01 Dec Horseback Riding Without A Bridle: Step-By-Step Guide
Horseback Riding Without A Bridle
Have you ever dreamed of the freedom that must come with riding your horse with absolutely no tack? You wonder what it must feel like to be in such unison with your horse that you don’t need a bridle or reins. Riding tackless is a great way to improve your riding as well as your horse’s training.
So, how do you train your horse to ride tackless without a bridle? Here are some of the steps I took to be able to ride my horse tackless:
- Start using groundwork to teach your horse to rely on cues other than the pressure on the face
- Teach your horse how to neck rein if you plan on using a neck rope
- Practice controlling your horse’s speed using only your seat
- Learn to steer your horse just off of leg pressure
- In the beginning, practice riding tackless in a confined area
Over the course of a few months, I was able to teach my horse how to ride tackless by following these steps. The most unsafe thing you could do at the moment is to assume that you can just jump on your horse with no tack and have a good ride. Better be safe than sorry and make sure your horse knows what’s happening by following these steps.
Use Groundwork to Prepare Your Horse to Ride Tackless
When it comes to riding tackless, the first thing you need to do is teach your horse to respond to cues that don’t apply pressure on the face. This will translate to when you get on your horse since you won’t have a bridle and reins to cue your horse, but you’ll have to use your seat and leg instead.
There are a few groundwork exercises you can use to teach your horse to follow your body language rather than a pull from the lead rope. (If you want to train your horse in Liberty, this is the place to start.)Here is the one exercise I used with my horse:
Teaching Your Horse to Follow You Without a Lead Rope
Teaching your horse to follow you without the use of a lead rope is the first step I take when training my horse to ride tackless. It teaches the horse to respect you as the leader and pay attention to what your asking based on your body language.
I first start by making sure my horse can lead well with the lead rope; I don’t want to have to drag the horse behind me or tug on the lead to slow them down. Instead, the horse’s head should stay at my elbow and they should stop when I stop and go when I go.
(To learn how to teach your horse to lead better, check out my complete outline in the article 5 Best Groundwork Exercises for Your Horse.)
Once the horse can lead well with the lead rope, I’ll loosen the lead rope so that there’s no pressure applied to the horse’s face unless there needs to be. If the horse can lead well on a loose lead rope, then it’s time to remove the lead rope and practice leading without it. To get the full training technique, read our article Getting Your Horse to Follow You: Easy Training Guide.
Teach Your Horse to Neck Rein If You Plan On Using a Neck Rope
Do you plan on using a neck rope to communicate with your horse when riding bridleless? A neck rope is just a looped rope that goes around your horse’s neck. It can provide extra security when riding tackless if your horse is familiar with its cues. If you plan on using a neck rope, you’ll need to teach your horse how to neck rein.
Neck reining is one way to steer your horse. This way of steering is used in western disciplines, polo, and any other discipline where the rider would need one hand free. Neck reining can be done with one hand, which frees up the rider’s other hand to throw a lasso or swing a mallet.
When neck reining, the horse’s rein is laid on the side of the neck to signal the horse to turn the opposite way. When trained to do this, the horse is responding to the light pressure on the neck rather than the pull of a rein. This will help the horse to not rely on pressure to the face to understand cues. If you’re using a neck rope, you can still neck rein to help steer your horse.
How to Neck Rein
Teaching your horse to neck rein is straight forward and easy; however, you must know how to do it before you attempt to train your horse to respond. Neck reining requires not only the rein to be laid on the horse’s neck, but also leg pressure as well.
Let’s say you want to turn your horse left. In order neck rein and do this, you’d lay your right rein lightly against your horse’s neck and add leg pressure with your right leg signaling the horse to move. If you’re on a horse that knows how to neck rein, they should move to the left.
How to Teach Your Horse to Neck Rein
Now that you know how to neck rein, it’s time to teach your horse! I train my horses to neck rein by first incorporating neck reining into normal steering. This means when I ask my horse to turn left, I’ll still open my left rein, but I’ll also lay my right rein on the horse’s neck and apply right leg pressure to signal the horse to step that way.
As the horse progresses, I’ll start to use the normal steering cues less and less. I’ll use lighter and lighter pressure until my horse is completely steering just off of neck reining.
A great game to play to make neck reining training fun is to set up some cones and obstacles and practice steering your horse through them either neck reining or incorporating neck reining into your normal steering.
Learn to Steer Your Horse Just Off Of Leg Pressure
Now that we’ve talked about neck reining, you realize just how important steering your horse off of leg pressure is! Even if you’re using a neck rope to neck rein, you don’t want to rely on these means of control and communication. The majority of your communication should come from your leg and your seat.
Your leg pressure will be your steering while your seat will control your horse’s speed. Getting in this mindset ahead of time will help you to stay focused while training.
How to Steer Your Horse With Leg Pressure
Before you train your horse to steer off leg pressure, you must first understand how to ask your horse to do so. I went through a lot of trial and error to find the best way to communicate with my horse via leg pressure; however, I can now share what I found with you!
Let’s say that I want to turn my horse left. I found that closing my right leg from my upper thigh all the way down to my heel and opening my left outer thigh really encouraged my horse to turn the way I wanted him to. The best way to think of it is that you’re creating a wall with the opposite leg to encourage your horse to turn the right way.
How to Teach Your Horse to Steer Off Of Leg Pressure
Many horses have been taught that leg pressure means to go faster. When you first start this exercise, your horse may think that you’re asking them to go faster when in reality, you’re just asking them to turn. If the speed up, simply correct them and continue asking for the turn. Eventually, they’ll get the idea.
Just like with neck reining, you’re going to start incorporating leg pressure into your everyday riding. Any time you ask your horse to turn, change direction, or move over to the rail, you should be aware of the pressure you’re using with your legs. As your horse improves, lighten your other aids more until your leg pressure becomes your major aid.
Practice Controlling Your Horse’s Speed Using Only Your Seat
The next thing you’ll have to do to get your horse ready to ride bridleless is to be able to control your horse’s speed using just your seat. Knowing how to use your seat in order to communicate with your horse can take your riding to the next level.
How to Control Your Horse Using Your Seat
Knowing how to use your seat to communicate with your horse is important in order to train your horse to respond appropriately. Your seat and your movement in the saddle should be considered the metronome to your horse’s stride. (A metronome is a device that is used to keep the rhythm for musicians.)
If your seat is the metronome for your horse’s speed, that means the more you move your seat, the more your horse will move out. The less you move your seat, the less your horse will move out. This means if you want your horse to go slower, you’ll move your seat less. If you want your horse to go faster, you’ll push more with your seat.
How to Teach Your Horse To Go Off of Your Seat
Believe it or not, but going off of your seat is almost instinctive for a horse. Practice walking and trotting, encouraging your horse to move based off of just your seat movements. How your horse moves is directly correlated to your seat, whether you know how to use your seat or not!
While the horse may naturally respond to the seat, you’ll just want to perfect the cue. This comes with practice. Teaching your horse to stop off of your seat may be the hardest task.
To ask your horse to stop, simply sit your weight back on your tailbone. If the horse doesn’t respond, bring the horse’s head to your leg and ask the horse to walk in a tight circle. This will communicate to the horse that not responding to your seat will mean harder work, as walking in a tight circle is more work for the horse.
Want to learn how to improve your seat while horseback riding? Read our article 10 Tips to Improve Your Seat on a Horse: Easy Beginner’s Guide.
At the Beginning, Practice Riding Tackless in a Confined Area
Once you’ve master neck reining, steering your horse off of your leg, and controlling your horse’s speed and stop off of your seat, then you’re ready to attempt riding tackless!
Before you just jump on your horse and go galloping across a field, first practice in a confined area like a round pen. Have someone nearby in case you get into trouble. Here are some other tips I recommend following the first time you ride tackless:
Tips for Riding Your Horse Tackless For the First Time
- Ride in a confined area like a round pen or small arena
- In the beginning, get rid of any distractions you can. You want your horse focused on you. As you progress in riding tackless, add distractions to test your horse’s focus and response to your cues. (But always do this in a safe manner!)
- Have someone close by the first time you decide to get on tackless. They can intervene if something happens.
- Put your horse’s bridle on and tie the reins off up their neck. You don’t have to use the bridle, but if you get in a sticky situation, you have something to help you.
- Master controlling your horse at the walk tackless before you move on to other gaits
- Master controlling your horse in the round pen before moving to a larger area
- Practice many turns and transitions to keep your horse’s mind engaged.
- Make a fuss of praise over your horse each time they respond well. This way, they’ll know what behavior you’re looking for
- Remember, you’re major cues should come from your leg and seat; you don’t want to have to rely on your neck rope
- If your horse isn’t responding well, go back to groundwork and work your way from there.
- Horses learn by repetition so the more you can practice riding tackless, the better your horse will get!
You taught your horse to go tackless, now it’s time to teach your horse lateral movements! Check out our article Making Your Horse Move Sideways: Simple Training Guide.
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