By Colin Dangaard
That is how we rode the horse, over five thousand years ago, a concept that has survived the endless ongoing experiment that is saddlery. The physical contact of riding bareback beckons magically for riders in search of the ultimate closeness, skin on hide.
In the beginning, the first horsemen had no saddle, so bareback was the only option. The Chinese were riding horses in 4000 BC, first with a simple cloth between the rider and the horse. This grew more elaborate and over a thousand years increased in thickness, for comfort of both horse and rider; still no solid tree, however. To keep this pad in place, a strap was fashioned around the horse’s chest, another looped around the tail; the world’s first breastplate and crupper. Interestingly, the Chinese concurrently developed the stirrup – but it was used exclusively as a mounting aid, so there was only one. When not in use, it was looped over the mane.
Meanwhile, on the Steppes of Russia, the Scythians were also building bareback pads. News travelled fast that horses could be ridden as well as eaten, instantly becoming a smart weapon.
Even before the Chinese were riding horses, the Egyptians were using them to pull carts, and then chariots for battle. It would be hundreds of years before the Egyptians actually rode the horse. For the purpose of pulling, the Egyptians developed a harness, a heavier version of what the Chinese used for a breastplate. In the shadow of the pyramids, they also rode bareback.
Bareback riding was also developing in an area known today as Algeria, where the Numidians distinguished themselves as remarkable mounted archers and swordsmen. They were sought after as mercenaries, used in the First Punic War by the Carthage nation during expanding conflict with the Romans, starting in 264 BC. At that time Carthage was a powerful city located on the coast of modern Tunisia and stood in the way of Roman territorial advances.
Hannibal’s invasion of Rome during the Second Punic War became legend because he used elephants, but his fast Numidian bareback archers produced demoralizing flank attacks, augmenting heavy frontal assaults. They attacked from the sides, while Hannibal ploughed through the front lines with brute force. Julius Caesar learned similar painful lessons when he met the Numidians during his invasion of Africa.
The Numidian bareback warriors were so popular they were sometimes hired by different sides and at times actually fought each other.
While the Chinese were using the single mounting stirrup, warriors in India used a “toe ring” that was attached by a thong to the pommel of a bareback pad. This gave some support, while aiding greatly in balance for the rider. The toe ring did not do well in winter!
The Numidians were a short stocky people. They preferred short stocky Berber horses, compact, quick, good for distance. They had no cloth between rider and horse, used no bridle, controlling the horse with a simply rope looped around the neck. This could be dropped at any time when both hands were needed to set and launch an arrow from a special horse bow, shaped from layers of hardwood and animal bone. They mastered shooting arrows by twisting on the back of the horse and firing over the rump, killing while in full retreat. Pursuing enemy actually ran into arrows thus delivered with great power.
|Sarmartian Amazon Women Warrior|
The Sarmartian women warriors at this time were also in power on the Southern Ural Steppes of Russia. They started riding bareback, around 400 BC but soon developed a wooden structure with a high back (saddle) for no other purpose than to keep them mounted at the gallop, while they ran lances through soldiers on the ground. They were the first lance cavalry, feared for their ability to kill in waves, galloping knee to knee, pulling the lance from one victim as they passed, then turning the lance and having the other end ready for the next victim. In formation, they were a giant killing machine sweeping the land. They took no prisoners, except enemy of extra fine statue. They took these home where they were enslaved as studs to produce more women warriors. Most male babies were killed at birth. The Sarmatian women had no use for men warriors.
Attila the Hun , in 400, changed the course of bareback riding when he developed the world’s first real saddle, improving on the idea from the Sarmatian warriors. He also stole the stirrup from the Chinese, adding a second one for the other foot, so his mounted archers could now stand and launch arrows more accurately at the gallop. Because of this development he defeated the entire Roman empire, whose warriors rode bareback so they could more readily access “courage for the soul” from the spirit of the horse.
Attila changed history. Armies everywhere quickly developed saddles in thousands of varieties. And as Major G.Tylden points out in HORSES AND SADDLERY no army without a saddle ever again beat an army with a saddle. Ultimately, it was the saddle that pivoted to victory. American Indians were amongst the finest bareback riders ever, but their most coveted booty was a rifle – and a saddle.
While bareback riding vanished from the military, it has always remained somewhere in civilian activity. Today it is making a major resurgence, as riders move toward more “natural” horsemanship.
Still, the old problems of bareback riding pressuring the spine of the horse is still there. Most of the weight of a person sitting on a saddleless horse is exerted directly under his or her backside. Thighs takes some pressure – how much depends on what amount of “leg” is exerted on the horse. Still, bareback riding exerts several times greater PSI than a correctly fitting saddle.
Ill-fitting saddles can cause blisters and painful open wounds. But injuries caused by concentrated spine pressure, consistent with bareback riding over long periods, are not visible but they are serious. Wounds heal, but vertebrae pushed out of line rarely do.
Then, there is the added danger for the rider. Even riders with extraordinary skill are easily dislodged when a galloping horse decides to make a right angle turn. This quickly translates to danger for the horse, now loose and running flat gallop through a wire fence or across a freeway. The horse could die, and so could people. Not good. The road to peril is marked by a loose, terrified horse.
No surprise there are few bareback classes in formal competition amongst official horse shows. It is too dangerous, liability too great.
But that does not take away the raw and natural pleasure of a powerful animal working between your legs, skin to wet hide.
COLIN DANGAARD is the founder of the Australian Stock Saddle Company and brought the Australian stock saddle to America in 1979. He owns COLIN DANGAARD INC. in Malibu, California. Phone 818 8896988, or cell 818 3098125. Visit COLIN DANGAARD.COM
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