Crack riders and saddle sores

MMB_and_DJNo, nothing to do with cocaine.  Everything to do with horses.

A crack rider was someone who rode extremely well, stayed in the saddle well, probably jumped very well, and might, in 1812, if he were in the military, either be in the cavalry, be a courier, or even ride intelligence.  That is to say, he’d very likely spend perhaps 20 hours per day in the saddle.

So, how did he do that?  And didn’t he get saddle sores?

It’s helpful to remember that someone who rides like this is a highly trained athelete–although perhaps we don’t think of them as such these days.  Riders in general have very strong leg muscles, obviously, but also very strong back and shoulder muscles.  And like any athelete, a crack rider’s stamina and tenacity far exceed those of the non-athelete.  So while he would certainly be exhausted by the long days, it wouldn’t have the same impact as on an occasional rider–he’d still be able to walk when he wasn’t on horseback.

Second, if one is riding fast, it’s unlikely that one is sitting heavily in the saddle like a sack of potatoes.  (Although that is how Napoleon is alleged to have sat a horse…) One is more likely to be up and slightly forward out of the saddle–it’s easier on the bum, and it inhibits the horse’s movement and speed less.

But yes, saddle sores.  They are a real thing.  Exactly like a rug burn, only in places where you really don’t want a rug burn.

Even a small saddle sore may quite literally keep the sufferer from sitting down for a week.  Bad ones–I cannot even imagine the agony of that–and yes, one might be bleeding through the backside of one’s breeches…

For the prevention of this, there were sheepskins or other soft coverings for the saddles of those who’d need them.  The only problem with sheepskin is that if it gets soaked in a downpour, it takes a good day or so to dry out–and the splosh splosh splosh of sitting on a dripping sheepskin while trotting is truly disgustingly unpleasant.

2 comments on “Crack riders and saddle sores

  1. JM Thierry says:

    Question, since you are a rider and have studied period riding, what about the types horses? I can’t imagine riding any length of time on an uncomfortabe horse. I have 6 horses, one AngloTrakehener with lovely smooth flowing gaits, and a couple of TBs I wouldn’t ride longer than necessary at a sitting trot without cracking a couple of teeth

    I know there had to have been gaited horses back then … they didn’t just appear all of a sudden. There were ambling palfrys in the middle ages, and nothing would be more wonderful than that for traveling. I once had a western-type horse — a little buckskin mare with ???breeding — who could do the most wonderful singlefoot, so I know ambling-type gaits are not necessarily breed specific. I could ride this mare for days. If this were my only means of transportation, a smooth gaited horse would be my choice. Is there any mention of gaited-type horses in this period?

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I haven’t looked into it in as much detail as that. Certainly there are portraits–I’m thinking of one by Stubbs of Lady Lade–which shows her using a double set of reins and she’s rearing, or perhaps beginning a caracole? She also was one of the few women known to drive a phaeton and four–so she was quite a horsewoman.

      Much of what you’re thinking of–the gaits, the dressage, etc–would have been something they studied and worked on in the cavalry, and so those horses certainly would have been of a much higher degree of, well, everything, than the plodder belonging to a country parson, say. There’s a great deal of interest in breeding, at the time, with the importation of Arabs and the breeding off of those–again Stubbs provides a mini-course in breeding for the race-course with his portraits of Gimcrack and Whistlejacket and some of the others.

      And I know in Spain, the intelligence riders often rode local horses which were reknown for their steadiness on mountain trails. Whether they were bone-rattlers or not, I cannot say. (Fortunately.)

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