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Is Barebacking Harmful?

by Anja Huehmer
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During these last few weeks of summer, many riders will use this opportunity for one of every equestrian’s favorite activities – barebacking! There is nothing quite like the freedom you get when riding your horse without a saddle. Whether it’s in movies or just our fellow barn friends, we see many riders opting for a bareback ride every once in a while. But is this hard on our horses or a totally safe way to ride? 

Differences In Riding With And Without A Saddle

If one goes far back in the history of horse and man, saddles were not originally designed for riding. These so-called pack saddles were made for transporting loads. This meant that the goods to be transported could be stowed safely and well distributed on the back of the horse or donkey.

Over time, the first riding saddles developed from this form. They were mostly of simple nature and built on the basis of the pack saddles. At first, they were only padded slightly better to give the rider a certain comfort. Over the centuries, these simple models eventually evolved into the saddles we know today.

And even today, the purpose of the saddle is still to distribute the load, i.e. the rider’s weight, safely on the horse’s back. The pressure is evenly distributed over the saddle panels. This is more comfortable and gentle on the horse’s back. The shape of the saddle and the stirrups give the rider a secure, balanced seat.

In contrast, when riding without a saddle, the rider’s weight tends to rest on the horse’s back at points on the left and right of the spine, caused by our seat bones. In the long run, this can lead to disorders and health problems, especially for horses with little or incorrect back muscleing. You can easily test this on yourself: Ask someone to press on your back with their flat hand. Not bad, right? Because the pressure is distributed by the palm of their hand. Now ask them to press their fingertip into your back. You will notice that this punctual pressure is much more uncomfortable.

Barebacking – Requirements For Horse And Rider

First of all, it should be ensured that the horse’s back is sufficiently and well muscled. Horses with poor or incorrect back muscles should not be ridden without a saddle. Otherwise, this can lead to serious back problems and even lameness. We must always remember that horses are not originally made to carry the weight of a rider. Only with the correct back muscles are they able to carry us without health problems.

To generally say that riding without a saddle would be “better” or “more natural” for the horse is unfortunately wrong. However, it is also true that saddles can cause problems if they do not fit properly or are broken.

In addition, the rider should already have developed a secure seat in all three gaits as well as soft hands. Inexperienced riders often try to balance themselves by using their hands and reins, which will not exactly promote the horse’s confidence in the rider.

In Conclusion – Is Barebacking Harmful?

If the physical conditions of the horse and the riding experience and ability of the rider are right, there is nothing wrong with occasionally riding without a saddle. If you feel insecure or anxious without a saddle, you can slowly approach this by for example temporarily dropping the stirrups or by using a bareback pad. Riding without a saddle betters the seat and trains the feeling for the movements of the horse, since you have direct contact with the horse’s back. It is a great change from the normal everyday training and promotes the trust between horse and rider. It is only harmful if the right conditions are not given.



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