Candace Clemens' Bareback Dressage (Methodology and Kit)

While Saddle Shopping

What to Do While Finding a Saddle that Fits Both Your Horse and Your Pocket Book?

"The Chronicle of the Horse" Magazine has an on-line discussion forum on Bareback Dressage. 

Across the board, participating owners and riders agree that their draft cross and warmblood horses generally move better when ridden bareback than under saddle.  Forum participants speculated that this was because of the difficulties of finding dressage saddles that fit many of the broad-backed breeds.

Increasingly, saddle makers are offering a variety of options for properly measuring your horse’s back, and saddle customization options.  But what do you do while you are hunting for a saddle that best fits both your horse and its rider? And, for some, how do you proceed while saving up the money required to purchase a high quality saddle? 

Many in this discussion forum have tried out the tree-less saddle.  I found this to be more uncomfortable than no saddle at all.   For many years, I opted to ride occasionally with no bareback pad at all, as you can see from my Bareback Dressage video on YouTube [Click HERE].  I discovered riding bareback had many advantages for me, especially after some corrective foot surgery, when it took several years to regain enough feeling in my feet to keep my stirrups. 

Coincidentally, all my mounts seemed to be more relaxed without a saddle.  They trained much more quickly to become sensitive to the lightest aid.  And I was able to improve my tempi changes with a subtle shift of my hips, instead of throwing my body around or using too much leg.

Eventually, I introduced bareback dressage to many students, some beginners. I discovered – when used on a trained horse, Star – it expedited learning dressage basics.  Dramatically. However, there were a few people who slipped off if they lost their balance, especially at the canter.  Once a squirrel jumped out from the boards in our indoor while one of Star's share-leasers was half-passing at the canter.  The mare took a sudden step sideways, and this rider took a hard fall.  Some additional stick would have prevented this fall. Additionally, until a novice rider figured out how to keep our FEI mare nice and round (being half Arab, this was essential for her to be functional), Star could become uncomfortable and her back muscles tight.

When one of my timid students convinced me to try out her suede bareback pad, I was pleasantly surprised.  Not only did it protect sensitive skinned riders from “fur-burn,” it offered some extra stick to mitigate accidental slip-offs, and – BINGO – it allowed for me to add side reins.  

Side reins made the mare, Star, much  happier while, on and off the longe, her riders much more rapidly learned to reproduce the feeling of roundness.  I discovered rank beginners could instantly feel  losgelassenheit – the relaxation of the horse’s back.[Click HERE to read how important this is for all classical riding.]

The down side of the traditional suede bareback pad (and other bareback pads) was always the girth.  Much like a Boy Scout belt, these pads had relatively thin, strap-like girths, with a slide fastener that was both difficult to tighten, and the pad tended to drift back on Star, and could drift off center on almost all horses. This was mitigated with a breast plate.  But even with the breast plate, the suede pads were not as stable as I wanted.  Nevertheless, participants in the Chronicle's Discussion Forum agreed that the suede pads were, to date, the best thing for those who required something between them and their horses' furry, sometimes sweaty, backs.

NEXT: discovering the ultimate bareback pad!

Anita, Majesty and the new BarebackDressage Kit, which features the ultimate Bareback Pad. Due to Anita's hip replacements, Candace did not introduce BarebackDressage methodology until finding and testing the perfect elements that would become the BarebackDressage Kit.

Candace extending the canter in self-carriage on Majesty, the Morgan, after just a few months of training.
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A hunt seat riding friend using the Bareback Dressgae Kit to incorporate balance and relaxation into her position.


The BarebackDressage pad and side reins were invaluable  while introducing this advanced jumper rider to more advanced lateral movements. "From half-pass to pirouettes, mastering the advanced lateral movements was just a matter of days." - Miah Leigh Gwozdz


My first horse, a rescue project off the track, pictured here in a borrowed saddle. She was in such poor condition, the vet said I couldn't ride her for the first month while I pumped food into her.  Then I had to save all my babysitting money for a year to buy a used saddle. In the meantime, I rode bareback.  And look what she taught me already, in this photo! She had to go in a soft frame, and she was quick to learn to be obedient to my lightest aids. I didn't have a clue what I was doing, except staying on, and making her comfortable to ride (until she got fat, that backbone was brutal unless she was round.) Within a year, she had a cresty neck, and became a shiny, beautiful, muscular and talented mare.
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