Today, the South African cowboy has a distinct style of equitation that incorporates elements of horsemanship cultures and traditions from across the world. With a philosophy of “if it works, use it,” the South African cowboys use methods dating back to the Moors, the Portuguese, Spanish and Mexican vaquero, the American cowboy and the Boers.
The dress and tack of the South African cowboy are adapted to the harsh climate of South Africa. Broad-brimmed hats, boots, spurs, jeans and "chinks" (a style of chaps that stop between the knee and ankle) are commonplace. Saddles are specially designed and locally made to withstand the rigors of ranching in South Africa. These saddles are based on the McLellan saddle, a United States cavalry saddle, and designed for the comfort of both the horse and rider.
In South African tradition, the starting and working of young horses place great emphasis on groundwork. Horses are longed and long-reined off horseback to ensure that they are brought to the required level of fitness and suppleness. South African cowboys approach horse training with patience, believing that “it takes as long as it takes.” This helps to ensure that a horse is never called upon to do something it has not been prepared for.
The working cow horse of the South African cowboy is often an American Quarter Horse. Ranchers require a small, athletic, highly agile horse that is aggressive around cattle yet able to carry a small child with care. Required to work long hours under saddle in the scorching heat, bitter cold and torrential rain, these horses will ride fence, herd, cut and work cattle, rope, pull-tight sagging fences and still have the stamina for more.
The horsemanship practiced by South African cowboys is admired by many, and more and more riders are finding their way to these horsemen for instruction.
Enduring the harshness of the African climate, these cowboys are driven by a love for their horses and a belief in the hearty horse culture of South Africa.