Dear Jessica, you know so much about everything, I'm hoping that you'll come up with answers for my questions too. I'm an old Western rider, but I've learned a lot from one real special English-riding gal: you!
I've always wanted to write a book about my experiences growing up, and write about how I learned to ride and all the old saddles that I learned to ride on in Texas when I was a boy. Now that I've been retired for a while, maybe I'll write that book after all. I was put up on a horse when I was about six, and I feel like I didn't get off a horse for about twenty years.
I learned my riding from two Mexican cowboys who worked for our neighbors, and they taught me a lot about horses. That's about sixty years ago now, but I remember the saddles very clearly. Maybe it's because I spent a lot of time cleaning and polishing them. I haven't seen saddles like them in a lot of years. They were square-looking with seats that were just about flat, and one big long stirrup leather that was hung over the seat. Under the leathers, they had fenders that were almost like English-saddle flaps.
Anyway, I've been writing down what I know about them, and drawing a picture of some of these saddles and trying to remember all the words for all the parts. That's where I'm drawing a blank. There was a special word for the flat fenders under the leathers, and I can't remember that. There was a word for the part that attached to the cinch, and I keep remembering it as "reata", but I know that means "lasso", so I must be remembering it wrong.
Can you help an old man, please? Those Mexican hands who taught me riding are a long time gone. They were my age now when I was a young kid learning to ride.
Thanks in advance, Dusty
Hi Dusty! I've seen a few of those old Mexican saddles; I think there are a couple in the King Ropes museum in Sheridan, Wyoming. If you haven't been there, by the way, that is one terrific museum. Make a point of visiting if you're ever up that way.
You're remembering the terms correctly. "Reata" just means "rope", and even though people use "reata" and "lasso" interchangeably, they're not exactly the same ("reata" became "la riata", then "lariat"). "Reata de lazar" was the "lasso rope", and "reatas" (also "contrareatas") were the straps you remember as being part of the saddle. The reata ran from ring to ring by way of the forebow of the saddle, under the horn; the contrareata fastened to the same rings (called "argollas") and ran around the rear bow of the saddle.
The flaps under the stirrup leathers (called "arciones") were very similar to English-saddle flaps; that's a good observation! They lay flat on the horse's sides, and were called "los bastos" -- "skirts".
The stirrups were called "estribos", and the stirrup leathers did lie across the seat ("tabla") as you remember.
Today's Western saddles still owe a lot to those Mexican saddles -- we've changed the names and some of the shapes, but a lot of good, "using saddles" would be instantly recognizable to old-time Mexican vaqueros (and they would also recognize the origin of our own word "buckaroo". ;-)
Please do write that book, and let me know when it's finished -- I want to buy the first copy. I try not to collect too many saddles, but I never pass up a chance to visit a museum or go through an old-timer's tackroom... and I definitely collect books. ;-)
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