THE VERSATILE HORSE

~ Western Riding every which way

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A (Short!)History of Western Riding













I guess we all know that the horse has been around as man's working partner pretty much since the year dot. These days, horses are more in evidence as pets and the only real working use they are put to is, of course, by the North American cowboy, the Mexican vaquero and South American gaucho.


I have no statistics to support it but my guess would be that North and South America combined probably account for 90% of the world's working horses: Police and Armed forces world wide use them for ceremonial and riot control work but that must be a relatively small proportion and the rest of the World's equine population are these days glorified pets.

So, one way and another, it's a fairly obvious statement to observe that Western Riding has its roots in America. But why "western" riding and not "American" riding? To get the answer to that you have to trace history back to the Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors who arrived in the Americas in the 16th century - looting and pillaging aboard horses rigged with the saddle that evolved into the Mexican  "charro" saddle.

Mexican charros were the original "cowboys" at a time when "the West" was still that wild place on the other side of America from Boston. These days we tend to think of traditional Mexican horsemen as Vaqueros and, with Charro traditions surviving in the modern Mexican rodeo, a Mexican will tell you that there are subtle differences between the charro and vaquero styles..

And, by the by, following our theme that the versatile horse derives from cowboys competing for fun on their days off, it was the Mexican  "charreada" or "charreria" that was the forerunner of the rodeo in America.  But I digress...

It is generally taken that the real forerunner of the Western horse was the arrival in California of the Mexican vaquero after the Mexican - American war of 1848.  Back then, Californians were more concerned with getting gold out of the ground and it was the vaqueros who provided them with their beef. Largely because, then, there was no logistical prospect of getting beef out of California to the East, a parallel development was occurring in Texas. Still with the Mexicans bringing their long established cattle/horse management techniques but, here, it would seem that the Texans had no mining preoccupations and  were happy to get on and develop their own techniques. And so you get the distinction between "Texas style" and "California style".

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15th June 2012

Most people will tell you that the difference between "Texas Style" and "California Style" exists only in the different ways of holding the reins and the set up of the reins themselves. But it is more subtle than that. Real fans of the vaquero style will tell you that it produces a softer, more responsive western  horse and will offer the laid back, "manana", approach to life of Mexicans as exemplar of their taking the time to let the horse grow into their way of riding. They'll say that, back then, they let the cattle teach the horse. On the other hand, Texans were less inclined to give the horse the time and would "break" the horse to their way of going. Of course, that's not to suggest that a Texas style western horse is any less a "western" horse than than one trained in the California/Vaquero tradition but it does explain the development of the two different styles.

And that's probably the reason why the "Texas Style" has proved to be the more popular as Western Riding has developed into the various competition classes that identify it these days. Sadly, big buck professional competition has produced an almost  "industrial scale" approach to the breeding and training of the Western Horse and the time scales that apply tend not to favour the Vaquero approach - a fully finished California Style horse requires patient attention over a period of years (see blog "Spade Bit - Friend or Foe") - and, generally speaking, the realities of professional competition do not favour such a time scale.

How western riding developed in the 20th Century will have to be the subject of a future blog - watch this space!