Riding without a saddle: pros and cons

Riding horses without a saddle has long been a topic of debate among equestrians. Some riders believe it creates a closer bond with the horse and improves their riding skills, while others argue that it can be harmful to the horse's back and cause discomfort.

In this article, we will explore the differences between riding with and without a saddle, the necessary prerequisites for both horse and rider, and the advantages and disadvantages of riding without a saddle.

Differences between riding with and without a saddle

To understand the potential effects of riding without a saddle, it's essential to consider the historical development of saddles. Originally, saddles were designed for the transportation of loads rather than for riding.

Over time, they evolved to provide better comfort and balance for the rider. Unlike the even distribution of weight achieved with a saddle, riding without a saddle places more pressure on specific areas of the horse's back, particularly the seat bones of the rider. This concentrated pressure can lead to discomfort and potential health issues, especially in horses with weak or underdeveloped back muscles.

Prerequisites for riding without a saddle

Before considering riding without a saddle and safety stirrups, certain prerequisites must be met. First and foremost, the horse's back should have sufficient muscle development and strength. Riding without a saddle should be avoided for horses with poor or inadequate back muscles, as it can cause significant back problems and even lameness. It's crucial to acknowledge that horses were not originally designed to carry the weight of a rider and can do so comfortably only with the appropriate musculature.

Additionally, the rider should possess a secure and balanced seat in all gaits and be independent of the reins. Riders who rely on the reins for balance will struggle to maintain stability without a saddle. Pulling on the reins for support compromises the horse's trust in the rider's hands. It's important to have a solid foundation in riding with a saddle before attempting to ride without one.

Pros and cons of riding without a saddle

Like any riding method, riding without a saddle has its advantages and disadvantages. Let's explore both sides of the argument:


  • Enhanced connection: Riding without a saddle eliminates the barrier between the horse and rider, allowing for a closer connection. Without the saddle and stirrup leathers, riders can perceive the horse's movements more acutely and apply aids more subtly.
  • Variety and relaxation: Riding without a saddle can serve as a refreshing and relaxed alternative to the regular training routine. A leisurely ride in walk without a saddle can be a pleasant change of pace.
  • Improved seat: Riding without a saddle forces the rider to focus on balance and stability. With no saddle to rely on, riders must engage their core muscles and develop a more secure seat. This improved seat can then be transferred to riding with a saddle.


  • Uneven weight distribution: Riding without a saddle places more concentrated pressure on the horse's back, leading to potential discomfort and even injury. The saddle's purpose is to evenly distribute the rider's weight and minimize pressure points.
  • Lack of stability: Riding without a saddle requires a higher level of balance and stability. Riders who are not yet proficient in maintaining their balance may struggle to stay secure on the horse's back.
  • Unsuitable for long rides: Due to the concentrated pressure on the horse's back, riding without a saddle is not recommended for long training sessions or extended trail rides. The horse's back can become fatigued and sore more quickly without the support of a saddle.

Alternatives to riding without a saddle

For those who want to experience some of the benefits of riding without a saddle without compromising their horse's well-being, there are alternative options available:

  • Reitpads: Reitpads are pads designed to be used without a traditional saddle. They provide a larger contact area, spreading the rider's weight more evenly and reducing pressure points. Reitpads can be a suitable compromise for riders who want a closer connection with their horse while still maintaining some support and protection for the horse's back.
  • Treeless saddles: Treeless saddles are another alternative for riders who desire a closer feel while riding. These saddles are made without a rigid tree, allowing for a greater connection between the rider and the horse. Treeless saddles offer a larger weight distribution area compared to riding without a saddle, providing improved comfort for the horse.


In conclusion, riding without a saddle can offer certain benefits, such as a closer connection with the horse and an improved seat. However, it is crucial to consider the potential disadvantages, such as uneven weight distribution and reduced stability.

Before attempting to ride without a saddle, it is important to ensure that both the horse and rider meet the necessary prerequisites. For those who want to experience some of the benefits of riding without a saddle without compromising the horse's well-being, alternative options like reitpads and treeless saddles can provide a suitable compromise.

Remember, always prioritize the comfort and well-being of your horse when making decisions about how to ride.