Brook Adderson galloping through a mountain meadow.. having a ball

Kids and Bareback Riding… A Great Combination!

By Christine Adderson

Photos by Coco

Bareback riding is the most natural way to learn how to ride. Learning to feel a horse's body and footfalls gives kids a better seat and develops their balance faster than any other form of riding. It also allows people to feel where their horse is mentally and emotionally because they are sitting in touch with the horse's back and can feel the effects of his emotions. Pat Parelli has come up with a system that covers all the steps kids (of any age) need to learn to overcome fears and stay safe during the learning process.

Where to start

As with any pursuit involving horses, we need prior and proper preparation before hopping on bareback and tearing across the pasture. The preparation should ideally cover all possible scenarios involving progressive steps with lots of little successes along the way.

Isla and 'Barnum' - Partnership Parelli style!

We need to prepare physically by building up strength, coordination and subconscious responses within our body that will keep the horse with us. Becoming scared and clamping on with our legs will not help our horse. It actually upsets most horses, whereas being able to stay loose and relaxed will help our horse, even when we still feel afraid. This starts on the ground when kids learn to play the Seven Games with horses. Through the Seven Games they are developing the physical skills they will need for riding.

We also need to develop observation skills both visually and kinesthetically. For example, what does the horse look like when he's scared? What does it feel like and look like just before your horse takes a jump over a creek? When your observations of a horse's movements let you know what he is planning, what do you do about it? Through the program that Pat Parelli has developed, these steps are isolated, separated and then recombined as preparation for a safe and fun experience with horses.

Ready to ride

The child should first be able to ride a horse comfortably in the saddle at a walk, trot and canter. If this is not already the case, follow the same outline of starting slow and in a small area to build skills and confidence.

Once the rider is confident in the saddle, switch to a bareback pad. The best types are those without stirrups and with a good sturdy handle. Rough leather seats help by making the pad easy to stick to. By this point, the child should already know what the horse FEELS like in motion and should know how to focus with her body.

When going from one stage to the next, a 'Passenger Lesson' will help check things out. This cuts down on the possibility of unpleasant surprises too! A Passenger Lesson can be done at any speed, in an enclosed area with the child on the horse just being a passenger while the adult controls the horse 'On Line' from the ground. Again, the Seven Games and the basic ground skills in Level 1 are required preparation for this.

The next step is to go into a small space (a round pen is great) and allow the child to experiment and play. Start off without getting too concerned about steering; let the fence take care of that. Just make sure the child starts slow at a walk and works up through the gaits as confidence and ability levels dictate.

Robyn canters effortlessly with just halter and lead.

See if the child can turn the horse with just her body and legs. Can she find a strong position holding onto the horse's mane and the rein without gripping with her legs and turning into a peanut (rolling around on top of the horse)? Let the child's imagination go wild. The handle is there to hold onto when she needs, but ask her to test herself. See if she can ride with her arms out to the side like an eagle soaring on the wind currents. Can she ask the horse to go and then whoa by doing the same thing with her body - go and whoa. Putting two horses and riders (who get along well) in a round pen really adds another dimension to riding skills. With two horses in the round pen there is bound to be some ducking and diving as the kids get lost in games. This is great training for their seats and balance!

Parents Note:

After having said all of this about preparation, you'll probably get up one morning shortly after 6:00 am and look out the window to find your child climbing the fence and leaping onto her horse (bareback and bridle-less) without any preparation. I did just that, one spring day, with my 7-year-old daughter! Kids love this!!

Christine and NHM recommend the wearing of helmets for safety when mounted.

About the author:

Chris Adderson, PNH Instructor

Christine Adderson is an endorsed Parelli Natural Horse•Man•Ship Instructor and has given instruction in Canada and USA for the past 3 years. She danced throughout her childhood and became a professional dancer with the largest modern dance company in Canada, The Toronto Dance Theatre. There she studied and performed for seven years. A lifetime of dance training, a degree in Physical Education, and ballroom and Latin American dance competition provide Christine with an education to read, analyze and break down movement. She has over 20 years of teaching experience and is home schooling her three daughters. She has studied and toured with Pat Parelli over the past six years of intensive Natural Horsemanship training. Christine has coached her daughter, Robyn, to become the youngest Level 2 graduate in the world and her second daughter, Isla, to become the youngest Level 1 graduate in Canada.







Christine Adderson

Brookside Farm (in the mountains of the Okanagan)

Vernon, BC, Canada




She flies through the trees as fast as the wind,

Her hair flies behind her as she runs.

She has long gray hair and a gentle face.

She is part of my heart.

Poem by Robyn Adderson, the youngest Parelli Natural Horse•Man•Ship Level 2 graduate in the world!