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Western riding and Romans?

From: Ellie

Dear Jessica, it always surprises me to find that you can make sense on yet another far-fetched subject! I audited one of your clinics this spring and remember your saying something to a Western rider about the Roman origins of a lot of Western equipment and techniques. I wanted to hear more but had to go look after my toddler and missed the rest of what you were saying. I asked my instructor about that when I got home, and he said that Western riding came from Spanish riding, and he thought that came from Greek riding, and he wasn't sure about the Roman connection, but I should ask you. Can you fill me in, please?

Just very curious, Elllie

Hi Ellie!

Yes, there's a nice clear connection from today's Western riding through Spanish riding all the way back to the Roman military. The saddle is one tip-off -- a Roman military saddles had a tree, was leather-covered, and had the equivalent of a deep-seated Western saddle's high fork, swells, and cantle. There wasn't a front-and-center saddle horn, but from all the evidence, it looks as though many Roman military saddles had four protruding curved areas something like horns: two in front, over the rider's thighs (think of the poleys on Australian stock saddles) and two in back where they would serve to help keep the rider in place.

The riders rode with the reins in one-handed, and the bit in the horse's mouth was usually a curb.

The Romans also used a round pen for starting their horses -- does that sound pddly familiar? The round pen is NOT a recent invention. ;-)

We often think more about the Greek connection because of Xenophon's writings on the Greek cavalry and on horsemanship, but the connection to Western riding is much less clear. Riders sat on a piece of cloth of some sort, rather than on a saddle, much less on a saddle with a tree (hence the strong preference for horses with well-muscled backs!), and the bits used were primarily snaffles, albeit some of those snaffles were impressively nasty, and designed to keep the horses' mouths open.

I think that's the main gist of what you missed. Spanish riding came much more from Rome than from Greece, and that's what I was explaining to the rider. ;-)


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