A Few Observations From The First Week of Bareback Winter
After deciding that I would be riding almost exclusively bareback this winter (except for lessons), Dino and I have been at it for about a week or so now. I've noticed some things.
- Ow, My Abs. I mean, I knew this would be more physically challenging than riding in my saddle, but I didn't quite understand how sore my abs and back would be! My core is WORKING, and it HURTS, and I'm pretty sure it's a good thing.
- It really, truly, isn't about gripping with your legs. Having learned to ride in the H/J school of keeping one's leg as tight as possible at all times, my go-to leg position involves rolling into my thigh and knee, jamming my heels down, and keeping my calves tight against the horse. This position, while it does keep me ON the horse exceedingly well, doesn't really allow for an effective seat and is perceived as sort of nagging by my already-kind-of-dull pony. Also, if I grip while riding bareback, I will pop right off. Or make my pony come to a screeching halt. Or both.
- Riding downhill is easier than riding uphill. For a self-described Hater of The Downward Direction, I was shocked to find that I'm MUCH more comfortable riding bareback down hills than up hills. The withers and shoulder muscles kind of just keep me where I'm supposed to be, I stretch up and sit deep, and away we go! Uphill, however, finds me feeling like I'm about to slide off the back of Dino's round little butt if I don't grab mane or grip with my knees. (See Number 2.) Walking is okay if he is round, but trotting feels very precarious, and I haven't had the cojones to canter a very steep slope yet. Is there a legit, correct way to ride uphill without a saddle? Someone please help.
- My pony is basically perfect. I was setting off for a hack the other day, bareback and with our halter-and-reins ghetto bitless getup, and paused to say hi to a barn buddy on the way out. Noticing our lack of actual tack, she commented, "Wow, that's bold!" It didn't even occur to me that anyone would think that it was a bold move to head out to ride the Back 40 bareback in a halter. I never question my safety when riding out on Dino, and if I end up falling off, it'll probably be my own fault! My pony is 18 and rock-steady and sensible as the day is long. I love him.
- ...But I'm still braver than I was a year or two ago. Not too long ago I was working steadily just to improve my confidence in riding outside the arena. Riding downhill made me break out in a nervous sweat. The kind of trial riding I do now was not in my repertoire. I did ride bareback occasionally, but I pretty much stuck to inside-the-arena activities, and rarely cantered without a saddle. My one or two attempts at bitless riding left me at Dino's mercy, since I had zero control. Now I'm cruising all around the farm, walk/trot/canter, and doing figure-8's around trees without using my reins. And I'm not scared to do any of it.
Ditching my tack has been incredibly fun and enlightening so far! I can't wait to see what other interesting things I learn during our Bareback Winter.