Approximately 4500 B.C. is the best estimate of when horses were ridden and equine equipment was first used, although there is some controversy over the exact date. The teeth on a stallion that was buried approximately 6000 years ago, shows wear consistent with using a bit.
The one piece of equine equipment that is used to direct the horse is the bridle. The bridle consists of the headstall, the reins, and the bit. There are also hackamores and other types of bitless bridles. The hackamore controls the horse by putting pressure on the face.
Saddles were used by 800 B.C. and were simple pads attached with a surcingle. The saddle tree came into use much later. Saddles today are designed for a specific equestrian discipline. A saddle should fit the horse properly and also the rider. When the saddle fits correctly the comfort of the horse is increased and its useful life prolonged. With the use of the solid tree the rider’s weight in the stirrups is evenly distributed. The two major categories of saddles are the Western saddle and the English saddle.
Paired stirrups were used by 302 A.D. which is much later than other equine equipment. Some of the first stirrups used were small loops attached to the saddle that only the big toe could fit into. The riders, of course, rode barefoot. Later a single stirrup was used for mounting. The Chinese are credited for the paired stirrup used today.
The breast collar or breast plate is used to keep the saddle from sliding backwards. On riding horses it is used on both Western saddles and English saddles. When the breast collar is used on working horses it uses a thicker sturdier strap. The breast collar used on western show saddles and English saddles uses a thinner strap.
Warfare traditions brought to America by the Spanish Conquistadores and working cattle were the two influences from which western riding evolved. Equine equipment changed to meet the working needs of the cowboy. Because of the long hours, rough terrain, and shock of roping the saddle tree was made stronger. The style of the stirrup was made wider and tapaderos were sometimes added to keep brush from sticking in the stirrup.
There are many different types of equine equipment in use today, each developed for a specific discipline. Whether riding English or Western you will need specific equipment for the discipline you ride. Dressage riders use different equipment than jumpers just as barrel racers use different equipment than reining horses.
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