Is it Safe to Ride Bare?
For starters, one needs to understand that riding without a saddle is called ‘bareback riding’. It is a skill that needs to be developed separately from riding with a saddle because of the obvious reasons and the not-so-obvious ones.
To begin with, no saddle means you have nowhere to place your feet. This requires additional balance on the horse’s back as well as coordination. This means you may get injured more easily, so judge carefully if you believe you can do this. Remember that is it also more tiresome due to the extra work, and your riding form needs to be watched closely so you don’t develop bad habits. If this becomes uncomfortable for the horse, you might want to stop completely or learn from a professional before starting over again.
However, the advantages it offers can be a quite pleasant change of pace from sitting on a saddle and prove to be well worth the effort. The contact is natural, which helps bonding and communicating with the horse. You will also end up building your balance skills.
There are also certain areas where this is enjoyable, or maybe even better than with a saddle. Wintertime means extra clothing, so at times your balance may even be improved from not having the saddle. Also, winter boots tend to get stuck in the stirrups. Or, if you have to walk a large distance for whichever reason it may be, you may want to just leave this extra equipment at home.
To do this, there are a few bits of advice to follow. For one, sitting slightly more forward will help, all the while keeping the legs in the same position as if you were riding with a saddle. This allows a safe position without hugging too tight. Let your heels fall lower than your toes. This will make sure your horse doesn’t receive confusing signals. If you press too hard, it may think you want to move faster when what you want – indicated by pulling on the reins – is to move slower. You could leave the saddle and stirrups when you’re starting to learn just in case you lose your balance, all the while walking before moving on to faster forms of moving, then change to a padded saddle without stirrups. Eventually, move on to the bare back and the faster gaits.
Also, please try to refrain from holding onto the horse’s mane. Even if you are losing your balance, it is better to try to use your legs. Moving your eyes instead of your entire head and not looking down is a way to help avoid this. You could even end up teaching your horse to follow head cues instead of using the reins since our heads make 25% of our body weight, and the horse will feel you turn it.
Some people may prefer learning to ride bareback first as it promotes good habits right from the start, and makes for a better workout. But, seek the help of an experience rider or a professional to ensure you are doing it right because you may actually also injure the horse without knowing it.
This leads me to the type of horse: careful you don’t choose one that may throw you up higher than the others, and find one with a broad back and low withers. It is better for both you and the horse.
There are many more tips to give you, but to ensure you are making the right decision, consult someone who has experience.