Sunday, August 23, 2020

Back to back

Despite the lighthearted name, Eaton Canyon Riding Club's playdays were serious business. People practiced long and hard to prepare for those classes, especially the crazy ones.

As a once a week lesson kid, my prep time was limited, but occasionally my parents would spot me an extra lesson. Because it's not something you should try for the first time on show day, I used one of those to get ready for a Tandem Bareback class. As my partner and I were sliding around on poor Chalk Dust's back, I happened to notice another pair of tandem riders riding back to back. That is, the first rider was seated facing forward with her partner sitting backwards behind her.

My interest was piqued. I asked my trainer what they were doing, and she said they were preparing for the Back-to-Back Bareback class. I always wanted to do all the things, so of course, I asked if we could try that, too.

My trainer, who was not a cuddly sort, nipped that in the bud. "You're not a good enough for that, " she told me. She then explained that this was a much harder way to ride double, largely because the backward rider's legs fell right over the horse's flanks.

"You need to have really good balance," she said. "You can't hold on to the other rider, and if you grip with your legs, that's just like a flank strap on a rodeo bronco."

That made sense. Most normal people would have let it go, but not me. I decided then and there that I wanted to be a good enough rider to ride back-to-back double bareback.

About a year and a half later, I found myself at a different stable with a small herd of camp horses and almost no adult supervision. My riding skills weren't any better, but after a summer of riding bareback all day, five days a week, my balance and cockiness confidence had grown in leaps and bounds. My friend, Laura and I decided we were ready to attempt the back-to-back double bareback.

We could have used Bill or Cowboy, both of whom were big and slow, but if you're going to do something stupid, you may as well go the extra mile. We chose Laura's lease horse, Tiger, who was a whole lot of go without much whoa.

And I rode in the back, because of course I did.
It went about as well as you would expect. The walk was fine, the trot was a little less so and the canter was fairly frightful. 

Normal people would have called it good, but we decided to push just a little bit further and attempt a jump. It wasn't much of a jump - just a teeny cross rail - but it was plenty big enough to be terrifying. Since I was sitting backwards, I couldn't see the jump coming, I couldn't hang on and I realized belatedly that I had no idea what to with my body. Should I lean forward or backward or sit up straight or... help!

We got over it. No one fell off, but it was ugly and also really, really scary. After that, I was completely done with the whole back-to-back double bareback thing. I'd proven I was a good enough rider to do it, and I didn't have to do it ever again.


  1. Horse & Rider magazine used to show a series called "You Be the Judge" and I remember at least one of these back to classes in there. But they never jumped! :D

  2. It really was a different culture then. I can NOT imagine any trainer or schooling show encouraging this kind of thing now, but back then, I really thought it was something to aspire to... At least until I tried it!

    1. And wasn't it fun? (Says she who just may have done the same thing...) :D