When we were kids, many of us tried standing on our horses, riding backwards, or doing other simple tricks. But the people who take this seriously show that trick riding is a sport in and of itself.
What we call “trick riding” — standing on top of one or more horses, or dangling precariously off one side — originated with the ancient Romans, who stood on their horses to race, and with Russian Cossacks, who used trick riding in battle as a form of psychological warfare and as a way to outmaneuver the infantry.
In the early 1900s, trick riding became of staple of wild west shows and rodeos with men and women attempting more and more daring feats and competing in trick riding events. If the photos here make you want to learn more, visit RodeoTrickRider.com, which has a lot more detail (and great photos!) about trick riders past and present.
Looking at the old photos you realize that these folks took some serious risks. Take Vera McGinnis, shown to the left. Her most famous trick was the under-the-belly crawl at full speed. She is also credited with inventing the “flying change”, which involves leaping from the back of one galloping horse to another during relay races.
Leonard Stroud also was known for crawling under his horse, but also did some excellent jumping tricks like the one shown here, or jumping over a car.
Here’s a trick that stands up even under today’s competition!
At the same time as trick riders were gracing wild west shows and rodeos, the use of trick riding also became an important circus act. Poodles Hanneford grew up in a circus family and was one of the most
famous trick riders in this genre, even appearing in a movie with Shirley Temple. He was the first trick rider to do a back somersault from one running horse to a horse following behind. He also invented a move called the “step off” where the rider, standing on a galloping horse, steps off straight legged then strolls off. Poodles remains the only trick rider who was able to step off to the side, rather than off the back of a horse. Hanneford is also in the Guinness Book of World Records for performing a running leap onto a horse at a full gallop then stepping off, running and leaping back up again 26 times in a row.
The tradition of trick riding has continued with a new crop of talented riders, many of them women. Drawing on the history of their predecessors these are shows that still take your breath away and which still show trick riding to be an “extreme sport.” This is certainly something you should not try at home.