Horse Journal OnCall - Can I Show Bareback?

Our reader wants to know if show rules permit riding without a saddle.
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Our reader wants to know if show rules permit riding without a saddle.

I don't have a saddle that fits my horse, and I am supposed to ride in an upcoming horse show. I have looked over this certain shows rules, and it says that it follows the AQHA rules. I looked through those and found nothing that said I couldn't show bareback. However, as always, I could be missing something. Would I be able to show my horse without a saddle in trail classes and gaited classes?

hojo_2c_headonly

Answer from Associate Editor Margaret Freeman:

There are basically two types of shows, those licensed by specific organizations and those that aren’t. Licensed shows must follow specific rules and must require its competitors to follow that same body of rules; otherwise the show will be fined and can even lose its license for the future. Such rulebooks are usually written to provide a level playing field for competitors and address safety and welfare of both horses and competitors.

Unlicensed shows, such as the one you are entering, will usually state that they follow a specific body of rules, such as those of the American Quarter Horse Association or the U.S. Equestrian Federation, as a shorthand reference to rules that most people know. We did find this reference to western tack in the AQHA Handbook, which could apply to your case: “SHW305.8 In all western classes, . . . horses will be shown in a western saddle and appropriate bridle.”

When a show isn’t licensed, management can also make any exceptions to such rules they want – and often do. For example, your show is offering a gaited class, but the AQHA doesn’t have gaited classes, so that is already an exception.

Therefore, you should first contact the management of your show to see if you will be allowed to compete bareback. It is totally the prerogative of show management, although they may also consult the judge to make sure he is comfortable with any changes from generally accepted procedure. The show needs to allow other competitors to use the same exceptions, not just you.

The prize list for your show refers to English and Western attire but not tack, so there may be some wiggle room in the rules. Don’t be disappointed if they say no to your bareback request, which may be a safety consideration for them. Unfortunately, even though they have games and timed events, they don’t specifically offer bareback classes. Perhaps you can suggest they do so in the future.

In the meantime, does your horse have a specific saddle-fit issue that would keep you from borrowing a standard type of saddle? Perhaps a corrective saddle pad could help.

As a dressage judge at shows recognized by the USEF (plus Morgan and Arab associations), I have learned over the years that many people just aren’t very good at reading rule books. Rule books can be tough going, but it is a waste of money to not fully understand the rules in advance to arriving at a show, paying your entry fees and then be eliminated for a violation. Most associations are very good at answering rules questions if you give them a call. Licensed shows also will have some sort of steward who can answer your questions before you tack up.

Last year, I was judging a USEF-recognized dressage show when a competitor stopped by my judge booth and announced: “I just wanted to tell you, I am going to ride my test without holding the reins. I looked in the rule book, and it’s legal.” I told him it wasn’t and that if he stepped into the ring without holding the reins, I would eliminate him. I had the rule book by my hand and quickly found the relevant rule. He went to talk to the show’s technical delegate who learned he had read the rules in the jumper section, not the dressage section. My jaw still drops when I think about that one.

Margaret Freeman, Associate Editor