Is it Safe to Ride a Horse Without a Saddle

This blog is more geared toward animal welfare and those who don’t know much about horses and want to learn.  Today’s topic of discussion:  Is it Safe to Ride a Horse Without a Saddle?  We will cover frequently asked questions like:  “Are saddles bad for horses, is it better to ride a horse without a saddle, how saddles can improve comfort for horse and rider, what is the best time of day to ride a horse, how long can you ride a horse in a day and why do horses need saddles/how do saddles help the horse?

To start, it is safe to ride a horse without a saddle, though I would not start a newbie bareback.  Riding without a saddle means that there are no stirrups, so if the horse takes off the rider has to be able to stay on the horse without the use of a saddle horn or the platform that stirrups act as.  This means that it is more dangerous for a rider, not a horse, to ride without a saddle.  Reins are typically still used even if the saddle is not so the rider can still have control of the horse’s head, direction and stop/start movements.  However, using a saddle provides even more control and stability for the rider…and it can be argued as better for the horse’s back since it evenly distributes weight over the back.  For training purposes and testing your horse’s listening capabilities, you may want to opt for bareback, but for those who want a simple experience, a saddle is the way to go.  Since a saddle distributes weight better, it gives the horse clearer instruction from the rider.  This is because rider movements are felt with greater directionality, rather than in one spot when riding bareback.  Saddles are also more comfortable for horses for this same reason.  When you ride bareback, you sit just behind the withers directly on the spine.  When using a saddle, this area is cushioned with a saddle pad; plus, the curvature of the saddle is more tailored to the structure of the horse.  Saddles come in different sizes and have to be fit to a horse, otherwise they can be dangerous to use or uncomfortable for the horse.  Narrower horses need narrower trees, wider horses need wider trees, etc.  The perfect fitting saddle on each horse provides the most comfort for the rider and for the horse, and there is no one size fits all.  This, plus the addition of stirrups allows the rider to keep the majority of their weight directly off of the horse’s spine.  The stirrups do this by providing a place for the rider to stand when posting, galloping and push down on when running.   

Further into what is best for the horse, it is debatable, to some, what time of day is best to ride a horse.  My personal and somewhat professional opinion claims that morning time is best to ride a horse.  This is because there is plenty of daylight for the poor depth perception creatures, it is not as hot during the morning and horses are more docile in the morning.  Horses are also known to better retain instruction/teaching during the morning hours.  Research I am sure backs these claims, but for anyone who has personally worked with stubborn horses, you know these statements to be true.  There is nothing worse than trying to train a mare with attitude in 100° weather when she wants to be grazing in the shade at 5 pm.  Part of the attitude has to do with how long you’ve been on the horse and what you’re asking it to do.  For training purposes, the optimal time to ride and have them retain the most without frustration is to ride no longer than an hour.  However, horses meant for working cattle herds across vast spaces like the Dutton Ranch in Yellowstone, can be ridden for hours, not exceeding 8.  At this point anything over 8 hours is like asking a starting pitcher to throw all 18 innings of a double header, or asking a professional bull rider to ride 8 bulls back to back.  

Ultimately, it is better for both horse and rider to use a saddle.  This is mainly for training purposes, or for partaking in activities that require a lot of control over the horse or a lot of movement such as jumping or cutting.  Bareback is something I would only do in the pasture or on a trail ride, assuming the horse won’t spook.  It is safe to ride bareback, but on a tame, well-broken horse who is not tasked with serious jobs.  Plus, the saddles are comfortable for the horses and are chiropractor approved!  Most times, a horse can do his/her job better with a saddle, so I highly recommend you check out BlackJack’s website and pick up a sweet new saddle today!

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