The single most important piece of “equipment” for a Cavalryman was not his weapon, it was his horse. Often better “cared for” than the soldier himself – a Cavalryman would spend great amounts of time caring for his mounts needs (even over his own). By the time of The Great Plains Indian Wars of the the mid-1860s to the 1880s, various horse breeds were used in The US Army. Horses in the military were “classed” according to their size and performance abilities (and needs). These were Light, Medium and Heavy. In the Plains Wars, Light and Mediums breeds were used. The average horse is capable of carrying up to 30% of it's own weight. This was important with regards to not only the weight of the Cavalryman on top, but the amount of equipment he had to carry.
Often equipped “light”, this “marriage” of horse and man was necessary for speed and endurance on The Plains. Light breeds ranged from 800 to 1,000 pounds and stood between 12 and 15 “hands” tall (a “hand” is a unit of horse measurement ranging from 48 to 60 inches per unit). Medium breeds ranged from 1,000 to 1,200 pounds and stood on average 58 to 64 hands tall. American Saddlebreds and Morgans were especially popular. Great time was spend in training horses to react in combat. Becoming used to yells, screams, and most important – firearms was needed (and practiced). Saddlery was specially designed for Cavalry use.
The popular American “MacClellan Saddle” (made so by General George B. MacClellan in The Civil War) – was till the popular (and long-lived choice). Bridle and Rein (for control and steerage) as well as the Stirrup (for remaining IN the Saddle) were all important components to The Plains Cavalryman and his horse.