs to one side instead of straddling the horse.

It wasn’t long before women throughout Europe were riding sidesaddle. It became a popular pastime among the well-to-do women of Europe over the next several centuries. These women brought the discipline to the United States, and the tradition became a part of American culture as well.

Today, sidesaddles are made in all the same styles as traditional astride saddles, including Western, hunt seat, and dressage. Each of these saddles is used in its respective discipline, just as if it were an astride saddle. Sidesaddle riders can even compete in most of the same events as astride riders — and not always in special sidesaddle classes. Sidesaddle riders sometimes show up in regular classes at shows, although they are rare.

Not too many riders use a sidesaddle, which is designed very differently than a traditional saddle. The saddle has only one stirrup, on the left side of the horse, and it has two pommels instead of one. The top pommel is curved, allowing the rider to hook her right leg on it.

Riding sidesaddle uses very different muscles than traditional riding does because riders need to balance in the center of the saddle with both legs on the left side of the horse. This balancing act can be challenging at first because your body wants to list to the left. You need muscle strength to keep your pelvis pointing directly forward. The figure shows a sidesaddle rider.

sidesaddle Photo courtesy of Sharon P. Fibelkorn

A rider keeps both legs on the left side of the horse in sidesaddle.

People who ride sidesaddle love this discipline. I tried it and really liked it. It’s a whole different way of riding! The good news is that you don’t need a specially trained horse for this discipline. All you need to know is how to sit in a saddle with both your legs on one side.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Connie Isbell is a former editor and writer atAudobon magazine, as well as the editor of numerous pet books. Audrey Pavia is the author of many books on pets and animals, including the bestselling Horses For Dummies and The Rabbit: An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet. She has been a frequent contributor to numerous pet publications, editor-in -chief of Horse Illustrated, and senior editor of The AKC Gazette.

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