A simple history lesson of origins and rumors
Western riding originated in from the ranch work, mostly the work with large herds of cattle and horses. Influences from Spanish Conquistadors and Native American practices have played a part in it’s evolvement as much as the cowboy’s interests in Mexican and Iberian Riding, even Haute Ecole.
The sky was the limit. To the assumption that their ranch riding had limitations thy would rightfully argue that they could pass a jump or train dressage with their horses and gear, but a typical english rider would not make it through a cattle drive.
Important for daily life and work was a confident horse and rider team, able to manage rough terrain and situations which required the horse to act swiftly, using natural instincts, and independently. A horse’s Cow Sense has been of great value in cattle work.
Cowboys (or Cowgirls) often needed at last one hand free to work with i.e a Lasso, which is how Neck Reining, the change of direction with light pressure of a rein against the horse's neck in conjunction with weight distribution, came into play.
Noteworthy is that the communication between rider and horse was made up of weight distribution and voice and not all that dependent on reins or bits as the movies and today’s methods would like you to believe.
Flexibility and reaction speed were important and a working horse had to be calm and brave, following easy.
The over-use and over-training of fast Spins and Sliding Stops was not part of the training or work.
The well trained and experienced horse was the livelihood and life insurance of the Cowboy. So the wellbeing of these horses was essential.
A smooth jog that both horse and rider could endure during the often long hours of riding was preferred over the impressive looking and exhausting variations today’s equestrian sports are interested in.
Unlike sport related variations such as European Western Riding a Cowboy always sits to the jog and never posts. Or as an old saying goes, you don’t jump around on the horse like a frog on a glass plate.
Signals to the horse were impulses. One impulse to change to jog and the horse stayed in jog until another impulse came. The rider put his weight slightly to the right and the horse would go to the right.
No constant control, contact to the bit and commanding was necessary.
The breaking of the horse for a fast training is usually also a rumor and not at all related to Rodeo shows.
To handle the work well smaller horses were chosen with strong hind legs and a short body. A balanced and centered horse was always favored.
Today people are more interested in sports and trail or parkour riding than ranch work. Which is how elements of ranch work have been taken out of context and turned into competitions, much to the dismay of the horses.
The European Western Riding is usually English Riding in Western gear and attire. Constant signals to horse, always contact to the mouth and they post the jog (bounce up and down).
What is known as Horsemanship usually exhausts and pressures horses into submission and obedience to function on trail rides or circle riding.
From the partnership and communication, the reliance and dependence on the horse is not much to be found.
Handling and how horses are kept, raised, bred and trained also differ greatly in these variations.
More on Authentic Western Riding in another article.