The  UTILITY Model

War Horse

To understand the utility model, imagine back about 150 years. If you do that for the UK you are back in the time of Queen Victoria and the British Empire, in the USA you would be in the heyday of the wild west. Just think for a moment what life was like for horses and their human masters at that time.

In those days, all horses were defined by one thing, they were defined by their function.

So for example, if you had a big solid type of horse such as a Shire or Clydesdale it was likely to pull a wagon or plough a field, if you had a horse of a certain size or a certain breed it might possibly have a career in the British cavalry, other horses would pull carriages, or perform duties such as carrying the local doctor around to his patients. The point is all horses in those days existed in order to fulfil a function defined by humans or as I put it horses were defined by their utility.  This idea of that utility still defines the existence of some horses today. If, for instance, you own a yard that specialises in show jumping or breeding (stud) or dressage or cutting, whatever it is, you are likely to define horses by their use. You have to, it is the only practical way of seeing the horse, especially if you want to in any make some sort of living from horses. So the utility model of 150 years ago is still very much alive.

As I live in England you won't be surprised to hear that most people around here who ride horses, ride in the English style. Style is an aspect of the utility model, of course, you might ride Western or Australian or Spanish style but whatever it is, a great deal of your attitude to your horse will be defined by a historical and traditional utility model. To illustrate this let's take a look at how some of the traditions and roots of the English style came about.

There was one aspect of the utility model that had a much greater influence on the modern riding style that the world now calls English than any other and that was the military utility model, the cavalry model. Historically this was the time of the British Empire and especially the time of the British Raj. If you think about some of the strange words associated with English riding you will see what I mean:

Jodhpurs, the tight English riding trousers invented in the Indian city of Jodhpur.

The gymkhana is a descendent of the inter regimental competitions of the British army in India.  This is an Anglo-Indian word of Hindu and Urdu origin.

What Western riders (quite sensibly) call a saddle cloth, English riders call a numnah, this another word of Indian origin.

Still not convinced about the military heritage of the utility model? How about this? Every day in English riding schools novice riders are taught to always get on the left side of the horse. Why? The answer is, because a cavalry trooper wore a sword, - always the left side of his body. You can't get on a horse wearing a sword on the right hand side, next time you find yourself wearing a sword to go out riding why not give it a try?

This actually illustrates one of the most powerful principles associated with the utility model in that the utility model is based on a practical and traditional knowledge of what works and what doesn't, long ago people found practical solutions to the problems of the day and because of that they never bothered to find better solutions even to totally different questions. This does not make them bad people just very human people obeying their human nature.

This is why English riders are so obsessive about the appearance of their horses, this is why they love to wear a uniform, usually consisting of long military riding boots, tight British Raj jodhpurs, always a regulation safety helmet and I notice that even the old-fashioned breastplate is making a bit of a comeback under the name body protector. I'm not saying these safety items are not sensible by the way, just pointing out their origins. If you look at other riding styles and cultures such as western riding, the idea of wearing a helmet would be deemed ridiculous (although this is changing). Actually it is not a legal requirement  to wear a safety helmet in the UK, but almost everybody does therefore this is a cultural aspect of this particular utility model.

These things are all physical indicators of culture and tradition based on the utility of the horse but along with military things comes military thinking. English riders devote an awful lot of time to training their horses to be obedient, many of them believe that above all things the horse and the rider must appear coordinated they must move together and  in the company of other horses in a way that is matched and synchronised with the others. If you have ever had a group riding lesson in an English yard you will spend a lot of time learning to travel around making perfect geometric patterns in the sand, with just as much precision as any soldier on a parade ground.

For many utility model riders the ultimate purpose to owning a horse is to compete against others in competition, once again most of those competition are derived from the practice exercises of the military. This is why the English saddle is used it is descended from the light flexible cavalry saddles of the 19th century.  

Even if you ride Western there is still no basic difference in the idea of a utility model. The cultural traditions of western riding have different roots but they are still based on utility model thinking. English riding has roots based in the British and European (especially French) traditions but western riding goes back primarily to more Arabic and Spanish ancestors, think about the ornate leather work and totally different saddle used in western riding.

Naturally the primary influence on western riding is the American cattle industry and the world of the Cowboy, a very practical environment based on strong ideas about what works and what doesn't. The Western riding style is not one that uses constant rein contact unlike the English style, in western riding emphasis is on manoeuvrability in English riding it is obedience. In western riding the working cowboys needed to keep their hands free to perform other tasks. So constant rein contact was not necessary (because it was impractical!) In western riding there are spins and gallops and sliding stops, in English riding these are rarely if ever used (although of course, all horses are capable of doing them).

This then, is a brief introduction to the first model of horsemanship. I hope it has set you thinking, if nothing else you have at least learned why people get on the left side of a horse.