Ever since Stacy Westfall became an internet sensation with the YouTube video of her riding a freestyle reining pattern bridleless and bareback to Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Where Dying” people have become obsessed with this riding style. How is it done? Why does it look so easy? How come when I try it with my horse I get nowhere?
Bridleless isn’t all that mystical. In fact, it is merely an extension of what good riding should be. In other words, if you are riding your horse calmly, confidently, and consistently, and if you have a resistance free attitude and good equitation, you can ride bridleless.
It sounds easy when broken down into theory, but in practice riding bridleless is difficult and should only be attempted by the most experienced riders and trained horses. That being said, if you one day want to canter around with nothing but you and your horse, here are some horsemanship aspects that you can work on now that will ultimately lead you to bridleless dreams:
- Perfect Equitation: That’s right folks, in order to ride bridleless the rider is going to need perfect equitation, or correct position and balance on a horse. That means a straight line through your head, shoulders, hips, and heels, quiet hands and steady legs. Good equitation is required in any equine sport so it should be something everyone should strive for anyway.
- Neck Rein Master: Neck reining is where a horse can be steered with one hand on a loose rein. Instead of pulling on side you want the horse to turn you merely shift your hand in that direction and the horse feels the tension on the opposite side of his neck and moves away from it. This is different from English style riding because there is no contact or constant tension on the reins. The horse needs to be able to turn and stop on this loose rein.
- Seat-Stop Extraordinaire: Seat stops are where the rider digs their seat bones into the saddle by rotating their pelvis under them. This, in turn, tells the horse to stop. When done correctly, the horse should stop solely on the seat command and not with the reins. This is a more difficult maneuver and a competent riding instructor should be sought out to help you learn how to do it. The horse must know these types of stops as well, however, most western trained horses do. In order to ride bridleless you and your horse need to be able to do seat stops from a walk, trot, and canter.
- Head Snap: When riding, the rider’s head needs to be constantly looking forward to where they are going, and turning their head in the direction they want to go. It is also helpful to pivot at the belly button, moving the whole torso in the desired direction instead of just turning the head. By turning the torso you are putting weight into stirrup that is to the inside of the turn; this helps the horse know which direction to turn and how quickly he should be making that turn.
Once these riding elements have been accomplished you are on your way to becoming a bridleless team. However, bear in mind that this takes lots of practice and a quiet, lazier horse. Employ the help of a good riding instructor that can coach you and your horse along the way and who can get you safe and effective results.