So, You Think You Love Horses? Some Reflections on the Nature of Horses and Man

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This English versus Western Silliness

The Cowboy
The Coyboy is a Cultural Icon
The Cowboy by Frederic Remington, 1902

Two major styles of riding exist in the United States: English and Western. The split between the two camps includes things such as: the type of tack, clothing, headgear, breeds of horses, gaits favored and the types of equine sports and activities participated in. In other words the split is more of a chasm. I once read of a clinic that was designed to encourage riders to learn both styles, but I doubt those that riders of one style would care to spend the money to acquire the accouterments of the other and suspect the clinic was poorly attended even though it was a good idea.

I live in the East, as have my ancestors before me, and somehow I sense that try as hard as I can I could never, ever be a real cowboy. I would always feel a little self conscious decked out in Western wear, and as much as I admire cowboy boots, I have never had my feet in any. I will tell you that riding breeches really are very comfortable to wear on a long ride. The seams of the usual blue jeans will rub your inner thighs absolutely raw. However, I am sure Westerners would not be caught dead in breeches. I could go on but you get my point, I am sure.

Barrel racing has to be a lot of fun.
Barrel Racing
One thing that does concern me about many Western riders is the lack of head protection; none is afforded by the traditional cowboy hat. I believe anyone who gets on a motorcycle, a bicycle or a horse should be wearing proper head protection. You just never know when the unexpected will happen. My wife was riding my horse in the woods with some friends and something happened that she still cannot remember and that her companions did not see. She was at a walk and was not galloping wildly through the woods, jumping logs or sloshing across streams. She has a vague memory of hitting the ground and having the air knocked out of her. Her companions led her home in a dazed and confused state. When our son came to the door, she looked at him and said, “Boy, he looks awfully familiar.” I was working, and by the time I got home she had recovered. This is an example of a veteran rider experiencing a concussion. On inspecting the expensive riding helmet she had been wearing, it had split in half from the force of hitting the ground. It is clear to me that had she not been wearing this helmet, she might not have survived to tell the tale and at least would have suffered a skull fracture. Equally disconcerting to an English rider is the tendency of Western riders to hold their reins rather high in the air way off of the horse’s withers. This is because a Western rider holds the reins with one hand centered about one inch over the high pommel of the Western saddle and relies on neck reining (light contact of the reins against the neck) to direct the horse rather than the bit. English riders typically use both hands and hold them close to the horse's withers. Neck reining plays only a minor role in English riding.

All of this said, I absolutely believe that a rider is a rider and a good horse person is a good horse person regardless of the particular style of riding they favor. I have learned a lot from Western horsemen, and I owe a few of them debts of gratitude that I can never repay. That little spark of the cowboy that is in me would say that I will suffer no man speak ill of them neither.

Cowboys, the West, the Western horse and the Western movie are as American as you can get. They are real cultural icons to be treasured by all of us. I enjoy watching Western riders compete. Barrel racing has to be a lot of fun. I bet I could get into cutting horses. I even have also been tempted to try my hand at riding a mechanical bull. I have sat through enough half-hearted bucks on horses over the years with no problems. I secretly think I would be good at bronco busting, but I have enough sense not to try. So, helmets off to Western riders. I am happy to share the trail with them.

The Accidental Horseman

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