Painful Withers?


New Member
Jul 3, 2019
I tried riding bareback for the first time, but OW OW OW! I was not expecting to feel like I was being stabbed repeatedly by my horse's withers, even just at the walk. I'm confused because I don't know if it's my fault, or if it's his withers. I was told by my RI the first time I met my riding horse that he does need to be ridden with another special pad between the saddle pad and saddle due to his withers, and I've always tacked him up using that, so I am assuming it is known that he has prominent withers? But it was SO painful for me that I can't help but think I must have done something wrong? How on earth can a horse have SUCH SHARP withers... is that a thing even on a well bred horse with otherwise great conformation? I tried sitting further back thinking maybe the feeling was so prominent because my position was wrong, but I could still feel the sharp line as far back as I could safely sit, and I kept sliding back into the natural bareback curve anyway. I will say I was surprised by how... stable riding bareback felt. I remember sitting on a pony bareback as a child and feeling like I was going to slide right off, but even at the bareback trot now I felt pretty balanced. It would've been amazing if not for the pain. I really wanted to try because I know it can do wonders for developing an independent seat, if done right, and I'm a new rider so I didn't want to get so used to a saddle that the transition to bareback would be hard. But now I'm doubting that I'll ever be able to ride him without a saddle. Every step was felt painfully right in the you-know-where. I couldn't even sit straight up without it being excruciating because that tipped my pelvis forward, right into the knives of his withers. Bottom line: are some horses, even generally good looking ones, just not good for bareback riding? This guy is a WB/Oldenburg btw. If I post a pic, could you guys tell me if his withers look wonky? I'm just super disappointed because I'd really been looking forward to this, but now I feel like I must be doing something wrong.

chunky monkey

Well-Known Member
May 2, 2007
113 la land
I think its probably worse on a fine boned horse. I have ridden my cob bareback but hes so wide there isn't much point on his withers. However even though I've ridden bareback I actually prefer to at least put a numnah on with an old rug strap that goes right round his body. It just make me more comfy and I slip less.


Learning together!
Apr 30, 2010
Surrey Hills
I used to ride my old pony bareback with as much comfort as if I were sitting in a rocking chair. But my Arab has a backbone like a saw blade and withers that dig into you with every stride, so yes, it can hurt. Bareback pads are definitely the way forward for sharp-withered horses. A sheepskin pad means you still get the central heating effect...


Well-Known Member
Dec 21, 2003
Our RI gives bareback lessons - but she told me that both the horse and the rider need to be suitably fleshed. I have a plump bottom, but a skinny rider on a TB is not OK. So may be that is something you cant do? But it is the spine not the withers which would be the problem.
My bareback riding (and I resist having a pad) I sit in the hollow of the back and one's legs hang naturally in a forward position into a hollow behind the horse's shoulders. This bareback position described by a native American, is not the correct dressage position which is why our RI says some dressage riders dont like bareback riding lessons. But one shouldnt feel or hamper the horse's shoulders at all.
I find that when I mount bareback I am often not quite in the right position so I need to shift a bit to get equal across the horse. One's position head to tail is not so vital as the movement of the horse settles one into the hollow.
We learn to ride by feeling the movement of the horse, so apart from teaching balance, the purpose for a beginner is to give a more direct feel of the hind legs through one's seat


lifelong sufferer of restless brain syndrome
Oct 28, 2004
I've lost count of how many horses I've ridden bareback, and there are definitely some that are just uncomfortable to sit on. And if you found it uncomfortable I can guarantee the horse did too. With horses like that it's best to sit on some sort of saddlepad, if you must do bareback at all.
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Well-Known Member
Nov 11, 2018
Ramsey (NF) was very uncomfortable, even when he was chubby. Hogan(very fat cob) is like an armchair, but easy to slide off, because I can't get my legs round him! Hence - the invention of the saddle!


Cantering cabbage!
May 18, 2009
Some horses are just more un comfy, my old TB was, no chance of bareback on him without some sort of pad. Belle on the other hand I could ride all day bareback. I doubt it's anything you are doing.


Well-Known Member
Dec 20, 2004
Suffolk, UK
My girl has big withers, I have to sit a little (maybe an inch) back from her natural dip (the hollow you fall into) and ride with core engaged or it can be uncomfortable, but I do quite a bit bareback as it's perfectly comfortable as long as I'm not just slobbing along as a passenger :)