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History of Western Horse Tack

By Emily Heggan Subscribe to RSS | July 10th 2012 | Views:

The western style of riding and western tack has been around hundreds of years and evolved from the Spanish Conquistadors who brought it to America. Both the riding style and the tack changed to meet the needs of the working cowboy on the ranches and America’s wild west.

The American cowboys had to work long hours in the saddle over rough terrain, sometimes roping cattle with a lasso. Because there was the need to control the horse with one hand and use a lasso with the other, western horses were trained to neck rein or to change direction with light pressure of a rein against their neck. The horses were also trained to use their natural instincts to follow the movements of a cow, therefore a new style of riding was developed which required a deep and secure seat and such training methods allowed the horse to be responsive with very subtle rein contact.

The Saddle

The first horseback riders rode bareback and for hundreds of years as they traveled, hunted and fought wars this way. The first bareback pads came around 700-800 BC with the Assyrians. These pads gave the rider a slight increase of comfort when. The Romans are said to have created the earliest saddle around 200-250 AD. Around 350-375 AD, the Sarmations used saddles but the came up with the idea of the breast plate and the girth to help the saddle stay in place.

The stirrup on the saddle, however, is said to have been created by the Sarmations, but some say they really originated in India. The Europeans quickly adapted to using the saddle and stirrups not only because it was easier to mount up onto their horse, but because it helped keep them more balanced in the saddle.'

Since then the saddle evolved into what we have today where some are stocked with wool or foam and are adjustable and made to fit other horses. The strong high-peaked pommels of the saddle were made for taking a tight turn or for holding a rope. Other cowboys and ranchers changed the design even more. They kept the back of the saddle but modified the horn so it was shorter, thicker and covered it in leather. Then in the 1870's, the cowboys changed the horn. The horns were now made out of medal so they would not break when working with cattle or other horses.

The Bridle or Headstall

Bridles can date back just as far as saddles can. The bridle or headstall was developed for better communication with the horse and rider. Western bridles are very similar to the English bridles but do not have nosebands. Some Western bridles also lack brow bands, but are replaced by a "one ear" or "split ear" design where a small strap goes around one or both ears to provide extra security to keep the bridle on.

Western horses are trained to ride in a curb bit with a single pair of reins. A curb bit has longer and looser shanks than that of an English Pelham bit. There are two styles of Western reins: split reins and closed-end reins. Split reins are completely separated and do no connect at all. Closed-end reins are similar to English reins, but do not have a buckle. These have a long single attachment at the ends that hook to the bit.

Western tack has been around for centuries and there have been so many changes and adaptations to the design, style and comfort of the tack. Imagine riding on a horse bareback into war with just a small piece of rope in the horse’s mouth and around his head, riding would a lot harder.

Emily Heggan - About Author:
Emily Heggan is a senior at Rowan University majoring in journalism. She currently competes in the 3' hunters with her horse, General, and enjoys writing about equestrian topics like western horse tack.

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