Friday, July 8, 2011

Striving for Good

I was listening to Denny Emerson’s interview on the Stable Scoop podcast the other day, as he talked about his new book, How Good Riders Get Good.  During the interview, he said something that got under my skin and made me start itching.

He said that the way you can tell a really good rider is to take away the rider’s stirrups and see if they can still ride as well without them.  Better yet, take away the saddle and see how they do. If they ride as well without stirrups, or bareback, you've found a good rider.
Riding Bareback No. 2 by Joyce Geleynse

Comments like that, from someone as renowned and respected as Denny Emerson, motivate and challenge me.  I know what he described is not the only measure of a good rider, but being able to ride as well without stirrups or a saddle definitely means the rider has an excellent seat and is so fit, balanced and supple that she seems to have an almost instinctual ability to move with the horse.

When I was younger, sometimes I was just too plain lazy to put the saddle on the horse, so I would jump on bareback and go off on the trails, walking, trotting and cantering bareback, staying on uphill and down, over obstacles, through spooks.  I barely gave it a thought.  Who WAS that girl?  And why is it so hard to do that now?

Since I restarted my horse life, about eight year ago, I have only ridden bareback twice.  TWICE in eight years.  I should be ashamed of myself!  And both times were under very controlled conditions at a slow pace.
Here I am at age 11, about to enter bareback class on CG. That's my sister, Nan.

So, on my last couple of rides on Hudson, I have dropped the stirrups.  I haven’t been brave enough to cross them over the pommel yet, like I used to do in Pony Club, or when my sister wanted to torture me (she was my coach for a few years).  Hudson doesn’t seem to mind them dangling at her sides, and I feel better knowing I can jam my feet in them if I need to.

Now THAT's a back that doesn't need a saddle.
The only times I needed to tonight were when we got speedy, as before I asked Hudson to jump two naturally fallen logs on the trail.  I wanted the stirrups for the jumps and the subsequent charge up the path through the woods.  I know, I know. I’m
a chicken. 

The other time I wanted them was during a gallop in the upper field.  For the rest of the ride, during a variety of trot speeds on an up-and-down path, and also once during a sideways spook when a ruffed grouse surprised us (they are quite the loud wing flappers, those grouse), I rode comfortably without stirrups.  I was conscious not to lean on the reins and kept my body balanced over my seat bones.

My legs did get tired from the unusual stretching that occurred without stirrups, but that was the only toward the end of the ride. 

I’m not there yet, but this will be something I’ll continue to work on this summer, until I’m comfortable enough to jump on Hudson bareback on the evenings when I really want to check my balance, my seat, my harmony with the horse’s movement.   

Or maybe I’ll do it when I’m just too lazy to put on the saddle.


  1. It's a fantastic book, completely packed with exactly this sort of "Well, bozo, most of this is comes down to what you choose to do with your horse passion" reminders that most things are within our control to change if we're serious about it! You're serious! Go to it!

    And nice work sans stirrups with Huds!

  2. I'm looking forward to getting a copy. It sounds like a real kick-you-in-the-butt book. A GOOD kick-you-in-the-butt.

  3. Fantastic picture of you and Nan! I love that it's B&W-- virtually timeless!