Periodical: Metropolian Magazine

Date: April 1900

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Despite the prediction freely made a few years ago that the bicycle would, with the aid of the automobile, make the horse as much a thing of the past as the Great Auk, there seems to be no good reason to assume that the horse is rapidly becoming extinct. To stand at either the Fifth avenue or the Eighth avenue gate of Central Park in New York any pleasant day will furnish one with all the evidence needed to prove that the saddle horse has not been made to stand aside in place of the "silent steed"; indeed, it may be said that equestrianism has been experiencing a revival. This, too, in spite of the recent announcement which came from the West to the effect that the automobile would supplant the cow pony on certain Western ranges at a great saving in cost of installation and keep.

The horse will ever retain a place in the affections of mankind, and his uses will continue to be as numerous as the types of rider. It would not appear that so simple a matter as straddling a horse's back could admit of many variations, and yet there is as marked a difference between the various schools of riding as between the horses themselves.

In this country, for instance, there are practically three distinct types of rider. In the East the hunting seat largely obtains. It is this which is to be observed along the equestrian paths in the parks and in the riding schools. It is an outgrowth and a very slight modification of the English seat, and the saddle used is the same. The stirrups are drawn so tightly that the knees are much bent, and by this means the rider rises and falls in his seat to accommodate himself to the motion of the horse. It is an awkward and ungainly posture, while the saddle affords small support to the rider; yet to ride with long stirrup leathers would be regarded as a serious breach of good form and a "McClellan tree," the regulation cavalry saddle would attract as much attention on Riverside Drive as would a flat saddle on the Nebraska plains.

In the West the cavalry saddle, or a Mexican modification of the seat, is the only one used, and a rider can sit in the saddle all day without one-half of the effort required in a canter of a few miles on the pigskin. The Western saddle has a high horn, and at the rear is raised to afford support to the rider's back. The stirrup leathers are sufficiently long to enable the rider to almost stand in the saddle, and the man in the saddle gives with the motion of the mount, but does not rise in the saddle unless engaged in a dispute with a buck jumper. The swinging lope of the horse of the plains and the graceful, sympathetic movement of the rider mark the Western seat by its grace; and surely there are no better riders anywhere than the herders of the Western plains. Men who straddle the horse before an Eastern lad is regarded as old enough for the wooden hobby on rockers, and who are accustomed to spend a good part of the working day in the saddle, are common enough. Their daring is proverbial, and the regiment raised by Theodore Roosevelt for service in the late war will go down in history as the Rough Riders, even though they served as dismounted cavalry in Cuba.

Like the Westerner, the Mexican is celebrated as a daring and graceful rider, and his brother of the South American pampas differs but little in style. The Latin-American races have a rather more graceful seat than the plainsman, but in all essentials they are alike, and the cowboy has but copied the man from the other side of the Rio Grande; and however much he may despise the "Greaser," he has certainly adopted his style of horsemanship, though with a few modifications and improvements of his own, some of which are worthy of commendation.

Abroad, the Cossack and the Arab are considered the best horsemen. The Arab from time immemorial has been the accepted type of Oriental rider. He kept a stock book at a time when the barbarian races were just beginning to raise the horse as a domestic animal. Like the North American Indian, riding was born in the Arabs; they are as fearless and as graceful riders as any to be found in the world. Even their baggy raiment does not appear to have militated against them. Like all good riders they use long stirrups, and like the Cossacks they use a flat saddle.

The Cossacks are noted principally for their trick of crossing their stirrups and riding in an erect position almost on the bare back of the horse. Their beasts are not as graceful as the Arab horses, being more like the cow ponies of our own Western plains, but they have speed and endurance.

The French and German riders imitate the English seat, and there is but little difference in their styles. The German cavalry seat is as prim and precise as the orderly German mind can make it; the French cavalry, too, have the regulation seat. The best military riders abroad are to be found in the Italian army, where the course of instruction either kills the student or makes a masterly rider of him. They are trained to ride down banks which are little less than precipices, and to swim rivers. In the German cavalry the course of instruction has been broadened to conform to modern methods, and one interesting drill is that in which men and horses fully accoutred jump from a platform into a river and swim across.

Perhaps the best trained army riders are to be found in the United States cavalry. Here the men work barebacked and accomplish many feats which would grace the repertoire of the circus rider. Vaulting over horses going at a gallop, exchanging saddles while in full motion, and similar tricks are familiar to every man in the command, while even the old Roman standing race is a feat easy of accomplishment to them. It is not supposed that these fancy tricks will avail them in a charge, but the instruction is given that the men may be fully at home in the saddle and ready for any emergency in the field. Of military riders they are probably the most accomplished to be found in the world, and, with the possible exception of the Cossack, may be considered as being fairly entitled to the equestrian championship. Horsemanship, like most other arts, is to be acquired only through persistent practice. Even when the would-be rider sincerely struggles to master position and skill in the saddle he frequently fails of the desired end.

To a certain extent riding is a natural gift, and but few good horsemen have become so by mere persistence. The horse has done much for the civilization of mankind. In the early days, before railroads, man's four-footed helpmeet was a vital factor in every social and commercial enterprise. Now that mechanical means of transportation have come to supplant the horse in many ways, the faithful animal is none the less esteemed by those who know his true value. The horse has one quality which bi-, tri-, and 4-, 5-,6-, and 7-cycles can never boast -- the quality of companionship. A man's wheel can never be more than a means to an end; the horse is a comrade, an intelligent road-fellow, and a creature of beauty no less than of human attributes.

It has been asserted by many riding experts that trick work should not be seriously considered in summing up a rider's capabilities, since this lies rather within the province of arenic display than horseback or saddle riding. It is declared that an ability to pick a handkerchief off the ground while riding at great speed does not argue good horsemanship so as fitness for the circus ring.

This is an error into which some reasoners fall naturally. As a matter of fact, these so-called tricks are often brought into requisition on the plains, and serve a practical purpose, none the less real because not apparent to Eastern eyes. As a matter of fact, any training which tends to give greater ease in the saddle is good riding, and evidence of this is given in the improvement in the cavalry since the sarcastically-termed "circus riding" was introduced. None of the exercises is actually useless, and some time a trick may save human life when practised in active service.

On the plains the situation is the same, and matters which in the arena are of the circus circusy, become, in the open, matters of daily need. It is this all-around readiness which has made the American cowboy the splendid horseman that he is, and in all countries the best and most graceful riders are those who practise the apparently useless tricks of fancy riding. The man who simply learns to sit on the back of a well-broken horse and maintain his equilibrium is not a real rider, and only an ability to keep the saddle under all circumstances is the criterion by which the genuine rider may be judged. Nothing is useless which brings the rider into closer relations with his mount, and every bit of trick work tends to make a better equestrian of the rider.

Familiarity with the horse is the true secret of good riding the world over. To the real rider the horse is very nearly human, and the unity of the horseman and his well-broken mount is the test and beauty of horsemanship. On the plains this is particularly the case. The rider has a string of half a dozen horses which he has broken himself, and these mounts are all stamped with the individuality of the rider. The good horse grows to know his master's style and accommodates himself to any peculiarities he may display.

Endurance riding may hardly be called a test of expert horsemanship. Some of the long-distance military races held in Europe are not fair tests of skill. A truer test is to be found on our Western plains when cattle are being rounded up or transported. Here is the cowboy is in the saddle all day and half the night, and this may be kept up for several weeks. Some of the riders actually sleep in the saddle and through force of habit maintain their seat during their slumber. This is a test of real endurance which would "break" many of the men who are acclaimed daring riders in European centres of equestrianism.

It may seem that a natural prejudice in favor of my own country predisposes me in favor of our own riders, but such is not the case. There are many fine riders in the world besides the Americans, men who ride with skill, with daring, and with intelligence, but the growth of our country has developed a race of modern centaurs who are the equals, if not the superiors, of the horsemen of any clime.


Periodical: Metropolian Magazine

Date: April 1900

Topic: Congress of Rough Riders

Keywords: Spanish American War Cavalry Horsemanship Mexicans Germans French Arabs Cossacks American Indians

Places: Cuba San Juan Hill (Cuba) Washington (D.C.)

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