Last night we did something I've not yet felt comfortable enough with Gabe to do. Those who have been following our progress know that while, for the most part, Gabe is usually on an even keel, sometimes he has fairly explosive reactions to spooky things and can, for no discernible reason whatsoever, just be way too playful under saddle.
But, with him being such a star lately, I decided it was time to ride him bareback. Well, I didn't ride bareback, bareback, but rather threw my Baretek on him and went for a ride. For the record, I love my Baretek, all the benefits of bareback riding without the drawbacks (sweaty, hairy butt and legs, slippery back, etc.).
At first he didn't know what to think. He turned and looked at me when I first climbed aboard as if pondering what the heck I was doing. I know the feeling is different and he didn't know how to respond. I nudged him for a walk and got no reaction. Nudge again, still nothing. Kick and the lightbulb went off in his little TB head.
Did I mention I haven't ridden bareback or with the Baretek for YEARS? Holy mackerel. Apparently, I need to do it more often because within the first 10-15 minutes and a posting trot down the long side my inner thighs and hip flexors were SCREAMING in agony. My saddle, a multi-purpose eventing saddle that has a fairly forward seat, does not push my thighs back into a dressage position like the Baretek does. Yikes. Ouch! It is nice to know that I still have good balance though, even without stirrups. I dropped the reins a few times at the trot and held my arms out to the sides or above my head just to be sure I was riding with my seat, not balancing on his face. Most of the ride was done on a loose rein simply because I wanted to be sure I was using my body to balance and not his face.
Once we did as much posting and sitting trot as I could physically tolerate, we worked on tuning his sensitivity to my legs and seat (something nice and easy we could do at a walk and still accomplish a lot of what I've been wanting to work on with him.) He has always been sticky and very slow to respond to requests for lateral movement away from the pressure of my legs. By the end of the ride I think he finally GOT it. Yay! He does, however, respond beautifully to my seat for half-halts, halts and slowing/shortening his stride without any need for the reins. At least I got that part right in the training!
So, my goal now is to ride bareback at least once a week and really work on building my leg/ab strength, something that seems to have significantly diminished in riding exclusively in my saddle. It's good for me, and good for him, and now that I trust him so much more not to be a random nitwit, I feel comfortable doing it, too.