Horses have a long and illustrious history dating back to ancient times and crossing cultural boundaries – indeed, almost every country where these animals can be found has fostered a unique equestrian culture of their own. However, in modern times, the predominant of these are the various Western styles. With the US and Europe, as well as other parts of the world, horses can serve as an excellent source of companionship, exercise, and competition on multiple levels.
Of course, the most obvious purpose most people see in raising horses is for riding. If you are interested in horseback riding, know that you have chosen to engage in a noble and storied sporting activity. However, you must also be prepared with both the proper physical equipment and knowledge of equestrianism, as well as resources such as a good instructor and reputable horse farm or stables. The first thing you may want to decide, though, is which one of two dominant styles of horseback riding you would prefer to engage in – the British style or the Western.
Traditional British style horseback riding has a reputation for elegance and according to its detractors, a culture of elitism (though many would dispute that). Nonetheless, British style riding is a completely respectable – perhaps even the most respectable – form of horseback riding. It is the style used in most racing, as absolutely all dressage, show jumping and other competitions. Some hallmarks of the British horseback riding style include a straight backed rider with heels angled carefully downward in the stirrups, as well as a specialized method for gripping the reins. Contrary to popular belief, if one is riding in the British style, one does not pull on the reins in order to turn or stop – rather, the rider must squeeze on the reins. A well trained and broken in horse will respond favorably to these coded commands, but will most likely balk at tugging.
The Western style of horseback riding uses a different type of saddle, and is predictably most popular across the Southern United States and parts of the Midwestern Americas. This style of horseback riding has a rougher reputation, and is the style of cowboys from old fashioned Western adventure films, as well as both old fashioned and modern day rodeo shows. It also includes its own brand of trick riding, which some may find more exciting than the strictly regulated dressage. In Western riding, pulling on the reins, rather than squeezing, is also more acceptable.
If one is accustomed to – or planning on – country living, he or she may find the latter style, or Western riding, to be preferable. However, either is acceptable in most regions, regardless of where you intend to live. Horses are often a common aspect of country life, especially for those who live on farms or in farm country. Before deciding to devote your life to horses and quiet country living, however, it is absolutely crucial to do your research – especially if you are inexperienced with equestrianism, life in the countryside, or both. Start with riding lessons in your preferred style, and read up on the expectations of country living. You’ll find plenty of beginners’ guides in your local book shop or online.