Saturday, February 13, 2010

Riding Bareback and Other Small Pleasures

by Laura Crum


I have to admit, up until last fall I would have said that I hadn’t ridden bareback in twenty years and probably never would again. In my early thirties I was very focused on competition, first at cutting, then at team roping, and I rode to train for my events. I seldom/never climbed on my horses bareback, though I had ridden bareback a great deal as a teenager (didn’t we all do that). I took a break from riding in my early forties to have a baby, and when I began riding again, it was always in a saddle, with my child in front of me. Then I ponied my child on his pony, and eventually, gave him a “lead” on my solid little trail horse—always in a saddle. Riding bareback never crossed my mind. I felt secure in a saddle. If you’d asked me, I would have said that I probably couldn’t stay on bareback any more.

I’m not sure what happened. Maybe it was reading horse blogs. Maybe it was that my best girl friend and I (who had both given up training and competing) were talking a lot about the small pleasures we were now enjoying so much with our horses, since the constant pressure and stress of training to compete were removed. These things had always been available to us—we just never noticed them much. We were too busy. Always in a hurry, always trying to get something done. Now we had time to pay attention.

She talked of how sweet it is just to stroke a horse’s muzzle, and we both waxed lyrical about sitting in the barn listening to horses munch their hay. We admitted to each other how much we enjoyed the feeling that we didn’t need to ride unless we wanted to, and how some days we took great pleasure in simply getting our horses out to graze. The feeling of relaxation and spaciousness around our horses was endlessly gratifying. We were free to enjoy the small things. And we both love trail riding now, especially alone. (And yes we go together sometimes, too—but there is nothing quite like being alone with your trusted horse in the wild woods, or on a lonely beach.)

I’m not sure what exactly brought the urge to ride bareback into my head, but somehow connecting with these simple horsy pleasures reminded me of how much I had loved the feeling of riding bareback when I was young. So one day last fall, when I wasn’t feeling particularly ambitious, I put the bridle on my yellow horse and climbed on him bareback.

Sunny has a broad flat back and is very comfortable to sit on. I rode him for awhile, and managed a trot and a lope, though he’s pretty rough gaited, so mostly I walked. It was fun. But I still didn’t really make the connection.

This last month, however, it has really been too wet to ride much. We had two straight weeks of heavy rain and sporadic rain ever since. My riding ring has wet mucky spots and the trails are wet and slick. The horses are hairy and muddy and the impulse to ride just isn’t there. All my horses have plenty of room to run and most of them do. My son’s older horse, Henry, is pretty sedate, however, and he doesn’t move much. And, as I wrote about awhile ago, Henry eventually colicked (exactly one year after the colic that led to surgery—see my post “A Strange Story”). Since then, I have tried to get Henry out every day for exercise and grazing.

The exercise is just walking, because of the footing, and I got tired of hand walking Henry. Despite the fact that I haven’t climbed on a horse bareback in years (my husband legged me up on Sunny), I decided now was the time. Henry is only 14.3. How hard could it be?

Well, I had to get Henry pretty thoroughly downhill from me, but I did it. (I was pretty proud of myself.) So, for the last little while, I’ve been riding Henry bareback in a halter, at the walk and slow jog, to give him some exercise. And guess what? This is a real pleasure.

Sitting on his warm red back, in the spring sunshine, with the green grass all around us, going nowhere fast, I can completely relax. I can close my eyes, or I can daydream. Henry is bombproof. It feels so nice.

The sensation of completely relaxing on a horse is very novel for me. I have ridden young horses for so long that the habit of always paying attention is very ingrained. Even on Sunny, I pay attention. Sunny is a stong willed critter, though perfectly safe. But Henry is a babysitter. It is so much fun to ride him and be completely at ease.
I know wouldn’t have this pleasure if I didn’t own a completely reliable horse, so I’m grateful to Henry, not just for what he’s given to my child, but also for this unique opportunity. It’s a feeling I remember from my youth, riding my uncle’s gentle horses, lying down on their bare backs, sitting sideways, just relaxing, virtually taking a nap on a horse. I haven’t done this in so many years and now I’m doing it again. How cool is that? What a pleasure.

Anyway, I was wondering if this would resonate for any of you. Any simple small things you take pleasure in with your horses—that maybe you didn’t always notice? Do you ride bareback in a halter, too? For some reason it came into my head that the halter is part of it. If you go to the trouble of bridling the horse, then you’re having a formal “ride”. But somehow climbing on bareback with a halter is different. A return to a simpler world, perhaps? Any thoughts on this?

11 comments:

Mrs Mom said...

Amen Laura. I envy your 14.3 hand horse now, over my 16 hand one! ;)

HorseOfCourse said...

I love to ride bareback, and especially during wintertime when it is so cold here.
There is nothing better than a soft and warm horseback when it is freezing outside!
I ride her bareback in the dressage training too. I feel both the horse's movements and my own better, and I just have to stay balanced. Hrmpf.

The last month I haven't put the saddle on more than a handful of times, and I ride in average 5-6 days/week.
I was out today on a wonderful 2 hours' trail ride with my daughter (yippeee!), marvellous winter weather - the sun's starting to warm some again here. Both of us bareback.

I am not as brave as you, Laura, and ride in a halter, but I put the sidepull on when out on trail.
Somewhat more freedom than with the snaffle perhaps, and I feel better with a little bit more control than I would have in a halter.
Even if Fame behaves well most of the time, she has a lot of energy so "better safe than sorry".

Laura Crum said...

Mrs Mom--you were part of my inspiration to ride bareback--I saw some photos of you riding Sonny bareback with a halter. So, how do you get on?

Horse Of Course--thanks for the info on the colic preventative on my last post--I will look for it. Henry is seeming completely fine, but I am paranoid, as I said.

And I'm not brave; riding Henry bareback at the walk/jog is just not at all challenging. Henry is a very gentle horse and I am only riding around my small ring. I'm not sure I'm up for riding bareback on the trail to be honest. Let alone doing anything as technical as dressage. So, you are far more ambitious than me.

Today was a warm, sunny day here, too, and a few more like this will dry my mud out and I can do more with the horses again. Yippee(!)

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I often ride bareback in my arena, mostly because I expect it to be a short ride and I am just too lazy to do all that grooming. I can ride all three horses a little bit each, that way. In the winter especially, I love the feel of their thick warm fur. It's an instant hand warmer.

My horses are 14.2 and 14.3 but even so, I use a fence and stand on the rail or a log or something. I'm just not as agile as I used to be- I could vault over the back of my 13.3hh POA in my teen years. I'm afraid to try it nowadays. lol.

Mikey said...

I'm an avid bareback rider, so it resonates with me! There's nothing better, so much more feel, so much more in tune with the horse. To me, there's not much better in this world than being bareback on a good horse in beautiful country. It's good for your soul.

KB said...

I love riding bareback; it does take you back to the worry-free days of gallivanting around as a kid. I haven't gotten up my nerve to ride the four-year-old bareback yet, though - she is narrow, and taller, and that just worries me.

I always ride Jet in a halter - my mare prefers it, and it's simpler for me. We're transitioning the baby to bitless as well, not because I dislike bits, but I do prefer the simplicity of a riding halter, and I'm fortunate enough to have two TBs who don't seem to require more.

Laura Crum said...

Voyager--I hear you about the grooming. I just brush the dirt off Henry's back with my hand and hop on. Well, drag myself on, really. Its so much easier than cleaning one up and saddling.

Mikey--Wow--I have loved some of your blog posts. I've always wanted to tell you what a great writer I think you are. And I admire you for riding "out" bareback, just like Horse Of Course. I'm not sure I'm brave enough for that. Many years of riding in a saddle have made me dependent on that stability, I'm afraid. And I have to cross a busy road to get to the trails I ride. OK, I'm kind of a chicken in my old age. Maybe I can work up to it.

KB--I know what you mean about narrower. My old horse, Gunner, is very high withered, and I never could be comfortable on him bareback. Even though he wasn't thin, his spine just cut me in half.

Mrs Mom said...

LOL I cheat Laura. Even as a flexible bouncy kid I couldn't master mounting bareback on my 14.3 hand horse.

Today I use any of the following:
My Dear Husband will toss me up sometimes,
A stump from taking down a lightning struck tree,
or
A lawn chair.

The lawn chair works well, and is what we use most of the time. (Though I confess... I *really* love it when Dear Husband tosses me up! Gives a girl a bit of butterflies ;) )

Laura Crum said...

Mrs Mom--Yeah, I'm gonna have to master the cheat thing. I jumped on Henry a couple of times by getting him downhill from me, and then yesterday I just couldn't do it. Had to have my husband leg me up. By far the nicest method, as you say. But I am going to start dragging my barn chair up to old Henry.

joycemocha said...

Bareback? Halter? Mocha?

Nope. For one thing, she's got a spiny back--I rode her bareback once, with the snaffle. We walked and trotted and I decided that my butt had gotten more boney in middle age than it had been when I galloped around bareback on my Shetland.

And as for That Girl going bareback in a halter...um. No. She'd probably be just fine, but on a horse capable of pretty hot rollbacks and fast hard stops, I'm not going there.

Laura Crum said...

joycemocha--I felt exactly the same about riding Gunner bareback in a halter. I did it a few times, just for fun, but his spine cut me in two and I could never forget just how hard he could move. I was nervous the whole time--even though Gunner was and is a very gentle horse. But on Henry its a completely different story. Henry is the ultimate babysitter. As I said in the post, its kind of a unique experience for me, and very relaxing, and its one I couldn't have if I didn't happen to own a completely reliable horse.