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I ride in hilly country. Granted, not as steep as the ones in the old films and not at that speed. But the one thing I noticed with the films featuring the US cavalry was all the head tossing on the part of some horses. I ride with loose reins. But particularly going downhill. Based purely on my experience of riding in hilly country, a horse with a free head is where the balance begins. All that head tossing indicates that the horse wants to set his head free. Coincidentally, I also noticed in all the old cavalry films featured in this discussion, that all the riders probably fit the 20% of the horse's weight carrying limit. It is a fair question to consider whether that aided the horses. All horses regardless of whether the rider was sitting forward, backwards or neutral, made it downhill.
 

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but the riding down the side of that mountain is very real as all the riding
Just because the cavalry did it that way does not mean it's the right way.
Yes, what they did in the movie worked okay. That shows it is POSSIBLE. It does NOT show it is the best way. To find the best way, they would have needed to try different ways going down the mountain hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. And kept track of which method resulted in the fewest accidents and fewest injuries.

Oh wait. The US Cavalry DID that! With thousands of horses and riders! So yes, @Acadianartist , that very strongly suggests their way IS the right way because no one else has ever tried to find the answer! They did it because travelling across extremely rough ground was part of what the cavalry needed to do.

From a scientific or engineering viewpoint, what people do a few times successfully does not show anything other than it is possible. Most people will keep their backs perpendicular to the horizon because that feels best to us. And how many of us have ever stood beside a steep drop and watched a hundred horses and riders go over the edge, and paid attention to how both horse and rider moved?

Of course, people can and will do as they wish. But anyone who says maintaining a Forward Seat in steep descents is impossible or harmful ought to accept the evidence it is not. And if one wants to know the best technique, it is prudent to consider the conclusions of people who did it all the time and with thousands of horses and new riders.

Slim Pickens jumping a wagon for a movie:
He did it and it is absolutely possible to do it that way. But there is a reason you won't find many professional jumpers using the same technique...

PS: I think "lean forward" is being misinterpreted. I don't think the OP was saying to lean out over the horse's neck. I think the OP means your TORSO leans forward as needed to maintain a regular balance, rather than leaning back to stay perpendicular to the horizon. I think it is obvious BOTH work relatively well, although at the "professional" level, you'll be less likely to be injured if you follow the cavalry's advice. I also think it is best to ride the way you prefer so as to be predictable and stable for your horse. There really is more than one way to do most riding.

PS: The US and Italian cavalries rode with an English approach to the reins. I also suspect a tight rein was needed to encourage the horse approaching a steep slide to to turn away. I normally ride with one hand and a little slack. But I also don't ride off of cliffs and Bandit has a say in where we go....
 

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If I've learned anything from having done western trail rides as a kid, hunter/jumper as a teen, and dressage now as an adult, it's that it's entirely possible to stay in balance with the horse by staying upright and in a straight line perpendicular to the ground, OR by squatting with bent knees and hips in a "forward" seat. Although forward seat is really a misnomer, that often leads to unbalanced riders who misunderstand it, because it's a crouched seat -- the forward lean of the upper body is counterbalanced completely by the hips and the joints in the lower leg. And the balance and weight of the rider should still be perpendicular to the ground.

So there's probably merit to both, depending on the circumstances!!
 

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@bsms says: Oh wait. The US Cavalry DID that! With thousands of horses and riders!

The fact that my father survived the first part of WWII serving on a submarine that was commissioned in 1914 doesn't mean it wasn't a submersible coffin. (My brother recently told me that Dad confided he served on seven submarines that SANK during WWII...how is it I, a card carrying baby boomer, am here!)

What we don't know here is what the casualty/fatality/failure rate was for either school and how the rider's "seat" impacted the statistics. We'll never know because it wasn't long after these videos were created that the cavalry became a shadow of its former self. We can't accept a fleeting visual to reveal the whole story. .How many things has the army done that were really REALLY stupid.

These were officers in training, being hardened to face unimaginable danger. I've read Chamberlain and I agree that he was a marvelous horseman. But he didn't die on horseback, I think he died of a disease he contracted in the south Pacific. He was an Olympic rider. And everything about Olympic riding has changed since his day. Not that I'm an expert. (Eventing is obviously spectacular and disciplined, but it's not chasing down a rough mountain trail.) Of course for jumping, we see riders up on their horses' necks. But that's going up and over, not downdowndown. Not being a jumper, I am unqualified to comment there. But jumping a course and riding (or driving!) down the flank of Mt. Jefferson are two different things. I think for the modern day, it would be nice for someone experienced with packing in or endurance equitation (with humble apologies if there are participants here who ARE!) to give us the goods on modern "extreme" riding. That's where I've always looked to up my game.

I think this whole discussion is based on a Parelli concept. If I'm not mistaken, he's the one and only person I ever recall who said that "leaning backward" going downhill was WRONG (although I think most of us agree that we try to remain fairly "erect", which isn't the same as leaning backward), and that the only right way was his way. Until this post.
 

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@dogpatch we did a little laughing about this today. When we came to a steep grade both my husband and I tried to do it in two point. We laughed because it felt so wrong. Husband didn’t stick in it, because the big horse struggles enough down steep grades, didn’t appreciate it, and he doesn’t need any help tripping. Queen didn’t seem to care either way, but she is so stinking sure footed it’s crazy, and she was trying to focus on the cows I was after. Just because she didn’t disagree with it, didn’t make it comfortable to me though, so I only managed trying it the once.
 

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The US Cavalry (and other militaries) kept statistics. Paperwork. Daily reports on the status of all the horses and men. No one before or since - and almost certainly no one ever again - studied how to go down very steep slopes. They had trained observers watching as hundreds did so. A single cavalry regiment had over 1,000 horses. We'll never see anything like it again.

But if anyone wants to do different, have at it! @RoadRider shared a technique that has worked well for him. It has worked for me too. I doubt either of us will lose any sleep if folks don't want to try it (or adopt it). I suspect the OP offered it up for discussion because differing ideas make for interesting discussions. No one learns by reading the same thing they already believe. And I joined in because A) I was pinged, and B) I love the Forward Seat!

From the US Cavalry Manual on slides:

64. SLIDES . — In taking a slide the horse should be kept well under control by use of the reins and legs which make him start down the slide straight , and prevent any attempt to turn aside at the instant when his fore feet have started down the slide but the hind feet have not.

The reins are normally held in both hands, but they may be held in one hand if the other is required for the use of weapons or other purposes . The rider's legs should remain closed against the horse, and his body inclined forward and kept there. This position allows the rider to go down the slide with his horse without danger of straining the jockey muscles . If the body is inclined backward when the horse slides, the legs are either pulled forward and up from the sides of the horse with the danger of losing the seat, or a terrific strain is put on the muscles of the legs and thighs, which is liable to strain the jockey muscles.

The forward position also frees the horse's loins and allows free play of the arched muscles in the loins , which come into play when the horse brings his hocks up under him in sliding . There is less shock to the horse at the bottom of the slide if the rider is forward , because the shoulders are attached to muscles which can absorb the shock easier than the bony structure of the hindquarters.



They don't discuss the seat itself in detail because it was already covered at length earlier. Here is the summary of that long section:

"Summary-The rear limit of the military seat is at the points of the buttocks. The fleshy portion of the buttocks in rear of their points is never a part of the base of support. The combined inclination and posture of the upper body largely determine the manner in which a rider sits in the saddle. With the points of the buttocks resting lightly on the saddle and its center deep in the rider's crotch, the upper body is so inclined from the hips as to maintain balance and carry some of the weight of the trunk onto the thighs. This automatically forces them down into their proper position.

The thighs and length of stirrups fix the position of the knees. When the stirrups of the flat saddle are shortened, the crotch must be pushed farther to the rear and the body inclined farther to the front so that the knees remain in their proper position on the saddle and underneath the mass of the rider's body.

The knees, snugly in contact with the saddle, are relaxed, flexed, and always as low as the particular length of stirrup will permit provided the stirrup straps remain approximately vertical. The rider does not stand in his stirrups nor should he give that impression except when intentionally riding in that manner.

His sense of balance, aided by the correct distribution of his weight and muscular control of his back and of his hip, knee, and ankle joints, give him the sensation that at each grounding of the horse's feet in his stride, he is thrust deeper and more securely into the saddle.
"

American Military Horsemanship by James A. Ottevaere has the entire text. It currently is available used for under $7. It was the first book that gave me solid advice when I took up riding on a very spooky Arabian mare at age 50. Along with VS Littauer's "Common Sense Horsemanship", it formed the basis for how I learned to ride.
 

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@dogpatch we did a little laughing about this today. When we came to a steep grade both my husband and I tried to do it in two point. We laughed because it felt so wrong.
Haha, I did the same thing yesterday coming home down the big hill from the overlook. Fizz actually stopped in her tracks and looked back over her shoulder like she was expecting to see me tumbling off. Definitely interrupted her balance!
 

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I'll just say that I've been on horses that it wouldn't matter how you rode them down the hill, and I've been on horses that started down a hill and I realized there was no way they could make it with a rider.
Sometimes it's also not about sitting for the horse's sake, but for what you think is going to happen to the saddle. If your horse has no shoulder, and you have no crupper, you might be maintaining a position you think will keep the saddle back better.

Horses can be taught to go down hills better, but the first time you start down a slippery hill with a horse and realize they think they can only do it at a trot or canter, with their legs sliding all over, it can be pretty hairy.
 

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Around here, the loose gravel and rock can cause the surface to give way beneath your feet - or your horses. As a rule, an ATV trail like this has a gully full of big rocks at the bottom. So if I have ANY doubt, I dismount and lead. I have had my feet shoot out in front of me and landed on my butt, with Bandit looking down at me as if to say, "I can't take you ANYWHERE! Geez! What would you do without me to take care of you..."
 

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@gottatrot I’m having that problem with Queen. The saddle wants to slip up over her shoulders. I’m teaching her to keep her head up to hold it in place. It would not work at all if she wasn’t so sure footed. She is definitely an athlete.

@bsms the ground gives way where we work too. The stuff we were on the other day, for example, you cannot drive anything up. Even my fathers excessive talent on a bike doesn’t allow for it to be done. We did get off and lead down the steepest sections, and poor Queen. I start falling and use her breastcollar to catch myself, and I’m sure she’s thinking “woman, we are both going to fall off this mountain if you can’t learn to walk!”
 

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When I was newly married i watched my husband drop off a cut bank after two Hereford bulls that hadn't been gathered in 2 years. It was like the Snowy River scene, but not as long. Maybe 25-30 feet. I thought "I'm going to be a widow this soon!" Then he hollered for me and off my horse and i went. I figured I was bound to join him.

That is the only, only time I had to lean back excessively in order to stay out of my horse's way. That's also the only, only time I rode off a cutback. I know rocks and dirt was flying by me. Pretty sure my guardian angel is going to slap me for that episode when we meet.

We got the bulls. They were broke to lead by the time we got them to the corrals.

Footing does make a difference. The worst I've dealt with was pine needles going down hill. So slippery.
 

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@boots I never thought about pine needles! That would be rough!!! I don’t like rock slides. We have patches of real rock slides, and there are cat trails cutting through, but boy am I in a state of not happy when I cross them!

My biggest man from snowy river moment was stupid as they come. My friend and I were hired to keep some cows on an unfenced private after the big fires rolled through. We camped with the cows for a couple of weeks. We were only teenagers.

In the nights this stud and his band were coming in and trying to take our mares. I was having none of it, and rather stupid, I said “Tomorrow night when they come in, let’s jump on our horses bare back and run them out of here.”

My mare was crazy fast. She broke an arena record kind of fast, and super hot. So, the next night, in comes this stud and his band. We bailed on bareback. The mare the friend of mine chose was also hot and one of ours. We go barreling after this herd, and they jump off this steep mountain. Runt and I went off after them. She stopped, because apparently she was blessed with more brains than I. We were in the middle of the herd before I realized how stupid I was being.

So, I decided to pull Runt up. I mean, imagine going off an embankment bareback on a runaway type of horse after a herd of mustangs! So, I asked her to stop, and I didn’t believe how quickly she agreed. It’s like she knew herself how awfully stupid I was being. This wasn’t a mare who pulled up tracking something easily. I could imagine her being like “thank you. Do you have a brain in your head? I mean, I’m all for wild ideas, but we were going to die you idiot!”

Climbing back up that steep mountain I realized even more how stupid I had been. I have no idea how I stayed on that mare bareback of all things! God was with me that day. You know what they say, he protects children and idiots. I was both.
 

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I guess you could just walk down and have a friend send your horse down then you don't have to worry how you ride it...LOL

 

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Lol @COWCHICK77! We have a friend who hates coming down particularly steep things. One day husband was elk hunting with them (for her tag, I was stuck babysitting her kid), and I guess every time it got really steep she would panic. So, that’s what they did. She would get off her horse, tie the reins up, and send him down while she slid down herself. I died laughing at that story. She is a cool person with a good sense of humor, so she totally owns up to it.

My littlest used to panic coming down anything steep. When she was very small, and we would be gathering cows on a specific day every fall that they would go, she would always start screaming bloody murder at a certain point. I mean turn white and shake and scream. She had to come down though, and every year I would sit at the bottom begging her to let her horse come down while she screamed and cried. There was literally no other way. Old Pete, he was such a gem, he would never freak out over his screaming child, but eventually she would give him his head and he would make it down.

Now she is confident riding Zeus, and when we get to that point she always says “I still hate this. I’m glad I’m on Zeus.” I mean, you can count on those words coming out of her mouth. I don’t know if she is still as scared, but she comes down without any screaming.

Zeus is the best mountain horse you’ve ever seen though. For a person like her, petrified of heights, he makes it feel so much different. He’s like a mule I guess.
 

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Maybe I am reading it wrong, but that’s how statements come off to me on here, and I find it insulting somehow. To me it sounds like “to be any level of horseman, one must follow all of my directives,” and maybe the reason I find it offensive is because it most of the time opposes what I myself would do.
I am finding myself of the same opinion, Knave.
 

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@Knave LOL! I'm with your daughter, I am terrified of steep ground. I get nervous getting over the third step on a ladder and I have bad dreams of being on a horse sliding backwards off a shale bank.
My husband used to get so frustrated with me gathering cattle in the mountains. I'd rather waste a day re-riding hoping cattle came down on their own than climb up and down steep, slippery ground..LOL
 

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@COWCHICK77 I think my littlest feels the same way. She’s never gone on those really steep gather days. The day she used to scream just has this one piece where you have to come down a pretty steep trail. A little sliding, but it is a trail, so it’s not like what you are talking or what we do on those big gather days.

I would say “didn’t your dog get them started?,” to you, but the other day when we were really sick, we got into the steepest country. So, since we were close husband sent Ozzy up. This one cow was a dog fighting witch, and she had the uphill advantage, and he sold out! I was teasing husband, who got his panties in a twist… it was so steep though he didn’t want to ask the horses to go further (plus, he was on Cash, who makes you feel a little touchy when it’s too steep and he doesn’t seem to care about his feet. He’s not terrible, and I think he’s pretty good on steep ground, but his tripping on flat ground makes one hesitant.).

So, I hiked up to those danged pairs, and I threw rocks until they started. So, we start downhill, where we led because it was just so rocky and steep, and when we finally got back on and went around the base of that canyon, we saw those danged pairs went over the ridge and just stopped! So, we had to climb the other side of the danged mountain! Hahahahaha. Ozzy did start them with the uphill advantage though. Boy was I wishing Junie B was there.
 

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I guess when I think about it @COWCHICK77, my oldest doesn’t like it either. She won’t hunt horseback unless we make her. I think she trusts her own feet a lot more in slippery steep stuff. Of course, riding Bones would make anyone hate steep. He is the worst. Not because he’s not sure footed, but because he’s scared.

When he was three I was going along in the first really steep country I had taken him in. He was doing great, and then a cat trail sluffed out from under him. He scrambled and made it to solid ground, but the phobia stuck with him. He is flat dangerous when it gets steep.
 

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When we first were running the Corriente yearlings on the mountain my good dog was still a pup and still needed me to back her up to build her confidence so I never used to send her to try to fight them down. My husband has never been big on using dogs but he ended up getting a big powerful dog that was already going strong and we sent him a lot to start cattle down, that dog saved me a lot of panicky tears..LOL!
I'm scared of heights any ways and I think riding horses that weren't paying attention to what they were doing in steep ground has what's put the fear in my. The human version of Bones!
 
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