Horseback Riding History

Horseback Riding History

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Horseback Riding History

When you are out riding the trails while you’re on vacation, more than likely, you will be doing “Western style” riding. English style riding is a sophisticated type of equestrianism which involves events like steeplechase, gymkhana, and dressage. All very fun to watch, but much more technical to do than Western Style.

Western style horseback riding evolved from the warfare and cattle-working traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors. Both the riding style and the equipment evolved to meet the working needs of cowboys in the American West.

Despite the seemingly dramatic differences between Western and English style, there are many more similarities. Both styles require riders to get a solid seat, with the hips and shoulders balanced over the feet. In both styles, the hands are independent of the seat so as to avoid disturbing the horse’s balance or to interfere with its performance.

The main noticeable difference is in the Western style saddle. It has a substantial saddle tree which provides greater support to horse and rider for working long ranch hours in the saddle. On a Western style saddle there is a prominent pommel topped by the horn (a knob used for gathering up the lariat after roping a animal), a deeper saddle seat, and a higher cantle. Also, in Western style, the stirrups are wider and the saddle has rings and ties which allow more objects to be attached to the saddle.

In Western style, horses are controlled with a loose rein, held like a microphone in one hand. A standard Western bridle lacks a noseband and usually consists of a single set of reins attached to a curb bit which has a somewhat longer and looser shank than the curb of an English Weymouth bridle. The two styles of Western reins are the long split reins of the Texas tradition, which are completed separated, or the closed-end “Romal” reins of the California tradition.

The clothing in Western style riding is much more casual than the formal red coat and black jodhpurs of English riding. Typically, Western riders wear a long-sleeved shirt, denim jeans, boots, and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. Cowboy boots, which have pointed toes and higher heels than a traditional riding boot, are designed to prevent the rider’s foot from slipping through the stirrup during a fall and preventing the rider from being dragged. Western riders may also wear protective leather leggings called chaps. It can be fun to dress in authentic cowboy wear, but it really isn’t necessary for a horseback trail ride for leisure.

Western horses are required to maintain a brisk, ground-covering walk, but a slow, relaxed jog trot which allows the rider to sit the saddle snugly. The Western version of a canter is expected to be slow and relaxed. Working Western horses on the ranch seldom use a sustained hand gallop, but are able to accelerate quickly to high speed when chasing cattle or competing in rodeo speed events. Western horses must also be able to stop quickly from a dead run and “turn on a dime.”

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