How to Canter Bareback

Riding bareback is something alot of riders only dream of, but never have the courage to do. And there’s no denying the fact that it’s an admirable goal to aspire to: however riding bareback requires skill and precision. Aside from that, it’s also an excellent way to improve your overall balance when horse riding, so it is . a great exercise for beginners and experienced riders alike.

That being said, cantering (which is already a tricky gait sometimes depending on who you ask) without a saddle can be a bit more difficult. With that in mind, we’ve put together this brief article outlining some safety tips for cantering bareback as well as a quick guide for how to canter bareback.

Safety First

As always, safety for both yourself and your horse should be the number one priority when you’re riding, regardless of whether or not you are using a saddle or going bareback.

One of the key parts of riding bareback is to maintain proper posture; being mindful of your posture is extra important when riding bareback because you will not have the seat and back of the saddle keeping you place. So before you even start about thinking the saddle you should start riding without stirrups on a regular basis. Once you can ride without stirrups in every gait (walk, trot and canter) you can then move on and ride in a bareback saddle pad. A bareback pad can assist you further in improving your balance without the support of a proper saddle. Your legs should still be in the same position as if you had the stirrups there, and you balance is kept in you seat, thighs and calves. Make sure you don't squeeze your calves too much though as sensitive horses can misunderstand this as a forward moving aid.

Please Note - Always make sure to always wear a helmet when you ride. Even if you are an experienced rider who is using a well-trained horse, accidents can happen and it’s better to be properly outfitted with the right safety gear just in case. The below photos are taken of a horse that has been trained in liberty for years, hence no helmet were used in this instance (but we do not recommend riding without one).

Step 1: Begin at a walk. When learning how to canter bareback, it’s important to not jump straight into a cantering gait; instead, begin at a walking pace in order to get a feel for your horse’s movements and adjust to riding without a saddle underneath you. As we mentioned earlier, pay attention to your posture, both in terms of your core and your spine but also your legs; they should be tucked underneath you at a comfortable angle. Take as long as you need to adjust to the feeling of riding without a saddle and stirrups, and then move on to the next step: trotting.

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Step 2: Move from a walk to a trot. As with walking, pay attention to your posture and the positioning of your legs when trotting bareback. As a side note, riding bareback can be incredibly beneficial for improving your sitting trot, as it allows you to get a better feel for your horse’s movement, which allows you to adjust your own position and movements accordingly. You can still ride a rising trot without a saddle, just gently squeeze your thighs and move your body in an up and down motion. You'll get the hang of it pretty quickly, just pretend the stirrups are still there. In any case, once you are comfortable with trotting bareback (again, don’t feel pressured to rush ahead if you’re not ready) move on to the third step, cantering.

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Step 3: Transition from a trot to a canter. Moving from a trot to a canter can be a bit more of an adjustment than moving from a walk to a trot because it’s such a drastic shift in gait, but the most important thing to remember is to keep your legs comfortably positioned underneath of you with your hips loose and open in order to better respond to your horse's movements. Generally speaking, when it comes to successfully sitting a canter you will want to keep yourself in a mostly neutral position and move your hips along with the rhythm of your horse’s canter. Alot of riders find it more comfortable to ride a horse bareback in canter rather than trot, as the canter is a more smooth comfortable gait, and trotting can be bumpy and uncomfortable (especially on a horse with a high wither).

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