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Horses continue to be used in public service, in traditional ceremonies (parades, funerals), police and volunteer mounted patrols and for mounted search and rescue.
Riding halls enable the training of horse and rider in all weathers as well as indoor competition riding.
History of horse use
Prehistoric cave painting, depicting a horse and rider
Though there is controversy over the exact date horses were domesticated and when they were first ridden, the best estimate is that horses first were ridden approximately 3500 BC. Indirect evidence suggests that horses were ridden long before they were driven. There is some evidence that about 3,000 BC, near the Dnieper River and the Don River, people were using bits on horses, as a stallion that was buried there shows teeth wear consistent with using a bit. However, the most unequivocal early archaeological evidence of equines put to working use was of horses being driven. Chariot burials about 2500 BC present the most direct hard evidence of horses used as working animals. In ancient times chariot warfare was followed by the use of war horses as light and heavy cavalry. The horse played an important role throughout human history all over the world, both in warfare and in peaceful pursuits such as transportation, trade and agriculture. Horses lived in North America, but died out at the end of the Ice Age. Horses were brought back to North America by European explorers, beginning with the second voyage of Columbus in 1493. Equestrianism was introduced in the 1900 Summer Olympics as an Olympic sport with jumping events.
Humans appear to have long expressed a desire to know which horse or horses were the fastest, and horse racing has ancient roots. Gambling on horse races appears to go hand-in hand with racing and has a long history as well. Thoroughbreds have the pre-eminent reputation as a racing breed, but other breeds also race.
Steeplechasing involves racing on a track where the horses also jump over obstacles. It is most common in the UK, where it is also called National Hunt racing.
Both light and heavy breeds as well as ponies are raced in harness with a sulky or racing bike. The Standardbred dominates the sport in both trotting and pacing varieties.
The United States Trotting Association organizes harness racing in the United States.
Harness racing is also found throughout Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
Endurance riding, takes place over a given, measured distance and the horses have an even start. Top level races are usually 50 to 100 miles (80 to 161 km), over mountainous or other natural terrain, with scheduled stops to take the horses' vital signs, check soundness and verify that the horse is fit to continue. The first horse to finish and be confirmed by the veterinarian as fit to continue is the winner. Limited distance rides of about 25-20 miles (40-32 km) are offered to newcomers. Variants include Ride and Tie and various forms of long riding.
Dressage ("training" in French) involves the progressive training of the horse to a high level of impulsion, collection and obedience. Competitive dressage has the goal of showing the horse carrying out, on request, the natural movements that it performs without thinking while running loose.
Show jumping comprises a timed event judged on the ability of the horse and rider to jump over a series of obstacles, in a given order and with the fewest refusals or knockdowns of portions of the obstacles.
Eventing, also called combined training, horse trials, the three-day event, the Military or the complete test, puts together the obedience of dressage with the athletic ability of show jumping, the fitness demands the cross-country jumping phase. In the last-named, the horses jump over fixed obstacles, such as logs, stone walls, banks, ditches and water, trying to finish the course under the "optimum time." There was also the 'Steeple Chase' Phase, which is now excluded from most major competitions to bring them in line with the Olympic standard.
Horse shows are held throughout the world with a tremendous variety of possible events, equipment, attire and judging standards used. However, most forms of horse show competition can be broken into the following broad categories:
Equitation, sometimes called seat and hands or horsemanship, refers to events where the rider is judged on form, style and ability.
Pleasure, flat or under saddle classes feature horses who are ridden on the flat (not jumped) and judged on manners, performance, movement, style and quality.
Halter, in-hand breeding or conformation classes, where the horse is led by a handler on the ground and judged on conformation and suitability as a breeding animal.
Harness classes, where the horse is driven rather than ridden, but still judged on manners, performance and quality.
Jumping or Over Fences refers broadly to both show jumping and show hunter, where horses and riders must jump obstacles.
In addition to the classical Olympic events, the following forms of competition are seen. In North America they are referred to as "English riding" in contrast with western riding; elsewhere in the world, if a distinction is necessary, they are usually described as "classic riding":
Hunt seat or Hunter classes judge the movement and the form of horses suitable for work over fences. A typical show hunter division would include classes over fences as well as "Hunter under Saddle" or "flat" classes (sometimes called "hack" classes), in which the horse is judged on its performance, manners and movement without having to jump. Hunters have a long, flat-kneed trot, sometimes called "daisy cutter" movement, a phrase suggesting a good hunter could slice daisies in a field when it reaches its stride out. The over fences classes in show hunter competition are judged on the form of the horse, its manners and the smoothness of the course. A horse with good jumping form snaps its knees up and jumps with a good bascule. It should also be able to canter or gallop with control while having a stride long enough to make a proper number of strides over a given distance between fences. Hunter classes differ from jumper classes, in which they are not timed, and equitation classes, in which the rider's performance is the focus. Hunter style is based on fox hunting, so jumps in the hunter division are usually more natural colors than the jumps in a jumper division.
Eventing, show jumping and dressage, described under "Olympic disciplines," above are all "English" riding disciplines that in North America sometimes are loosely classified within the "hunt seat" category.
Saddle seat, is a primarily American discipline, though has recently become somewhat popular in South Africa, was created to show to best advantage the animated movement of high-stepping and gaited breeds such as the American Saddlebred and the Tennessee Walker. Arabians and Morgans may also be shown saddle seat in the United States. There are usually three basic divisions. Park divisions are for the horses with the highest action. Pleasure divisions still emphasis animated action, but to a lesser degree, with manners ranking over animation. Plantation or Country divisions have the least amount of animation (in some breeds, the horses are flat-shod) and the greatest emphasis on manners.
Show hack is a competition seen primarily in the United Kingdom, Australia and other nations influenced by British traditions, featuring horses of elegant appearance, with excellent way of going and self-carriage. A related event is riding Horse.
Though the differences between English and Western riding appear dramatic, there are many similarities. Both styles require riders to have a solid seat, with the hips and shoulders balanced over the feet, with hands independent of the seat so as to avoid disturbing the balance of the horse and interfering with its performance.
The most noticeable feature of western style riding is in the saddle, which has a substantial saddle tree that provides support to horse and rider when working long hours in the saddle. The western saddle features a prominent pommel topped by a horn (a knob used for dallying a lariat after roping an animal), a deep seat and a high cantle. The stirrups are wider and the saddle has rings and ties that allow objects to be attached to the saddle.
Western horses are asked to perform with a loose rein, controlled by one hand. The standard western bridle lacks a noseband and usually consists of a single set of reins attached to a curb bit that has somewhat longer and looser shanks than the curb of an English Weymouth bridle or a pelham bit. Two styles of Western reins developed: The long split reins of the Texas tradition, which are completely separated, or the closed-end "Romal" reins of the California tradition, which have a long single attachment on the ends that can be used as a quirt. Modern rodeo competitors in timed events sometimes use a closed rein without a romal.
Western riders wear a long-sleeved shirt, denim jeans, boots, and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. Cowboy boots, which have pointed toes and higher heels than a traditional riding boot, are designed to prevent the rider's foot from slipping through the stirrup during a fall, preventing the rider from being dragged--most western saddles have no safety bars for the leathers or automatic stirrup release mechanism. A rider may wear protective leather leggings called chaps. Clean, well-fitting work clothing is the usual outfit seen in rodeo, cutting and reining competitions, especially for men, though sometimes both men and women wear brighter colors or finer fabrics for competition than for work.
Show events such as Western pleasure use much flashier equipment, unlike the English traditions where clothing and tack is quiet and unobtrusive. Saddles, bits and bridles are ornamented with substantial amounts of silver. The rider may add a jacket or vest. Women's show clothing may feature vivid colors and even rhinestones or sequins.
Western horses are asked to have a brisk, ground-covering walk, but a slow, relaxed jog trot that allows the rider to sit the saddle and not post. The Western version of the canter is called a lope and while collected and balanced, is expected to be slow and relaxed. Working western horses seldom use a sustained hand gallop, but must be able to accelerate quickly to high speed when chasing cattle or competing in reining events, must be able to stop quickly from a dead run and "turn on a dime."
A Welsh pony in fine harness competition
Horses, mules and donkeys are driven in harness in many different ways. For working purposes, they can pull a plow or other farm equipment designed to be pulled by animals. In many parts of the world they still pull wagons for basic hauling and transportation. They may draw carriages at ceremonies, in parades or for tourist rides.
As noted in "horse racing" above, horses can race in harness, pulling a very lightweight cart known as a sulky. At the other end of the spectrum, some draft horses compete in horse pulling competitions, where single or teams of horses and their drivers vie to determine who can pull the most weight for a short distance.
In horse show competition, the following general categories of competition are seen:
Combined driving, an internationally recognized competition where horses perform an arena-based "dressage" class where precision and control are emphasized, a cross-country "marathon" section that emphasizes fitness and endurance, and a "stadium" or "cones" obstacle course.
Pleasure driving: Horses and ponies are usually hitched to a light cart shown at a walk and two speeds of trot, with an emphasis on manners.
Fine harness: Also called "Formal driving," Horses are hitched to a light four-wheeled cart and shown in a manner that emphasizes flashy action and dramatic performance.
Roadster: A horse show competition where exhibitors wear racing silks and ride in a sulky in a style akin to harness racing, only without actually racing, but rather focusing on manners and performance.
Carriage driving, using somewhat larger two or four wheeled carriages, often restored antiques, judged on the turnout/neatness or suitability of horse and carriage.
Rodeo events include the following forms of competition:
Barrel racing and pole bending - the timed speed and agility events seen in rodeo as well as gymkhana or O-Mok-See competition. Both men and women compete in speed events at gymkhanas or O-Mok-Sees; however, at most professional, sanctioned rodeos, barrel racing is an exclusively women's sport. In a barrel race, horse and rider gallop around a cloverleaf pattern of barrels, making agile turns without knocking the barrels over. In pole bending, horse and rider run the length of a line of six upright poles, turn sharply and weave through the poles, turn again and weave back, then return to the start.
Steer wrestling - Also known as "Bulldogging," this is a rodeo event where the rider jumps off his horse onto a steer and 'wrestles' it to the ground by grabbing it by the horns. This is probably the single most physically dangerous event in rodeo for the cowboy, who runs a high risk of jumping off a running horse head first and missing the steer or of having the thrown steer land on top of him, sometimes horns first.
Goat tying - usually an event for women or pre-teen girls and boys, a goat is staked out while a mounted rider runs to the goat, dismounts, grabs the goat, throws it to the ground and ties it in the same manner as a calf. This event was designed to teach smaller or younger riders the basics of calf roping without the more complex need to also lasso the animal.
Roping includes a number of timed events that are based on the real-life tasks of a working cowboy, who often had to capture calves and adult cattle for branding, medical treatment and other purposes. A lasso or lariat is thrown over the head of a calf or the horns of adult cattle, and the animal is secured in a fashion dictated by its size and age.
Calf roping, also called "tie-down roping," is an event where a calf is roped around the neck by a lariat, the horse stops and sets back on the rope while the cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf, throws it to the ground and ties three feet together. (If the horse throws the calf, the cowboy must lose time waiting for the calf to get back to its feet so that the cowboy can do the work. The job of the horse is to hold the calf steady on the rope) This activity is still practiced on modern working ranches for branding, medical treatment, and so on.
Team roping, also called "heading and heeling," is the only rodeo event where men and women riders may compete together. Two people capture and restrain a full-grown steer. One horse and rider, the "header," lassos a running steer's horns, while the other horse and rider, the "heeler," lassos the steer's two hind legs. Once the animal is captured, the riders face each other and lightly pull the steer between them, so that it loses its balance, thus in the real world allowing restraint for treatment.
Breakaway roping - an easier form of calf roping where a very short lariat is used, tied lightly to the saddle horn with string and a flag. When the calf is roped, the horse stops, allowing the calf to run on, flagging the end of time when the string and flag breaks from the saddle. In the United States, this event is primarily for women of all ages and boys under 12, while in some nations where traditional calf roping is frowned upon, riders of both genders compete.
"Rough Stock" competition
Small herd of rough stock in Texas.
In spite of popular myth, most modern "broncs" are not in fact wild horses, but are more commonly spoiled riding horses or horses bred specifically as bucking stock.
Bronc riding - there are two divisions in rodeo, bareback bronc riding, where the rider rides a bucking horse holding onto a leather surcingle or rigging with only one hand, and saddle bronc riding, where the rider rides a modified western saddle without a horn (for safety) while holding onto a braided lead rope attached to the horse's halter.
Bull Riding - though technically not an equestrian event, as the cowboys ride full-grown bulls instead of horses, skills similar to bareback bronc riding are required.
Le Trec, which comprises three phases - trail riding, with jumping and correct basic flatwork. Le Trec, which is very popular in Europe, tests the partnership's ability to cope with an all-day ride across varied terrain, route finding, negotiating natural obstacles and hazards, while considering the welfare of the horse, respecting the countryside and enjoying all it has to offer.
Competitive trail riding, a pace race held across terrain similar to endurance riding, but shorter in length (25 - 35 miles (56 km), depending on class). Being a form of pace race, the objective is not to finish in the least time. Instead, as in other forms of judged trail riding, each competitor is graded on everything including physical condition, campsite and horse management. Horsemanship also is considered, including how the rider handles the trail and how horse is handled and presented to the judge and vet throughout the ride. The horse is graded on performance, manners, etc. "Pulse and respiration" stops check the horse's recovery ability. The judges also set up obstacles along the trail and the horse and rider are graded on how well they perform as a team. The whole point is the partnership between the horse and rider.
Cross Country Jumping, a jumping course that contains logs and natural obstacles mostly. The common clothes worn are usually brighter colors and less conservative.
Endurance riding, a competition usually of 50 to 100 miles (160 km) or more, over mountainous or other natural terrain, with scheduled stops to take the horses' vital signs, check soundness and verify that the horse is fit to continue. The first horse to finish and be confirmed by the veterinarian as fit to continue is the winner. Additional awards are usually given to the best-conditioned horses who finish in the top 10.
Hunter Pacing is a sport where a horse and rider team travel a trail at speeds based the ideal conditions for the horse, with competitors seeking to ride closest to that perfect time. Hunter paces are usually held in a series. Hunter paces are usually a few miles long and covered mostly at a canter or gallop. The horsemanship and management skills of the rider are also considered in the scoring, and periodic stops are required for veterinarians to check the vital signs and overall soundness of the horses.
Steeplechase, a distance horse race with diverse fence and ditch obstacles.
Trail Riding, pleasure riding any breed horse, any style across the land.
Handling, riding and driving horses have inherent risks. Horses are large prey animals with a well-developed flight or fight instinct able to move quickly and unexpectedly. When mounted, the rider's head may be up to 4 m (13 ft) from the ground, and the horse may travel at a speed of up to 65 km/h (40 mph). The injuries observed range from very minor injuries to fatalities.
A study in Germany reported that the relative risk of injury from riding a horse, compared to riding a bicycle, was 9 times higher for adolescents and 5.6 times higher for younger children, but that riding a horse was less risky than riding a moped. In Victoria, Australia, a search of state records found that equestrian sports had the third highest incidence of serious injury, after motor sports and power boating. In Greece, an analysis of a national registry estimated the incidence of equestrian injury to be 21 per 100,000 person-years for farming and equestrian sports combined, and 160 times higher for horse racing personnel. Other findings noted that helmets likely prevent traumatic brain injuries.
In the United States each year an estimated 30 million people ride horses, resulting in 50,000 emergency department visits (1 visit per 600 riders per year). A survey of 679 equestrians in Oregon, Washington and Idaho estimated that at some time in their equestrian career one in five will be seriously injured, resulting in hospitalization, surgery or long-term disability. Among survey respondents, novice equestrians had an incidence of any injury that was threefold over intermediates, fivefold over advanced equestrians, and nearly eightfold over professionals. Approximately 100 hours of experience are required to achieve a substantial decline in the risk of injury. The survey authors conclude that efforts to prevent equestrian injury should focus on novice equestrians.
Mechanisms of injury
The most common injury is falling from the horse, followed by being kicked, trampled and bitten. About 3 out of 4 injuries are due to falling, broadly defined. A broad definition of falling often includes being crushed and being thrown from the horse, but when reported separately each of these mechanisms may be more common than being kicked.
Types and severity of injury
In Canada, a 10-year study of trauma center patients injured while riding reported that although 48% had suffered head injuries, only 9% of these riders had been wearing helmets at the time of their accident. Other injuries involved the chest (54%), abdomen (22%) and extremities (17%). A German study reported that injuries in horse riding are rare compared to other sports, but when they occur they are severe. Specifically, they found that 40% of horse riding injuries were fractures, and only 15% were sprains. Furthermore, the study noted that in Germany, one quarter of all sport related fatalities are caused by horse riding.
Most horse related injuries are a result of falling from a horse, which is the cause of 60-80% of all such reported injuries. Another common cause of injury is being kicked by a horse, which may cause skull fractures or severe trauma to the internal organs. Some possible injuries resulting from horse riding, with the percent indicating the amounts in relation to all injuries as reported by a New Zealand study, include:
Arm fracture or dislocation (31%)
Head injury (21%)
Leg fracture or dislocation (15%)
Chest injury (33%)
Among 36 members and employees of the Hong Kong Jockey Club who were seen in a trauma center during a period of 5 years, 24 fell from horses and 11 were kicked by the horse. Injuries comprised: 18 torso; 11 head, face or neck; and 11 limb. The authors of this study recommend that helmets, face shields and body protectors be worn when riding or handling horses.
In New South Wales, Australia, a study of equestrians seen at one hospital over a 6-year period found that 81% were wearing a helmet at the time of injury, and that helmet use both increased over time and was correlated with a lower rate of admission. In the second half of the study period, of the equestrians seen at a hospital, only 14% were admitted. In contrast, a study of child equestrians seen at a hospital emergency department in Adelaide reported that 60% were admitted.
In the United States, an analysis of National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) data performed by the Equestrian Medical Safety Association studied 78,279 horse-related injuries in 2007: "The most common injuries included fractures (28.5%); contusions/abrasions (28.3%); strain/sprain (14.5%); internal injury (8.1%); lacerations (5.7%); concussions (4.6%); dislocations (1.9%); and hematomas (1.2%). Most frequent injury sites are the lower trunk (19.6%); head (15.0%); upper trunk (13.4%); shoulder (8.2%); and wrist (6.8%). Within this study patients were treated and released (86.2%), were hospitalized (8.7%), were transferred (3.6%), left without being treated (0.8%), remained for observation (0.6%) and arrived at the hospital deceased (0.1%)."
Horseback riding is one of the most dangerous sports, especially in relation to head injury. Statistics from the United States, for example, indicate that about 30 million people ride horses annually. On average, about 67,000 people are admitted to the hospital each year from injuries sustained while working with horses. 15,000 of those admittances are from traumatic brain injuries. Of those, about 60 die each year from their brain injuries. Studies have found horseback riding to be more dangerous than several sports, including skiing, auto racing and football. Horseback riding has a higher hospital admittance rate per hours of riding than motorcycle racing, at 0.49 per thousand hours of riding and 0.14 accidents per thousand hours, respectively.
Head injuries are especially traumatic in horseback riding. About two-thirds of all riders requiring hospitalization after a fall have sustained a traumatic brain injury. Falling from a horse without wearing a helmet is comparable to being struck by a car. Most falling deaths are caused by head injury.
The use of riding helmets substantially decreases the likelihood and severity of head injuries. When a rider falls with a helmet, he or she is five times less likely to experience a traumatic brain injury than a rider who falls without a helmet. Helmets work by crushing on impact and extending the length of time it takes the head to stop moving. Despite this, helmet usage rates in North America are estimated to be between eight and twenty percent.
Once a helmet has sustained an impact from falling, that part of the helmet is structurally weakened, even if no visible damage is present. Helmet manufacturers recommend that a helmet that has undergone impact from a fall be replaced immediately. In addition, helmets should be replaced every three to five years; specific recommendations vary by manufacturer.
Rules on helmet use in competition
Many organizations mandate helmet use in competition or on show grounds, and rules have continually moved in the direction of requiring helmet use. In 2011, the United States Equestrian Federation passed a rule making helmet use mandatory while mounted on competition grounds at U.S. nationally rated eventing competitions. Also in 2011, the United States Dressage Federation made helmet use in competition mandatory for all riders under 18 and all riders who are riding any test at Fourth Level and below. If a rider competing at Prix St. Georges and above is also riding a test at Fourth Level or below, he or she must also wear a helmet at all times while mounted.
The idea that riding a horse astride could injure a woman's sex organs is a historic, but sometimes popular even today, misunderstanding or misconception, particularly that riding astride can damage the hymen. Evidence of injury to any female sex organs is scant. In female high-level athletes, trauma to the perineum is rare and is associated with certain sports (see Pelvic floor#Clinical significance). The type of trauma associated with equestrian sports has been termed "horse riders' perineum". A case series of 4 female mountain bike riders and 2 female horse riders found both patient-reported perineal pain and evidence of sub-clinical changes in the clitoris; the relevance of these findings to horse riding is unknown.
In men, sports-related injuries are among the major causes of testicular trauma. In a small controlled but unblinded study of 52 men, varicocele was significantly more common in equestrians than in non-equestrians. The difference between these two groups was small, however, compared to differences reported between extreme mountain bike riders and non-riders, and also between mountain bike riders and on-road bicycle riders. Horse-riding injuries to the scrotum (contusions) and testes (blunt trauma) were well known to surgeons in the 19th century and early 20th century. Injuries from collision with the pommel of a saddle are mentioned specifically.
Horse racing is a popular equestrian sport which is practiced in many nations around the world. It is inextricably associated with gambling, where in certain events, stakes can become very high. Despite its illegality in most competitions, these conditions of extreme competitiveness can lead to the use of performing-enhancing drugs and extreme training techniques, which can result in negative side effects for the horses' well-being.
The races themselves have also proved dangerous to the horses - especially steeplechasing, which requires the horse to jump hurdles whilst galloping at full speed. This can result in injury or death to the horse, as well as the jockey. A study by animal welfare group Animal Aid revealed that approximately 375 racehorses die yearly, with 30% of these either during or as a result of injuries from a race. The report also highlighted the increasing frequency of race-related illnesses, including bleeding lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage) and gastric ulcers.
Animal rights groups are also primarily concerned that certain sports or training exercises may cause unnecessary pain or injuries to horse athletes. Some specific training or showing practices are so widely condemned that they have been made illegal at the national level and violations can incur criminal penalties. The most well-known is soring, a practice of applying a caustic ointment just above the hooves of a Tennessee Walking Horse to make it pick up its feet higher. However, in spite of a federal law in the United States prohibiting this practice and routine inspections of horse shows by inspectors from the United States Department of Agriculture, soring is still widespread and difficult to eliminate. Some events themselves are also considered so abusive that they are banned in many countries. Among these are horse-tripping, a sport where riders chase and rope a loose-running horse by its front legs, throwing it to the ground.
Secondary effects of racing have also recently been uncovered. A 2006 investigation by The Observer in the UK found that each year 6,000-10,000 horses are slaughtered for consumption abroad, a significant proportion of which are horses bred for racing. A boom in the number of foals bred has meant that there is not adequate resources to care for unwanted horses. Demand has increased for this massive breeding programme to be scaled back. Despite over 1000 foals being produced annually by the Thoroughbred horse industry, 66% of those bred for such a purpose were never entered into a race, and despite a life expectancy of 30 years, many are killed before their fifth birthday.
Horse riding on coinage
Horse riding events have been selected as a main motif in numerous collectors' coins. One of the recent samples is the EUR10 Greek Horse Riding commemorative coin, minted in 2003 to commemorate the 2004 Summer Olympics. On the composition of the obverse of this coin, the modern horseman is pictured as he jumps over an obstacle, while in the background the ancient horseman is inspired by a representation on a black-figure vase of the 5th century BC.
For the 2012 Olympics, the Royal Mint has produced a 50p coin showing a horse jumping a fence.
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