48 Issue 3 · 2013
If you can sit a horse well at all gaits
bareback, then you're a good rider. Riding
bareback teaches you to use your legs, creates
exceptional balance and feel, and it's also fun.
Frankly, it teaches you to ride! Sitting
competently while bareback is only learned by
actually doing it. The easiest way to learn is on a
gentle horse in a safe place so you have control
and can build confidence.
A round pen is about as safe a place as you
can get. It's also helpful to have an assistant or
ground person to help you. Put a halter and lead
rope on your horse and have your helper handle
the rope from the middle of the pen. If possible,
have two he!pers - one on either side of the
horse to catch you if you fall as you mount and/
There are several ways to mount bareback.
One simple way is to stand on a 5 gallon bucket
or mounting block to give yourself a lift.
Another method is to have a ground person
help you. To mount on the horse's left, stand next
to your horse's left shoulder and bend your left
knee. Have your helper hoist you up by grabbing
your left leg by the shinbone and boosting you
straight up. Grab hold of your horse's mane for
extra support and lift or pull your way up.
A third way is to swing or jump up without
any help. This is the most difficult, but well worth
knowing how. Put both hands in your horse's
mane and hold on to the lead rope. Stand near
your horse's left shoulder, facing your horse's
hindquarters. Now, turn your body to the right
and with what can best be described as a running
motion take a giant leap, pushing off the ground
with both legs. Swing your right leg over your
horse's back. Literally pull yourself up on the
horse's back. It's best not to use spurs when
learning how to do this.
There's a second version: Do everything the
same except instead of swinging your leg over in
a giant leap, jump up and lay the torso of your
body on your horse's back Then, swing your leg
over and sit up straight.
Both ways take lots of practice and can be
particularly difficult with tall horses.
Mounting from a Fence
One keen way to mount is to teach your
horse to pick you up off a fence. This can be done
riding bareback or with the saddle. As your horse
becomes good at this procedure, you can use
anything to stand or sit on a large rock or trailer or
truck fender, anything. But for teaching purposes,
use a fence rail. Just make sure it's stout enough
to hold your weight. Some panel fences are
flimsy, so use good judgment in what you step on.
You'll need a Ionge whip or what I call a
swagger stick as an extension of your arm. Put
a halter and lead rope on your horse. Sit on the
top rail of an arena or round-pen fence and longe
your horse in each direction.
Use your stick to ask your horse to move to
the right or left. He should follow these instructions
from your earlier lessons with the flag and ropes.
If you want him to move closer to the fence to
your left, extend your stick with or without the flag
on it and shake it or tap your horse slightly on his
right side to encourage him to move to the left.
When he takes a step, stop shaking or tapping.
Let that be his reward and allow him to dwell
on that for a moment, then begin again. Keep
shaking or tapping unit he comes alongside the
fence. The only real resting spot for your horse
should be parallel to the fence, where it's easy for
you to mount.
When your horse is in good position for
mounting, rub the top of his back with your
boot or band, just to make sure be isn't going to
spook. Your horse should know you're up there. It
shouldn't come as a surprise to him.
Remember that you're in the same position
a predator would be in to pounce. Don't let your
horse's prey-animal instinct come out. Help him
through it before it surfaces.
When your horse accepts your presence,
kneel down on his back with one knee, still holding
the fence rail should you need an emergency
escape. Then sit down gently on his back
Don't ride off immediately. Wait there a
moment. Teaching your horse to wait on you is
invaluable throughout your training. He learns
patience and to wait for your commands.
In no time, your horse will understand what
you want when you climb on top of a fence.
Shake the lead rope or your reins and he'll sidle
right over to the fence to pick you up.
Once on your horse bareback, relax and get
a feel of him and for him. Sit in the correct spot
behind his withers. There's a groove or pocket
where your seat and legs fit best. It's the most
natural place to establish your balance. Even
though every horse's back is different, you should
have no trouble finding this secure spot. Some
horses are more comfortable to sit than others.
That can't be helped. You'll have to adjust to fit
your horse's conformation.
There's a series of exercises you can do
to become comfortable on
your horse. It helps if there's a
ground person to handle your
horse and catch you if you fall.
Lean back slowly and lie down
on your horse's back. Turn
loose and relax, just as if you
were on your couch at home. If
your horse spooks and you don't have a ground
person, roll off one way or the other. Obviously,
it's best to have a good, gentle horse on which to
practice. Most well broke horses won't mind these
Sit back up. Now lean forward and hug your
horse's neck with both arms. Next, swing your
right leg over your horse's neck so you're sitting
sideways on the left side of your horse. This really
helps your agility and balance.
Next, swing the left leg over and sit
backward on your horse. Lie down on your horse
again; this time your head rests on the crest of his
Sit back up and swing your right leg over
your horse's rump. This positions you sideways
on the right side of your horse. Now reverse the
entire procedure. Swing your right leg over your
horse's rump and you'll be sitting backward again.
Continue on a round as above.
In no time, you'll become more comfortable
on a horse's back and, as an added benefit, your
horse will become more gentle and accepting of
your movements and the feel of you on him. For
the first time, you'll literally feel your horse under
you. You'll feel a living creature; not a saddle - a
horse. Believe me, it's a whole different feeling.
After the stationary exercises, it's time to
ride. With both hands on the reins, ride to the
round-pen perimeter and walk around it. Or, if you
have a helper, have him take you to the fence and
simply walk you around the pen. Go both ways.
Once you relax at a walk, ask for a trot and
go both ways. Put one or both hands in the mane
for stability if you desire. Depending on your
horse's pace, the trot is the hardest gait to sit.
With a quick pace or an especially bouncy horse,
you might have to post the trot if it's too difficult
to sit. Eventually, work up to a canter, which,
because of its rocking chair movement, should be
easier to sit. Some horses are more comfortable
one direction than the other. You'll discover that
Using a surcingle or bareback pad is certainly
acceptable. With them, you'll have more to bang
by Craig Cameron