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Horses - Riding On The Open Range

( Originally Published 1940 )

WHILE THE term "the open range" has, usually, application to the western cow country; it also applies to any riding in open country. A diversified terrain is always desirable, so that the rider has to go up hill and down dale, across gullies, ravines and such, as well as over flat country, and often at full speed; and in our western country we frequently must follow narrow trails which wind along the sides of steep mountains and through thorny mesquite and other such brush.

A trained, sure-footed horse is most desirable and we assume that the new rider has such an animal. Horses which frighten easily and shy nervously, which are "pullers," "star gazers" and "jibbers" (horses that want to go some other way instead of that desired by the rider) are never suitable for open-country riding, and are dangerous.

The new rider should be sure that his horse is suitable and one accustomed to such rough country. A very large horse (sixteen hands or over) is rarely the sort for this open riding.

Again we say, select a quiet, steady animal of about fifteen hands and of about a thousand pounds in weight. The western cow-horse is frequently smaller and extremely quick and sure-footed, and very hardy. Also, the good saddle horse for such riding ought to be trained to stand when "ground hitched" (staying in one spot with dragging reins whenever the rider gets off to do something afoot—fence fixing, hunting, fishing, camping, etc.).


Ranches have various methods for training their horses in this most desirable point of standing "ground hitched." A horse that will run away as soon as the reins are dropped, or one which keeps shying away from a dismounted person approaching it, will leave the rider afoot and often with a long, weary, possibly even dangerous walk ahead of him to get back home.

Most horses, minus saddle and bridle, will walk away from a per-son afoot, and will often break into a run. Always tie up an unbridled, unsaddled horse if you mean to make use of the animal soon, or put him inside a corral.

Once the saddle and bridle are put on a good western horse and the reins allowed to drag in the dust, the trained horse of the cowboy will stand there for hours, possibly wandering only a few yards to graze, and can be approached easily, as a person can generally walk right up to the animal at any time and mount again without having to chase the horse all over the country—and then, very likely, not catch him.


Cavalry horses, civilian park horses and such, are very rarely trained to "ground hitching." After dismounting, one must always keep hold of the reins to be sure the horse will remain with him, or must tie him up to something. And, right here, let us know that we should NEVER tie a horse by using the reins tied to a hitching rail or other solid object, as the horse may shy from something, then jerk back and break the reins and run away. And many horses will jerk back at the least fright, thus wrecking the bridle and its reins, and getting loose.

Cavalry riders and many others all over the country, carry a "tie strap" or "tie rope" which is used to tie up the horse when necessary. This tie strap or rope is about seven feet long, made of pliable rope or leather, and can easily be carried on the saddle. The end which is to be fastened to the horse should never be snapped into the bit rings when the horse is tied, for this, also, allows the horse to jerk back, break the bridle and get away. The tie rope should be placed around the horse's neck (NOT with a slip knot, be it said, which would choke the horse to death). The other end of the tie rope is then fastened to the hitch-rack. Cowboys generally use their lariats. However, observation will show anyone that riders still continue tying with their reins, too lazy to do so with the tie rope. They run the risk of ruined bridles and lost horses.

But the western cowboy riding the range must frequently dismount when working on round-ups or fence repairing or when hunting or handling other horses, roping, etc. Therefore, his horse MUST be taught to stand when ground hitched; and, we may add, every horse is better if taught this, no matter in what part of the country the riding is being done. There are many methods and one is to saddle and bridle the horse, then tie one rein (the reins being loose as separate reins—not tied together at the rider's end) to a log; allow the other rein to drag.

Leave the horse there for hours, feeding him, mounting him, getting off quietly, slapping him gently with hand and then with the hat, walking and later running up to him frequently. When the horse has become quiet through all of this, then tie the animal to other logs out in the open, every time you get off. Soon the horse learns that dragging reins mean that he is fastened to some heavy weight, and he will not budge.

Later, allow the reins to drag without being fastened to anything. If trained enough by this time, the animal will stand where left, indefinitely.

There are various methods, but the one given has been known to work excellently well and never was a horse injured in any way by using it. It just takes patience and reasonable time, and is always worth it.


While the usual method used in mounting a horse has already been given, it may be best to repeat it here in brief before speaking of how cowboys mount. The cavalry rider and the civilian park rider and polo player, usually mount in this manner: Standing beside the horse's "near" (left) side, opposite the pommel of the saddle, facing the horse's side, the reins are drawn up in the right hand, so as to have a slight feel of the horse's mouth, and the hand (right) with the reins is then placed on the pommel of the saddle. The left hand grasps a lock of the mane, the left foot placed in the stirrup and up the rider goes into the saddle as already explained.

But the cowboy uses a better and safer way, especially when about to mount a strange or green horse. After saddling and bridling the horse, the rider mounts by standing beside the horse's left front leg, grasping the reins and a lock of the mane in his left hand, using his right hand to hold his stirrup while he places his left foot in it. The cowboy's back is turned always toward the horse's head and the man is thus facing almost to the rear as he puts his left foot into the left stirrup. And he has gathered up his reins in his left hand so that he has a slight feel of the horse's mouth. Beware, always, of mounting ANY horse, while the reins are hanging loosely. He may bolt away and drag you.

Standing as aforesaid, the cowboy is in a position to swing quickly up into the saddle should the horse start forward, and not be left behind as when standing facing the horse's side as in cavalry and civilian mounting explained above.

After the cowboy has placed his left foot in the left stirrup with the use of his right hand, he then grasps the horn of the cowboy saddle with his right hand, springs up from his right foot, goes up straight and quickly until his left leg is straight and stiff. Now, standing that way, he instantly but quietly carries his right leg over the cantle (rear part) of the saddle, sits down in the saddle without jar and shoves his right foot into his right stirrup; and, as quickly as he is seated, he adjusts his reins as given in our first chapter-of equal length and so that he has a very light feel of his horse's mouth. Cowboys use what we call "open" reins—that is, the ends of the reins in his hand are NOT fastened together like cavalry and civilian reins. "Closed" reins (the ends sewn together) would be unsuitable for the cowboy, for, whenever he has to dismount and let his reins drag, the "bight" of "closed" reins would become entangled about his horse's forefeet and be broken or hurt the horse's mouth when the horse steps on them. The "open" reins do not do this at all.


For riding in the western country—or, for that matter, in any country—except when out to jump fences and wide ditches as in a horse show, the rider generally uses a stirrup length somewhat longer than for ordinary flat-saddle riding, but still short enough so that the heel of the rider is still slightly lower than the toe. The cowboy's seat has the legs hanging down almost vertically, and sits in what we call. the "fork seat." That is, his legs are far more vertical than the cavalry or polo or civilian way. It is a very strong seat, and comfortable day in and day out. When about to mount a "bucker," the cowboy usually somewhat shortens the stirrups for that work.

Note in, illustrating the cowboy seat, commonly known as the "forked seat," how erect is the rider's body (without stiffness); head up, chest up, stomach in, foot almost parallel to horse's sides, heel low, leg almost straight, ball of foot on the stirrup tread. Note also that the single-reined bridle and the very light carriage of the hand has no "pull" on the reins.

While riding range, the cowboy sits closely, easily, never posting as in park or cavalry riding. Very frequently he starts away on his day's work at a steady, swinging lope and maintains that gait a great deal through the day's work. On cold mornings, it is well to travel the first half mile more slowly, preferably at a walk, to allow the horse's blood to get well circulating through its feet. This is an old cavalry rule well to stick to, when possible.

When going up or down steep places, the horse should be brought down to a very slow trot or even a walk, time and work permitting it. Often, however, the range rider has to dash up and down at furious speed, as when working with cattle or loose horses.

It is harmful to a horse's front legs and feet to rush him up and down steep hills, and, finally, such riding will often make the horse what we term "stove up in front"—stiffened in front leg action permanently. The rider should never water his horse while the animal is sweating hard, but allow him to cool off first. To allow a heated horse to sip a few mouthfuls is never harmful, but to permit the heated animal to drink copiously is very apt to "founder" him forever.

"Founder," commonly so called, is medically known as "laminitis." The nerves of the front feet are affected very injuriously and the horse grows stiff in front; sometimes he can hardly walk at all. He is then wholly unsafe.

Again, the experienced rider NEVER feeds grain to a heated horse —not until the animal has cooled off for about an hour or so; this, too, may founder the animal. But he may feed hay to a heated horse at any time and plentifully, without injuring the horse at all.

After the day's riding is over, the heated horse should NOT be tied up in a chilly stable or at an outdoor rack when the weather is wet or cold. The animal should be turned loose in its pasture or corral or other similar enclosure where he can walk around until cool; or, if he must be fastened up, then blanket the horse until he has cooled off and dried.

Every horse is maintained in far better condition by being daily well groomed. Good grooming takes about twenty minutes. And ex-amine its feet for picked up nails, etc.


The new rider, when starting outdoor riding, should always go in company with others, so that there is help at hand in case of accident or in losing one's way-a very easy thing to have happen. And the new rider should not keep going at furious gaits all day long. Consider your horse.

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