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American cowboys were required to work long hours in the saddle and their riding style and equipment needed to accommodate the need to rope and steer herds of cattle whilst often riding at speed over rough terrain. In order for them to lasso a cow with the lariat in one hand the horse needed to be controlled with the other hand and hence the horses were taught to neck rein.
Western Riding is in essence a way to ride horses with control, precision and responsiveness by means of light pressure and weight transfer. It is a style of riding that is very easy to learn the basics, but which requires tremendous skill and dedication to master at its highest level.
To the cowboy it was essential to minimise the risks of falling and injuries and so the equipment used was as important as the horse itself. Thus the Western saddle needed a high cantle and deep seat with a substantial tree to provide support whilst roping cattle and a prominent pommel to allow snubbing of he lasso.Covers for the front of the stirrups called Tapaderos (taps) were often used which prevented the brush from becoming caught in the stirrups. The boots had pointed toes and pronounced heels that stopped the rider's foot slipping through the stirrup in the event of a fall and thus avoid the risk of being dragged along. The equipment and tack used has come about by necessity.
A very important part of western tack is the reigns.There are the long split reigns traditionally from Texas which are completely separated. There are also "Romal" closed ended reigns, which have a long single attachment for use as a quirt. Both use a bridle that has evolved to allow the rider to communicate wiothe th horse on a loose reign. The bit used offers one of the biggest differences between English and Western riding. Western Riders use a curb bit with a single pair of reins, having longer and looser shanks than the curb of an English Weymouth bridle or Pelham bit.
Western and English riders both have to have a solid seat with the body well balanced over the feet and hands working independently of the seat. Western riders tend to wear practical comfortable clothing, traditionally jeans, boots, long sleeved shirt and a Stetson. Chaps are also worn which help the rider stick to the saddle and also protects the legs whilst riding through brush.
For showing purposes Western tack and clothing can be quite spectacular with saddles, bits and bridles using intricately engraved leather and plenty of silver. Clothing for show purposes can be very colourful and can be accented with ornamental accessories such as carved silver belt buckles and stirrups.
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