I Was a Middle Aged Barn Rat, Part 3, “Bareback Pad”

Pepper

I Was a Middle Aged Barn Rat, Part 3, “Bareback Pad.” This is a ten part blog series about the year I decided to pursue my lifelong interest in horses, based on an article that appeared in Equus, March 2015.

One thing that makes me different from most barn rats is that I have a fat butt. At my age it’s not so uncommon, but most people who muck stalls and throw hay for fun are skinny teenagers, and most people just learning to ride can fit into whatever saddle is available in the barn. Not me.

Riding Pepper at first was a prospect for such embarrassment I could hardly think of attempting it. With my left leg as weak as it was, the idea of mounting from the ground made me shrink away in terror. Mounting from the right was unthinkable; I was loath to admit I was deficient even to mount properly. And the saddle didn’t fit me.

The first time I rode Pepper, I hadn’t been on a horse in several years and my leg had weakened terribly during those years. The saddle before had been English, and today I was going to ride Western. I stood on a step stool, put my foot in the stirrup, and my weight nearly pulled the saddle over. We straightened it and two people held the other stirrup so I could mount. I was mortified. Thank God the barn was a small one and we were the only people there.

I settled into the saddle, but wasn’t very comfortable. I felt as if I would slide off sideways at any moment. I rode around the ring a few times, and had to stop when my left leg stopped holding me up. I think I lasted fifteen minutes. I dismounted, wondering whether my parents hadn’t been right; maybe I didn’t deserve a horse.

Twice more I tried to ride, alone now so nobody could see me. The saddle slid again and plainly didn’t fit my butt, and I began to think about riding bareback. I’d ridden bareback when I was younger, and I’d much preferred it to a Western saddle. So one evening I climbed on board with no saddle. But I discovered that with no stirrup my left leg had to hold itself up. It wasn’t strong enough to keep me attached to the horse, certainly not strong enough for me to guide the horse, and after only a minute or so the pain forced me to stop. Poor, patient Pepper was so confused.

I thought some more about how to get on a horse without embarrassing myself, and latched onto the idea of a bareback pad with stirrups. One-size-fits-all for both horse and rider, and though the stirrups might not be strong enough for mounting, they at least would steady my legs.

I bought a pad, and it was a thing of beauty, with a black and blue Navajo design. It was the first tack I’d ever bought. I was so proud. I took it to the barn to try it out. Ha.

Again I have to praise Pepper for being such a sweet, patient horse. She was good as gold as I strapped the pad onto her back, and stock still as I mounted from a stepladder. Even as I tried to get my feet into the stirrups and the pad began to slide sideways, she didn’t budge. I landed on the ground, unhurt but glad I was alone so nobody could see. I imagined people in nearby houses laughing behind windows, and I quickly went to adjust the pad so it was upright again.

I mounted again, this time taking extreme care with my balance. After all, part of the objective of using a bareback pad was to improve my balance more quickly than I would with a Western saddle. So I perched on Pepper’s back and managed to slip both my boots into the stirrups. Success!

Carefully I guided her around to make a circuit of the ring, slowly, carefully correcting my balance at every step. I made it around two corners, but at the third corner my boot slipped out of the stirrup and as I tried to put it back I put too much weight on the other side. There I went again, slowly sliding off the horse, and I landed on one shoulder. I had to laugh, because even I couldn’t deny how funny it must have looked. That was it for me that day. I had to figure out how to use that pad.

The answer was to buckle on a cinch. The pad had come with nothing but webbing and rings, which stretched badly and was too slick to hold any weight. So I put in a grommet to which I buckled a cinch, and on the other side I attached a latigo so the bareback pad now could be made as secure as a Western saddle. Now I have an inexpensive rig that will fit my fat derrière and whatever horse I may ride until I get my own, will stay secure, and will help me improve my balance more quickly than any saddle. My leg is now stronger, and the last time I rode I was on for forty-five minutes before it gave out.

For the first time since I was fifteen, I now feel I might one day be worthy of owning a horse.

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I Was a Middle Aged Barn Rat, Part 3, “Bareback Pad” — 6 Comments

  1. This is a great series. It takes tremendous guts to trundle one’s middle-aged body down to the barn and put it on a horse. Even a saint (technical horse term) like Pepper. Give her a hug and a nose kiss for me. And yourself a big pat on the back. You’re a rider! And a problem-solver! Whoo-hoo (technical horse term)!

  2. I am so impressed by your stamina in trying and trying again. A worthy lesson, whatever one’s goal(s) in life.