Ok, so I have been on Lilybird bareback before...but at a walk. Into water. During my first year of owning her in Florida! She has always been so sensitive that I wasn't exactly comfortable with the idea of riding her without a saddle.
One day when I was feeling super confident, shortly after moving to Maryland, I had been doing groundwork with her in the arena at the first barn we boarded at here, and had the brilliant idea out-of-the-blue of hopping on bareback with just a rope halter and lead rope on the Mareface.
Not one of my brightest moments. Lily was not exactly known for being a stable-minded horse back then, and so, when she felt my butt against her bare back, she startled and immediately went to her go-to reaction. She bucked. Lily's bucks are nothing if not monumental: she'll get 3' of air from a standstill. With no mane, no reins and no bit to control her with, I didn't stand a chance. All it took was one buck and I went flying over her shoulder.
I didn't attempt it again. (Though it prompted months of desensitizing to touch from the rider on odd parts of her body from above that have paid off in dividends with endurance.)
My friend Shanna came out to ride and we tacked up Gracie. Lily got to wear her bridle, a stirrup leather around her neck as a neck strap, and the new bareback pad. It was a wonderfully balmy 60 degrees outside with a cool breeze blowing. We headed down to the arena, where Shanna held Lily for me to get on: I stood on the 3 step mounting block, which allowed me to swing a leg over as if I was using a stirrup.
Lily tensed up for a second when I (gently) sat down on her back. Even with the bareback pad, I could still feel her spine (Lily has a lot more wither than couchy Gracie) and she could feel my seatbones. There was a mutual moment of, "Whoa, I feel a lot more of you than I expected!" on both our ends. But I stayed relaxed, leaving the reins draped around her neck, and she relaxed too. I let her just hang out with no request from me while Shanna mounted up on Gracie and got settled herself.
|There was a really sweet moment where Lily turned her head and licked my boot. She never does that. She was so happy to have me on her.|
Lily had no issue with just hanging out while Shanna warmed up.
Lily walked very. slowly. initially. I had to grin: she was trying to be careful with me. We did baby leg yields, tiny circles, changes of direction, shoulder-in, so I could find my seat on her back. It didn't take long.
Now about trotting. Remember I make Gracie gait.
I tentatively asked Lilybird to pick up the trot and laughed when, instead of zooming forward like I had expected her to (she doesn't do this under saddle, but again: sensitive creature), she picked up her own version of a Western jog: the smallest, smoothest little trot. It was actually easier to sit than Gracie's gait!!
So we trotted around for a bit. By "a bit" I mean we actually trotted a lot more than I imagined prior. We did the same thing as at the walk: shoulder in, baby leg yields and small circles. Despite the tiny stride, her back felt loose and oscillating, and it was easy to let my hips follow the movement. I was overall more focused on keeping an eye on Shanna and Gracie to make sure they didn't need help, but they were doing great today. I mentioned to Shanna that this is the most relaxed I've seen her on Gracie: if Shanna is worried, she tenses her shoulders, which makes Gracie accelerate. That was not happening today. :)
|Lily during another moment of just chillin.'|
The problem came when we went around the arena corner: I wanted to stay in a circle at the far end of the ring, but when I asked Lily to bend, I shifted my inside seat to the outside like I would in the saddle (I was told by a dressage trainer a long time ago to do that, but I have heard dressage trainers on blogs recommend the opposite as well depending on what the horse is doing)...which resulted in my seatbone being directly over her spine. Both Lily and I went, "Well, that doesn't feel good," and Lily automatically broke down to a trot with no cue from me. By the third attempt, I re-found my seat (Lily broke to a trot each time I shifted my weight too much) and was able to ask for the bend while keeping Lily's spine between my seat bones. It was kind of fascinating, and a note that I intend to take into my under-saddle riding: I don't need to slide my seat dramatically in either direction for Lily to understand requests from my seat. Maybe if I just stay centered over her back and do a tiny weight shift, I can be just as clear.
Even while figuring this out, I was grinning from ear to ear though, "THIS IS EPIC!" I said out loud to Shanna, and explained about this being my first time cantering a non-gaited horse bareback...and my first time doing a real bareback ride on Lily.
Shanna is a wonderful friend. She asked me if I would like for her to film it. And I said, "YES please!" and passed her my phone.
And a few stills from the videos. (This bareback pad does not have stirrups; it looks like they do because of the strap across my boots from the half chaps.)
|I kind of like that my leg while cantering a non-gaited horse defaults to the old jumper position. I wasn't doing this on purpose; that's just what my legs were doing in order to keep a light seat.|
And then we had Shanna take a turn cantering. She has cantered before in the arena, but not for extended periods like today.
|I hate that that jump standard is in the way. This would have been a great shot otherwise!|
|This series of them against the sun. <3 It was a truly gorgeous day.|
|Shanna's seat at the canter improved just in the course of this ride. Note the difference in her posture between this photo and the first canter photo, where she was bracing against the stirrups.|
I finally realized my legs were done. D-O-N-E, DONE. My inner thigh muscles were quivering. I looked down at my watch...well, no wonder: we had been riding for an hour and 10 minutes!
I called Shanna over to the center of the arena, who happened to be walking Gracie, so the timing worked out perfectly to call it a day. Her and I had matching grins at the end of this ride. Both mares behaved so well.
We dismounted and hand-walked them back to the barn, where they had a snack of hay (for Gracie) and alfalfa (for Lily) and their faces got stuffed with peppermints! :)
I foresee more bareback rides on Lily in the future!