New World Spanish Tack and Riding Styles in the 16th Century

New World Spanish Tack and Riding Styles in the 16th Century

Saddles and bridles allow a rider to more easily mount, stay securely seated, and control the horse. They may also be decorative, especially in parades or for nobility, or they may be armor-reinforced for battle. The bridle consists of straps that usually hold a metal bit in the horse’s mouth, resting in the natural gap between its front and rear teeth, and reins that allow the rider to control the pressure and leverage on the bit. Saddles are comprised of a supporting structure (the tree), a seat for the rider with raised front and back rims to hold the rider in (the pommel and cantle), stirrups for the rider’s feet, one or more girths to secure the saddle to the horse, skirting around the seat, and connectors for optional breast and haunch straps, plate armor, or heraldic padded barding. The saddle may provide padding in the seat and leg areas for rider comfort and support, as well as underneath to protect the horse’s back. A padded saddle blanket, often colorful and decorative, is used under the saddle. High pommels and cantles of military saddles would have been plated with steel for the rider’s protection. In sixteenth century New Spain, there were different types of saddles and bridles used depending on the type of horse, its training, the activity being performed, and the style of riding.

De la brida style riding was typical of heavily armored cavalry and jousting. The rider sat deeply seated in a saddle with high pommel and cantle that wrapped around him and often had two girths, mounted at the front and center of the saddle, and a breast strap to hold the saddle against impact. The stirrups were long and mounted near the front of the saddle. The bridle could have one or two sets of reins attached to the top and bottom of the bit. This combination favored a charging attack and allowed the rider to brace himself with feet forward against the stirrups and back against the cantle to apply maximum force with his lance. The de la gineta riding style was adopted from the Moors, and used a balanced, centered seat with one girth at the front of the saddle and a shorter stirrup mounted more under the rider, allowing the rider more control of the horse with his legs. The bit was high-centered with a steel ring that wrapped under the horse’s chin and long shanks for leverage. This style allowed for quick changes of direction and flexibility for bull fighting or shooting. A hybrid style became very popular in the Spanish colonies, de la estradiota. This saddle was lighter weight with lower, less restrictive pommel and cantle, but still front-mounted long stirrups. A Spanish caballero would have been expected to be an expert horseman having mastered all styles of riding.

The Coronado Expedition Muster Roll states that Coronado brought both de la brida and de la gineta tack. In his narrative of the Coronado expedition, A. Grove Day paints a picture of the skilled caballeros mounted on prancing Andalusians, with “lances erect, swords and bucklers at side, and bright saddle blankets and bards flowing to earth.”


“A La Brida” and “A La Gineta.” Different Riding Techniques in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” The Works of Chivalry. May 26, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2019. [Essay comparing riding styles of the Middle Ages and Renaissance]

Bennett, Deb. Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship. Solvang, CA: Amigo Publications, 1998. [Horse keeping, its equipment and riding styles in Europe, Asia, and the New World]

Day, A. Grove. Coronado’s Quest: The Discovery of the Southwestern States. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1940. [Narration of Coronado Expedition]

“Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg – The Collection.” Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg – The Collection – Museo Nacional Del Prado. Accessed March 29, 2019. v at muhlberg. [Titian’s painting, Emperor Charles V at Muhlberg, 1548]

Flint, Richard, and Shirley Cushing Flint. Documents of the Coronado Expedition: 1539-1542: “They Were Not Familiar with His Majesty, nor Did They Wish to Be His Subjects”. Dallas: Southern Methodist Univ. Press, 2005. [Annotated transcriptions of original Spanish documents from The Coronado Expedition with English translations]

Pyhrr, Stuart W., Donald J. LaRocca, and Dirk H. Breiding. The Armored Horse in Europe: 1480-1620. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. [Pieces of European horse armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, their purpose, context, and decoration]

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