Bareback Summertime Freedom

Remember when summertime freedom meant riding bareback? EquiSearch.com columnist Suzanne Drnec relives those summer rides and grants her own kind of equine therapy.
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Remember when summertime freedom meant riding bareback? EquiSearch.com columnist Suzanne Drnec relives those summer rides and grants her own kind of equine therapy.
Suzi Drnec and son Joe |

Suzi Drnec and son Joe |

For some, it's vacations and picnics, ballgames and fireflies. For me, summer is about riding. Even though I'm long past the age when the end of the school year heralds the beginning of summer fun, I still look forward to this time of year with eagerness that even the horses seem to sense.

Finally, the days are long enough to fit almost all my duties and pleasures in before dark: work, family, and a little extra time to hop on a favorite mount and go for a spin--even if it's just a few minutes in the arena. As when I was a child, there's something delightful about coming in from the barn at dusk when I'm still warm and satisfied from a little equine therapy. The barn chores are done, the day draws to a close, and I feel and smell like summer.

Summer brings its own hazards, of course: the flies, the 'skeeters, the heat and dust, but it all seems tolerable when weighed against extra hours of sunshine, slick shiny horses, and lower hay prices. In fact, the scent of fly spray with a light dust overlay says summer to me more than any song, any flavor of lemonade, any day at the beach. The 4th of July offers a chance to ride in our hometown parade, and a full moon means manure management by moonlight--a pleasant treat when the sleepy blue light illuminates the piles in the pasture.

Of all the season's pleasures, I think nothing compares to riding bareback. Since I live in the suburbs, this refers to the horse's back, not my own, but wearing old jeans and a tank top with my battered straw hat* feels as good to me as no saddle does to my mare. On a saddle, I forget the play of muscle and strength that each stride transfers to my legs, the subtle warnings that a fake shying incident is about to take place, the marvel of how my horse flicks a fly with a targeted twitch of her skin.

Perched on leather, I focus on our formal riding skills; but bareback, I remember why riding frees me, why the liberation of galloping across a field with no tack but a hackamore helps me feel my horse, sense her intentions, and ride like a Plains Indian tracking buffalo. We may have just a field, and perhaps a gopher instead of bison as company, but a bareback gallop brings back all the glorious intoxication of youth, of Alec and The Black streaking across the sands, of a romantic childhood spent reading of horses then reliving the stories in my own back yard.

For the uninitiated, riding bareback may seem a foolhardy pursuit. No saddle? No stirrups? How do you stay on? With balance and anticipation of my horse's moves, with a primal melding of my muscles to hers, with a little luck and a lot of practice, riding sans saddle makes poor riders better and good riders great. It's not something to do on a whim, but riding without the artificial security of a saddle creates confidence, hones balance, improves intuition and helps horsemen appreciate all the sensations of riding. You can't be a passenger bareback; you must participate fully in the centaurian process of horse-man-ship.

The badges of bareback experience are subtle, but I wear them with pride: the way my legs can completely relax alongside my horse's body, my feet swinging to the same rhythm as her head's sway. There's no tension in my body, and my mind is free to explore, to remember riding this way before I even began kindergarten on that first Shetland pony.

Poor Brian--we literally rode the hair off that little black pony, and he spent all summer with a bare patch of skin shaped like a wishbone just behind his withers where our Toughskin jeans wore off his coat. Brian was the neighborhood transport of choice until our gang reached high school--no bicycles for us, we had pony power to spare.

Riding bareback has made me aware of my surroundings, in that it's necessary, when riding a horse, to always site a stump, wall, or fence to get on from. My friend Chrissy could leap on her 16 hand mare from a standing start, but I never did better than 14:2. Ascending the bigger horses requires a boost, even with my effective elbows-over-their-backbone technique. I still make death-defying leaps from a stationary object onto a wary and moving horse, and only rarely fell into the abyss.

After a bareback ride, after another adventure in equus, I'm pleased with the ring of white hair inside my jeans. I feel like a girl again, like there's no end to summer and nothing to plan except the next day's ride--carefree and satisfied that I ride well enough to stay on, that the sweaty patches on my mare's slick back were obtained by honest effort, that the sensations of happiness and freedom from a bareback ride remain the same after so many summers.

Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments. Comments? E-mail them to suzi@hobbyhorseinc.com.


*Editor's note: EquiSearch.com strongly encourages all riders to wear protective, ATSM/SEI-approved headgear.