Riding - Encyclopedia

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RIDING, the art or practice of locomotion on the back of an animal or in a vehicle (the verb to ride originally meant "to travel," or "go," as the derived noun road means "a way"). Where no vehicle is specified (e.g. "riding a bicycle"), the word is associated with horseback riding, for exercise or pleasure.

The origin of the use of the horse as a means of transport goes back to prehistoric times. The fable of the centaurs, if the derivation from to goad, Taupos, bull, be accepted (but see Centaur), would indicate the early existence of pastoral peoples living on horseback, like the modern cowboys (cp. "cow-punchers") or gauchos of North and South America. Archaeological discoveries in India, Persia, Assyria and Egypt show that in the polished stone age quaternary man had domesticated the horse, while a Chinese treatise, the Goei-leaotse, the fifth book of the Vouking, a sort of military code dating from the reign of the emperor Hoang-Ti (2637 years B.C.), places the cavalry on the wings of the army. The Hebrews understood the use of the horse in war (Job xxxix. 18-25), as did the Persians (Cyrus at the battle of Thymbra), Greeks and Romans. The Greeks and Romans, especially the former, were skilled horsemen, and feats on horseback were a feature of their games. They used no stirrup, but had both bridle and bit. They rode bareback, or on a cloth or skin strapped to the horse.

When roads were poor and vehicles cumbersome horseback was almost the only method of travel for both sexes. With the introduction of steam-locomotion and the improvement of roads, however, riding has become to a large extent a sport, rather than a necessity. There are different styles of riding adapted to the different purposes for which horses are ridden - on the road, in the school, hunting, racing, steeple-chasing and in the cavalry service - just as there are different horses more suitable by conformation, breeding and training for each.

In western civilization there is a traditional difference between the riding of men and women, in this particular, that men ride astride and women on a side-saddle. But in the following observations we deal generally with the more important features of riding as practised astride.

After securing an animal of the right height, weight and disposition, with a saddle of a length of tree and a breadth of seat that fits the rider and that is lined to fit the back of the horse, with a bridle bitted to his mouth, the first step is to mount. Having taken up the reins, the rider should stand at his horse's near (left) shoulder, facing towards the tail, and in that position hold the stirrup with his right hand for the reception of his left foot. By standing at the shoulder the rider is out of harm's way in the event of the horse kicking while he mounts. Ladies generally have the aid of a block or a groom's or escort's hand beneath the left foot. But a woman should be able to mount without aid, by lowering her stirrup, so that she can reach it from the ground, and then raising it again when she is seated in the saddle. Riding astride is sometimes recommended for women. The chief argument in its favour - symmetrical development of the figure - is, however, lost if the growing girl be taught to ride on a side-saddle of which the pommels can be shifted to the off side on alternate days.

Having gained the saddle, the necessity arises for seat and hands. Here good instruction is imperative at the outset. The great desideratum in a seat on horseback is that it should be firm. A rider with an insecure seat is apt to be thrown by any unexpected movement the horse may make; and, without a firm seat, the acquirement of good hands is well-nigh hopeless, because, when the balance is once disturbed the insecure rider will have to depend on something else for the maintenance of his seat, and this generally takes the shape of "riding on the horse's mouth," a practice as cruel as it is ugly.

Having gained the saddle, the rider should adjust the stirrups to the proper length, depending on the kind of riding, the length of his leg and the roughness of the horse's trot. Sitting well in the middle of the saddle, the thighs turned in, and the heels drawn somewhat back, the stirrup leathers may be let out or taken up until the tread of the stirrup is on a level with the inner ankle bone, and at this length, when the rider stands up, his fork will easily clear the pommel of the saddle. For maintaining his seat the horseman should depend upon his thighs and knees only, and not upon the knee and calf; a proper seat should be a mixture of balance and grip; a man riding by balance only is sure to be thrown, while to grip with all one's might during an hour's ride ,is to undertake as much exertion as should last for a whole day. The position of the foot exercises much influence on the security of the seat; it should be opposite the girth, parallel with the barrel of the horse, with the heels depressed. A good seat on a horse should not be strong merely; it should be graceful; above the loins the body should be loose, so as readily to adapt itself to every motion of the horse, but it should be upright.

Beginners are advised to practise riding with and without stirrups; thus, let the pupil who has ridden half an hour in a saddle with stirrups have a cloth substituted for the saddle for about ten minutes, care being taken to observe the rules already laid down for the position of the legs; in this way the proper seat will be strengthened.

The proper adjustment of the reins is the next thing to be attended to, and as the management of these depends so much upon the seat being firm and independent of the bridle the acquisition of a firm seat is certainly half-way towards the acquirement of good hands. An excellent way to start a pupil is on a sure-footed horse without bridle, the master governing him by a leading rein until the pupil has acquired a firm seat and can be trusted with reins. Assuming that a double-reined bridle is used, the third finger of the left hand should be first inserted between the snaffle reins; then the little, third and second fingers should be between the curb reins, the two outside reins being the curb, and the two inside ones the snaffle. In this manner of holding the reins the snaffle is not so likely to slip, while the curb can be easily slackened or drawn tighter. As military riders use the curb only the position of snaffle and curb as just explained is reversed in the cavalry service. The snaffle reins should be drawn up gently until the rider feels that he has an equal and light hold of his horse's mouth on both sides, with just so much pressure that the slightest movement of the left or right rein would cause him to turn to the left or right respectively. The arms from the shoulder to the elbow should hang naturally, close to the sides, and the arms from elbow to wrist should be about parallel to the ground, the wrist being kept loose, so as to yield gently with every motion of the horse. The rider sitting in the position described, square to the front, with his shoulders well back, will be riding with fairly long reins, one of the secrets of good hands.

When the horse is in motion the hands should not be held rigid, as the horse's mouth would thereby become dead, and the horse would lean unpleasantly on the hand; but the rider should give and take, without, however, entirely relaxing the hold.

In order to encourage the horse to walk the head must not be confined, but a light feeling of the horse's mouth must be kept up. Should the horse, unasked, break into a trot, never snatch at his mouth, but restrain him gently. To trot, press the legs to the saddle, and raise the bridle hand a little, and, after a moment's sitting close, begin to rise ("pose") in cadence with the action of the horse. The rising to the trot should be performed easily; the legs must not swing backwards and forwards, nor should the hands be jerked up and down. To start the canter, which should always be done from the walk and not the trot, take up the curb rein a little and turn the horse's head slightly to the right, at the same time pressing the left leg behind the girth; the horse will then lead with the off (right) fore leg, which is generally preferred; but a well-broken hack should lead with either leg at command, and if he be cantered in a circle to the left he must lead with the near leg, as otherwise an ugly fall is likely to result from the leg being crossed. Galloping is a pace not to be generally indulged in by road or park riders; when it is, the hands should be kept low, the body thrown back, and an extra grip taken with the knees, as nearly all horses pull more or less when extended.

Hitherto only road or park riding has been considered. When a person has become a fair road rider he has made some progress towards being a hunting man. But if first principles are disregarded, and a follower of hounds believes in the system "it doesn't matter how you ride so long as you stick on," he will not only always be a "sight" but a menace in the hunting field. Few self-taught riders attain to excellence; they may keep a good place in hunting, if possessed of plenty of courage, and mounted on a bold and not too tender-mouthed horse, but they never will be riders in the proper sense of the word.

Hunting and Riding to Hounds

For practical purposes the chief difference between a park seat and a hunting seat consists in the shortening of the stirrups some two or three holes. The seat of the hunting man is the most important of any connected with amusement; he must sit firm, so as not to be thrown off when his horse leaps, or makes a mistake, and he must be able to save his horse under all circumstances, and to make as much of him as possible. As with road riding, so with hunting, the actual length of the stirrups will depend a good deal upon the shape and action of the horse, but the nature of the animal and the peculiarities of the country ridden over will also have something to do with their adjustment. A puller will compel the rider to shorten his leathers one or perhaps two holes - a course that may also be rendered necessary in a hilly country, for, in going down hill, the stirrups, if kept at the ordinary length, will generally feel a great deal too long. The rider's body must be always clOse to the saddle in leaping, for if he were jerked up, the weight of say only a 10stone man coming down on the horse a couple of seconds after he has negotiated a large fence is sufficient to throw the animal down. Nothing but actual practice with hounds can teach a man how to ride where all kinds of going and obstacles of various sorts, natural and artificial, have to be encountered in a day's hunting. For example, the country gone over is seldom level springy turf; it is up hill and down dale, across ridge and furrow, over ground studded with ant-hills (which, unlike mole-hills, are often very hard), over ploughed or boggy land. Each of these varieties requires a different method of riding over, and nearly every horse will require different handling under similar circumstances. It will therefore be seen that much depends on the rider having good hands. This qualification, though generally understood, is difficult to define. A rider with good hands never depends upon his reins for retaining his seat; nor does he pull at the horse's mouth so as to make him afraid to go up to his bit; nor again does he ever use more force than is necessary for the accomplishment of what he desires to perform. But besides all this, there is an unaccountable sympathetic something about the man with good hands that cannot be described. Pullers appear to renounce pulling, refusers take to jumping and clumsy horses become nearly as handy as a trick horse in a circus. Though hands can to a great extent be acquired by care and practice, yet in the highest form this is a gift and cannot be learned.

There are different kinds of "fences," as all obstacles are generically called. First, there is timber, such as gates, stiles and rails; the first two are, nine times out of ten, awkward jumps, as the take off is either poached by cattle, or else is on the ascent or descent. Hedges vary according to the custom of the country in which they are found: they either grow in the soil of the field, and are protected by a ditch on one side, or are planted on a bank with a ditch on one side or sometimes on both. Then again there are such large banks as are found in Wales, Devon and Cornwall. Lastly come water jumps, which are met with in two forms: the water is either within an inch or two of the top of the bank, so as to be about on a level with the field through which it flows, or there may be a space of some 6 or 7 ft. from the bank to the water. For the successful negotiation of brooks a bold horse is required, ridden by a bold man. No fence that is ever encountered stops such a large proportion of the field as water; even a clear 6 ft. of it will prove a hindrance to some, while anything over 10 or 12 ft. will in general be crossed only by a very few. Some horses, good performers over any description of fence, will not jump water under any circumstances; while the chance of a ducking deters many from riding at it; and, however bold the horse may be, he will soon refuse water if his rider be perpetually in two minds when approaching it.

The pace at which a hunter should be ridden at his fences depends upon the nature of the fence, and the peculiarities of each individual horse. With some very good jumpers - they can hardly be called good hunters - to steady them is to bid for a fall, while with some very clever hunters to hurry them is to bring them to grief. With ordinary horses, however, it is a good general rule to ride at fences of all descriptions as slowly as the nature of the obstacle admits. In grass countries, where "flying fences" are found, the rate of speed must of necessity be quicker than when about to take a Devonshire bank of some 7 ft. high, but even at a flying fence the rider should steady his horse so as to contract the length of his stride, in order that he may measure the distance for taking off with greater accuracy. Flying fences consist of a hedge with or without a post and rail, and with or without a ditch on one or both sides; consequently a horse has to jump both high and wide to clear them. But in jumping a gate, or a flight of rails, as ordinarily situated, there is no width to be covered, and to make a horse go through the exertion of jumping both high and wide when he need only do one is to waste his power, added to which to ride fast at timber, unless very low with a ditch on the landing side, is highly dangerous.

All hedges on banks, banks and doubles must be ridden at slowly; they are usually of such a size as to make flying them impossible, or at least undesirable. Horses jump them on and off, and in taking them at a moderate pace there is a chance of stopping on the top and choosing a better place to jump from, or, if needs be, of returning and taking the fence at another place. Cramped places will have to be jumped from a walk or even at a stand; for instance, a tree may be in a line with and close to the only practicable place in a fence; it then becomes necessary to go round the tree before a run at the place can be managed. So, too, with places that have to be crawled over between trees, or with dykes to be crawled down.

In jumping an ordinary hedge or ditch at moderate speed, there is of course a moment of time during which the horse is on his hind legs, and in theory the rider should then lean forward, but, in practice, this position is so momentary, and the lash out of the hind legs in the spring is so powerful, that it is best not to lean forward at all, because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of getting back in time for the reverse movement, when the rider should be preparing to render the horse some assistance with the bridle as his feet touch the ground.

When a line of willows indicates the whereabouts of a brook, the horse should be well collected, a clear place selected, so far as circumstances allow, and the pace increased, though in short strides, up to the very brink. If the hounds jump at the brook, even though they fail to clear it, the rider may take it for granted that at that place the leap is within the capacity of any ordinary hunter in his stride; hence if, when going at three parts speed, a horse's feet come just right to take off, the mere momentum of his body would take him over a place 15 ft. wide.

The experience of a single day's hunting will teach the novice that gates are far oftener opened than jumped; it is therefore necessary that a hunter should be handy at opening them. Many accidents have arisen from horses rushing through a gateway directly the latch is released, or from their jumping a gate at which they have been pulled up to enable the rider to open it. The horse should be taught to obey the leg as well as the hand, and, by a slight pressure of the leg, should throw his haunches round to the left or right as occasion may require.

Racing (see also HoRSE-Racing). - The qualities possessed by a good jockey, either on the flat or across country, show the value of early instruction in riding. After having been some time in a training stable, a lad is put on a quiet horse at exercise; his stirrups are adjusted, and the reins knotted for him at a proper length. He subsequently rides other horses, each with some peculiarity perhaps, and, to keep his place in the string, a sluggard must be kept going, and an impetuous one restrained; they cannot both be ridden alike, but they must both be ridden as a jockey should ride them. In this way the lad learns the principle of holding a puller, getting pace out of a lazy one, and leaving well alone with a nice free but temperate mover; he learns to do everything in a horsemanlike manner, and when he has raised himself to the pitch of a "fashionable" jockey, he will frequently be called upon to ride several horses a day at race meetings. A jockey must therefore, more than any other civilian rider, have a hand for all sorts of horses, and in the case of two and three year olds a very good hand it must be. The same ability to adapt himself to circumstances must be possessed by the steeple-chase jockey, who should possess fine hands to enable him to handle his horse while going at his fences at three-quarter speed. In most details the nearer a hunting man approaches to a steeple-chase jockey the better; but in the matter of the seat it must be remembered that a jockey's exertions last but a few minutes, while none can tell when the hunting man may finish his day's work; the jockey can therefore ride with more absolute grip during his race than the rider to hounds.

See also Horsemanship; Hunting; Cavalry; Racing And Steeple-Chase; and Polo.

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