Bareback and Bridleless

Sometimes it is fun to do something a little different with my horses.

I used to enjoy occasionally experimenting with riding my horse, Bear, with just a neck rope. The photo above was taken of Bear and me in 2007.

It is an interesting test of the rider’s balance and aids in communicating with the horse. Even when done in a small space like my roundpen and limited to riding only at the walk. I realize things about my riding that don’t show up in the same way when I am on a fully tacked horse.

I get to see how my horse responds to my seat, leg and weight aids in a pure way. I can’t use to the reins to reinforce my other aids or make up for the fact that I gave an ineffective seat aid, for example.

It’s also an interesting experiment in staying with my horse when my control over the horse’s body is greatly reduced.

Sometimes things go a little wonky during a ride without tack, even a quiet ride at the walk. When in full tack, my habitual response is to brace against the horse to try to wrestle back control. But with no tack, I can’t do that. Not even with the neck rope.

Instead, I have to go with whatever the horse is presenting. I can’t block it. I have to relax mentally and physically in that moment, flow with the horse’s movement while trying to maintain my balance. Take a deep breath. Get back on track with the rest of my plan for the ride. Probably how I should be riding even with tack too.

I’d been wanting to try riding my other horse, Shiloh, without bridle and saddle for awhile now. Last week I decided we were finally ready. Each time, I rode first in full tack as a way to check in with him and make sure we were on the same page, relaxed and listening to each other. Then I took off the tack, put on a neck rope and we were ready to give it a go.

First off, we positioned carefully at the mounting block.

Then I swung a leg over.

And we’re off!

We practiced staying on the rail.

We practiced turning off the rail.

We practiced crossing the ground poles.

In both directions.

Here we end on whoa.

While I rarely ride without tack, it is a challenging exercise I enjoy. I also think both Bear and Shiloh found it interesting. All that said, please note that I am aware that bareback and brideless riding poses safety risks beyond those normally associated with riding horses.

If you have ever thought about riding bareback and bridleless, I strongly recommend extensive thought, planning and preparation. Carefully consider:

  • Your own skill level (be really comfortable riding bareback WITH reins before you go without)
  • The environment in which you plan to ride (the arena, the weather, the surrounding atmosphere)
  • Your horse’s temperament
  • How well your horse stands still for mounting (keep in mind you might need a mounting block)
  • Your horse’s level of training (see the reading recommended reading-material below for details)
  • Wearing your choice of safety equipment like a helmet or air vest
  • The availability of a reliable grounds person to supervise

I also recommend reading material written on the subject by respected and experienced horse professionals. Here are a few resources to give you food for thought if you are interested in learning more.

https://www.horseillustrated.com/western-horse-training-go-bridleless-part-1 (This is a link to part one of a three part series written by Julie Goodnight with links to parts one and two at the bottom of the article)

https://horseandrider.com/western-horse-training-tips/going-bridleless-mustang-maddy

https://blog.dressagenaturally.net/27-freestyle-riding-and-healthy-biomechanics

Many thanks to my husband for acting as my trusty grounds person and photographer, both in 2007 for the top photo and more recently for all the other ones!

13 thoughts on “Bareback and Bridleless

  1. Looks like fun. I rode without a bridle in a Linda Tellington clinic. I did have a saddle though. We had a neck ring and walked, trotted and cantered around the arena and past the seated people attending the clinic. Biasini was a star! Shiloh looks like a star too in these photos.

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      1. I have to say that is really impressive to have you and your horse perform that way in front of a crowd! Like your sense with Biasini, I also think that both Bear and Shiloh like being ridden that way. It is an interesting dynamic, one that I think can bring a lot of richness to the horse-human relationship if it can be performed safely.

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  2. Growing up my girlfriend’s and I would ride bareback and use a rope or bailing wire just around their neck, like the neck ring. It was great FUN!! Since I mostly ride trails, I’ll sometimes ride in my bareback pad as I like to strengthen different muscles when riding bareback. I have a bit-less bridle I use off and on but haven’t ridden in a neck ring, which I could do in the arena. This was a fun post, and fun to read about your adventures! Thanks for sharing! ~ Diana

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    1. Thank YOU, Diana, for reading and sharing your comments! Like you, I think it is fun to play around with different types of tack or lack thereof, assuming I am able to set up elements that give me some chance of safety/success. It’s interesting to see what kind of reactions I have to the changes and to try to read my horses’ preferences to see what they seem to like best.

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  3. So fun! I used to do this with Phoenix and always enjoyed it, although one time my neck rope broke while I was cantering lol (don’t use a cheap neck rope haha). I did start Ernie with a neck rope this past winter but never progressed to removing the bridle, just had my reins knotted and nearby in case I needed them. Maybe a goal for next winter. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment! Ha, I had the bit fall out of one of my horse’s mouths as we were trotting across the pasture one day. Fortunately, he kept trotting quietly and stopped himself in front of a pasture gate. I took that opportunity to dismount quickly. Glad you stayed safe with your own equipment malfunction, and bareback at the canter no less!

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