Bareback Riding

  • Bareback riding is often associated with the early Native Americans, particularly the Comanche, Plains Indians, and the Nez Perce tribes.
  • Riding without a formal saddle requires a great deal of practice, skill, balance, coordination, and courage.
  • Native riders traditionally learn to leap astride their animals from the ground, but a mounting block or fence rail can also be used.
  • In warfare, horses were often used as shields.  Riders lay protected along the outside of their horses and practiced firing weapons as they rode into battle.
  • The horse’s mane could be held for balance.
  • Before the arrival of the European saddle, riders controlled their horses with a simple war bridle made from hide.  This was looped over the lower jaw of the horse and extended into either a single or double rein.
  • Bareback riding is more tiring for both horse and rider because there is no support from a saddle.
  • Riders are required to sit further forward in order to maintain control without excessive gripping.  They ride core-high, with straight legs and their heels flexed downward.
  • Blankets or pads can be used to provide more comfort, but these often slip.
  • It is warmer to ride bareback in winter.
  • Many equestrians like bareback riding because they believe it creates a closer bond with their horse.

Blazing Saddles (Side-Saddles)



  • Side-saddles were considered the appropriate way for a lady to ride from the 16th – 20th century.
  • Ladies could ride in their finest long skirts and still maintain their modesty.
  • In early Greek, Celtic, and Medieval times, women usually sat on horses as passengers behind men.  As they did not need to steer they could perch in a more polite and dignified pose at the rear.
  • As time advanced, women wanted to control their own mounts but still wished to appear feminine.  This led to the development of a functioning side-saddle.
  • The first chair-like saddle, with its own footrest, is credited to Anne of Bohemia (1366-1394).  But this dangerous design was not very practical.
  • Catherine de’ Medici’s later version at least faced forward.  The rider wedged her right leg around the pommel, between a side-horn that secured the same knee.  Her left foot rested in a slipper-stirrup.
  • In the 1830s, a second lower pommel was added to the side-saddle by Jules Pellier.  This pivoted slightly, adjusting to the individual rider.  It provided much more security and allowed women equestrians to gallop, jump, and hunt.

side-1(Gary Parker: Drawing by Theodore Hoe Mead)



Flood, Elizabeth Clair. Cowgirls: Women of the Wild West.  New Mexico: Zon International, 2000.

National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Texas.

Wikipedia. “Side-Saddle,” at

Cowboy Spurs

Cowboy Spurs

  • Spurs are a pair of metal tools worn on the heels of cowboy riding boots.
  • They are designed to direct an animal’s movements – usually forward or sideways – and can encourage a quick response to commands.


  • Spurs are generally held in place by a strap that goes over the arch of the foot, under the sole, and in front of the heel.
  • This strap is called a yoke, branch, or heel bend.
  • The shrank or neck extends from the strap.  This is the part that touches the animal.
  • Some spurs also have a rowel – a revolving wheel or disc attached to the shrank.
  • Jingle Bobs can be added to create a jingling sound whenever the boot moves.
  • Modern spurs are designed, operated, and controlled to transmit subtle signals to the horse, and aim to avoid unnecessary animal abuse.

Blazing Saddles: Texas (1850-1885)

Texan Cowboy Saddles


Horse saddles originated in the Dark Ages.  They were developed for Crusader Knights and Moors when they rode into battle.

The Spanish brought them to the New World, where they were adopted and adapted by the Americans.


  • Known as the Old California, this popular saddle was often used by cowboys for the great cattle drives.
  • In time, half-seat skirts and saddle pockets were added.
  • The majority of the saddle was made from sturdy leather, sometimes tooled in beautiful designs.
  • All cowboys carried a carbine rifle within easy reach.
  • Steel horns gradually replaced the wooden pommels.

When Is A Horse Not A Horse?

Q: When is a horse not a horse?

A: When it is a . .

1. Foal (a newborn that has not been weaned):


2. Weanling ( 6-12 months old):


3. Yearling ( 1-2 years):


4. Colt (male under 4 years old):


5. Filly (female under 4 years old):


6. Mare (female older than 4):


7. Stallion (male older than 4):


8. Gelding (castrated male over 4):


9. Pony (a full-grown horse of 14.2 hands or less):


Photo credits:

All pictures in Public Domain.

Foal by Vassil.

Colt by Double DM Ranch.

Blazing Saddles: Texas (pre-1850)

Early Texan Saddles


Horse saddles originated in the Dark Ages.  They were developed for Crusader Knights and Moors when they rode into battle.

The Spanish brought them to the New World, where they were adopted and adapted by the Americans.


  • The original Texan saddle was popular east of the Rockies, all the way up into Canada.
  • It was a big, heavy design, suited for riding in heavy brush.
  • This developed into the Hope Saddle and Western Stock Saddle, and was refined specifically for cattle work.
  • In the first part of the Nineteenth Century it had no skirts, and extra-wide stirrups fashioned from heavy carved wood.
  • In time, this was adapted into a strong, comfortable, durable saddle that suited the cowboy lifestyle.  The clumsy stirrups were replaced with metal or steam-bent wood.  The seat was deepened for wrangling and bronco-busting.  Two cinch straps replaced the single band, offering more stability when roping cattle.  And horns came in various shapes, sizes and materials.