You might think that Amish would ride horseback often. After all, they certainly have much familiarity and experience with horses.
However among Amish riding horseback is not common. I’ve seen it a few times, but its usually been youth, mostly girls. You may occasionally see Amish men riding on horses. Amish horse trainers would be another possibility.
What brought this question to mind was a photo Mary Brandenburg shared, of Ohio Amish children doing their own version of horseback riding:
Why don’t Amish ride horseback more often?
Plain Buggies author Stephen Scott describes it like this: “One will occasionally see a child riding a pony or a young man out for a ride, but almost never would a person ride a horse to church. Obviously the problem of modesty is involved for women and, of course, only one or two people can conveniently ride a horse with room for very little baggage” (Plain Buggies, p. 43).
In The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald Kraybill notes that it is “generally discouraged because it borders on a worldly form of sport” (Riddle, p. 70).
I haven’t dug into the question too deeply, but I also wonder if issues of pride may play into it for some Amish. After all, the lone horse rider (i.e., the cowboy) is a symbol of individualism in American culture.
For more on how Amish get around, try 5 ways Amish get from point A to point B without a car (or buggy)
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From memory ive seen maybe one or two Amish riding a horse. They were maybe teens arout 17 or 18 and they were on farmland.Richard from Penn. www.Amishstorys.com
I have never given this subject much thought either. I guess if you have a family it would not be a convenient way to travel.
I was just in Ukraine for the past four days (it was the traditional worker’s holiday-May 1-plus Constitution Day-May 3 that is usually a long weekend in Poland) but it is nice to see the blog is still here (: I visited the former Polish city of Lviv, or Lwow. My father’s family actually comes from a village outside of Lwow from back when the area was officially Polish. A nice place but quite poor.
I am looking forward to catching up with all these comments I see got left in the meantime.
I have only ridden a horse a few times. Boy, it was not too comfortable. I guess you have to know what you are doing which I really didn’t.
One slightly related observation from Ukraine: lots of small farms, lots of horse-drawn power in the fields. You don’t see nearly as many of those in Poland, but you do some. But in Ukraine, there are quite a few. And it is mostly pretty basic usage, like an average-sized horse drawing a cart in the field. I did see some hand-scattering of seeds/fertilizer as well. You can tell that there is a lot of manual labor and that these are mostly very low-level farms.
I thought to myself that the Amish, with 8 draft horses pulling a huge piece of mechanized equipment, would think it a bit on the primitive side.
Welcome back Eric
Welcome back Erik, and i got your e-mail. Richard from Penn. www.Amishstorys.com
Welcome back Erik!!! Very good conversations while you were gone but you were missed. 😀
I rode quite a bit as a child, but haven’t been on a horse since I was about 30. (Yes, a long time.) Still, we are seriously considering horsepower here on the croft. When the horsepower is needed to run the machinery around the fields, or to pull a buggy, there isn’t much time to ride. I had a long discussion with a friend recently on riding in a skirt. Even saddleback tends to leave a lot of horsehair and horsesweat on the rider, so that might limit who rides when. (I’m thinking of getting a lady’s saddle if we have a saddle horse.)
I too have only seen Amish on horseback a few times. Always wondered why. One time a young boy was on one of the horses in a team, so perhaps he was having trouble with that particular horse? I asked an Amish friend about using Gee and Haw for guiding horses, and he said “No, we just use the reins.” Simple answer.
Glad you are back Erik, and sounds like you had a nice trip. I just got back from Lancaster, PA and had a wonderful visit. Got up to the original Stoltzfus house, and also the Big Valley. Went on sale day as you suggested. I was fortunate to have had a good friend from high school living in the area, and so we had a personal guide. First thing you notice is that it is not commercialized like in Lancaster.
BTW I took several engineering courses at NC State, so I know your home town of Raleigh well.
Sorry about the Spelling Erik, i was in a rush this morning. Running late……….. Richard from Penn
Thanks all for the wishes, glad to be back. Bob, nice trip. I was at the Stoltzfus House last summer, we’ll have some more on that upcoming. It surprised me that it is right next to the highway. An interesting place nonetheless. Raleigh will always be home though I’ve been fortunate to live in a few places.
Magdalena I do not know but I am guessing a ladies’ saddle is somehow skirt-friendly? It seems like it would be hard to keep things as modest when on a saddle in a skirt. I can’t see too well but it looks like the girl in the shot above has things a bit hitched up!
Not saved by the cavalry
I’d be willing to bet that the Amish aversion to riding horses stems from two roots in Medieval Europe. First, peasants might have ridden plow horses around the farm, but only the upper classes owned or rode riding horses. In several European languages, the word for horseman is also the word for gentleman (Ritter in German, caballero in Spanish). Few Anabaptists would have fallen into this social class, and most would have seen horseback riding as socially pretentious. Second (and associated with the first), the cavalry of every kingdom was made up of the sons of the nobility (who owned their own mounts). To Anabaptists, these elite fighters would have represented the military writ large. They were undoubtedly used against the Anabaptists to devastating effect, and Anabaptists would not have wanted to be associated with them.
When we were in Ohio last fall, the little town of Charm was having their Charm Days Festival and they had lots of horse riding events in which the Amish and Mennonite children participated. And actually the girls outnumbered the boys and won most of the events, too! All of these girls had on their typical kapps and dresses but underneath wore a pair of pants for modesty.
If you ever want to see the Amish en masse, attend something like this, or another event we happened upon, the first night of the Mt. Hope horse auction. Talk about feeling like a minority – there were hundreds of them compared to just a few handfuls of us non-Amish! At the auction it was so packed there was no way of getting a seat so we managed to wedge ourselves into the standing crowds at the edges, but boy was it worth it! They had everything from the tiniest miniature horse pulling two precious little Amish children in a little cart to a team of huge, goliath type horses. And every horse on parade was either riden or led by an Amish boy or girl. It was so fascinating we stood there for nearly two hours, conversing with some of our fellow Amish onlookers every now and then, and even though it was 10 pm you could tell the auction was nowhere near being over yet. What struck us, though, is when we left we had to make our way through the auction grounds ( and atleast a hundred horse and buggy’s tied up, and some moving) in the pitch dark! There were no spotlights or street lamps to help guide our way, and it was a little spooky and scary, as well as ‘messy’, if you get my drift!
Horse Vs. Motorhome
While on vacation in Pennsylvania(I was born there) we were in Amish Country and coming to a four way junction. All of a sudden, a young man came to the corner from our right hand side and didn’t see us until the last moment. He was galloping on his beautiful horse, and was very good looking himself. Since I like to read about the Amish, I have thought that maybe one of the authors had seen him, too, and decided to use him as a model for the “Hero” in one of the books. He was wearing Plain clothing and was about thirty years old.
Damon very interesting historical background. It’s not a question I’ve seen explored very deeply so it’s interesting to hear more on the custom and language.
Debbie, 2 great stories.
I was not aware of Amish kiddos taking part in the horse events at Charm Days. Interesting stuff.
And I can relate to dangers in the dark at Amish functions/homes. I used to worry about decapitating myself on a clothesline when leaving Amish homes after dark while selling books. A couple times I had to make some last minute ducks which saved my neck (literally) 🙂
Lois an interesting tale as well. You made me wonder if any Amish fiction books feature Amishmen on horseback.
While in Lancaster last month, i did see 2 Mennonite boys around the age of around 13-14 who were riding their horses through a park. I did have a camera with me and took a few pictures. Then about 10 mins later a old order Mennonite buggy came in the park from the main road that goes through town. I’m about 99.99 certain those 2 teens were old order Mennonites, and there was also a large group who were playing baseball. I will send you a few images Erik to see what you think. Richard from Pennsylvania. www.Amishstorys.com
We have an Amish employee, Viola, who also writes articles for our website in a Q&A section called Ask Viola (amishworkshops.com/ask-viola.html). I had just read the entry here today when she called, and I took the opportunity to ask her the question. Here is her response:
Yes, children and young adults do ride for pleasure. In Indiana they have groups that go riding, and sometimes do it as a fundraiser, where everyone pays a certain amount to ride for the day. They often use the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, which runs between Goshen and Middlebury. The trail was originally a train line that was established in 1851. Local volunteers have turned it into a beautiful nature trail. Learn more at pumpkinvine.org.
Many Amish keep cows which are turned out to pasture on large pieces of land. Family youth are responsible in many cases to bring them in at the end of day, and will sometimes ride on horseback to do the job.
Adults generally do not ride on horseback, because a riding horse is not a justified expense; it’s an expensive pleasure.
Google “Side Saddle”
That’s how one maintains modesty while wearing a skirt and riding a horse…and more power to anyone who can do it!
Thanks for your input Keith and thank Viola for all the informative information. Hopefully we can call on her more in the future with other topics.
Best regards, Bob
Several years ago I was riding my bicycle on a gravel road near Middlebury, IN. It was loose gravel, so I couldn’t ride very fast. An Amish boy on a horse, bareback, decided he should race me. I rode on the road, he rode through the pasture alongside. He won, easily, and pulled up in the next farm lane to wait for me. I waved as I rode by. He seemed to be quite proud of himself.
A year ago, riding near Howe, I may have seen an Amish man on horseback, this time on a saddle. Most of the people who live along that road are Amish. But it was getting dark, and it would be so unusual to see an Amish man riding a saddled horse, that I’m still not sure he was really Amish.
Keith and Viola, thanks for that information about the Pumpkinvine Trail. I hadn’t know about it. I often ride from Middlebury to Goshen, though maybe not in the last two years. Certainly not in 2010. I got to the prairie southeast of Goshen last year, but that was about it. County Road 22 is a pretty road, but sometimes has a little too much car traffic, and besides, towards Middlebury you don’t see many Amish farms that way. So I sometimes take a less direct route, usually to the south, where I can look at the Amish farmsteads along the way. I don’t usually care for old railroad beds that have been turned into trails because one can’t look at the farmsteads that way. But it’s nice to know it’s an option. I expect there will be times when I will use it.
Modesty and riding
There are actually skirts meant for riding with one leg on each side as well, you do not need to have a side saddle. Some are like very wide pants which look like a skirt when standing, some have wide pants underneath and a skirt hanging over and there are also skirts with a slit which is bottomed when down from the horse then unbuttom halfway when on top of the horse. How do I know? I know a muslim girl who rides horses. She uses the same system as the Amish and Mennonite girls above, she wears trousers under her Abaya and no specialized riding gear but she showed these modest riding outfits on her blog. I wear long skirts and ride my bike to work and if I can do that I assume you can also do horse back riding wearing only a skirt and still be modest but perhaps not as fast and as freely.
We occasionally see Amish riding horses on our particular road. The majority of time it is a teenage girl, but sometimes a young man. It does catch my attention since it isn’t too common. These would be the Amish who live around me who are less conservative. I’ve never seen a Swartzentruber riding on the road or on their own land. Occasionally a horse gets loose, and it is always led back to its home, never ridden. Many would not be broken for riders, anyway, but for pulling.
Charm Days always amuses me because while many Amish shun competition – there is no shunning of it on Charm Days! lol! They have the horse activities as mentioned, and wow, the caterpillar races can get pretty competitive very quickly! All in good fun, though. There are also many, many softball and volleyball games around and they can get a bit heated at times.
Auctions are fun. They are held weekly throughout this area in various towns (Kidron and Mt Hope are probably the busiest), but the “special” auctions are always an extra huge deal. And if you want to see a veritable ocean of Amish men, head to the annual air powered machinery auction. They come from all over the U.S.!
Keith, thanks to you and Viola for sharing. I wasn’t aware of the Pumpkinvine Trail. Sounds kind of like the Holmes County Trail.
Elin, Matt, thanks for clearing up how ladies can ride more modestly. Boy that side saddle does look challenging. And I guess more so when you’ve got your Sunday best on, like a lot of the ladies in the photos Google spit out.
Kerry thanks for more great anecdotes. Holmes Co is a great place for auctions. They really are the supreme social events for Amish. Actually we have an unusual post/video today on auctions that I think people are going to enjoy.
Amish on Horseback
I was around the age of 10 or 11 when I was on the bus going to School, We came across a young Amishman probably around the age of 25 or so Galloping down Rte 10 in palatine Bridge here in NY. we were thinking that he was going to a barn raising due to the fact that he was wearing a toolbelt. I was quite funny considering he was riding the horse bareback with just a halter and leadline. we thought the poor guy was going to fall because he was bouncing all over
Amish on Horseback
There are a lot of Amish where I live in Indiana, and obviously the buggies are used for family transport. For individual transport though, it seems to be mainly bicycles. Never understood why they wouldn’t just ride horses. So much faster.