English Riders – it’s not just that big saddle…
Until they have seen a versatile horse in western riding, most English riders think that all Western Riding involves is to stick a big saddle on the horse’s back, slap a “kiss me quick” hat on your head, climb up and utter a joyful “yip-kay-ay” or perhaps even “yeeha” and you’ve got it done. Well, not really…
Many of the establishments where we put on a western riding show are English equestrian yards. Very often, English riders come and see what a versatile horse is all about. Admittedly, some walk quickly away with a slightly worried look on their face. But mostly, they stick around, talk about what we’re doing and how the horses go.
If you are kind to your horse and go for the natural way – for a good introduction to natural horsemanship visit http://www.parelli.com – you will very quickly find that western riding is altogether a kinder approach to horsemanship. That saddle was designed to provide both rider and horse a comfortable working day. It spreads the rider’s weight over a much larger area of the horse’s back.
The curb bit
And the curb bit? Its certainly not something that is there to allow you to get better leverage taking up an armful of rein and hauling on it. Quite the opposite. It gives a wider range of movement before anything severe can happen. It does this by more progressively applying pressure to the horse’s poll and the curb strap under his chin. Its use requires sensitivity of touch. It is not used until the horse has been trained with a bosal or a snaffle bit. I would often put George back on a bosal now and again when we were looking for a particular result in our training. He was actually quite happy to perform a reining pattern without a bridle at all – but that’s another story!
Because it’s in the reining action that an English rider finds the biggest difference between western riding and English riding. The versatile horse turns his head away from the touch of the rein on his neck. And it’s this that results in the name of the most popular western riding competition in the United Kingdom and Europe – Reining.
And that hat? Well they impact tested a motorcycle crash hat, an English riding hat and a Stetson (a proper one mind, not one that line dancers wear). The motor bike crash hat came out top but was destroyed in the process. The English rider’s safety hat scored worst. And the Stetson came second to the motorbike hat but was steamed back into shape and was as good as new afterwards! Most western riding competition rules require senior riders to wear a western hat. But we still wear a hard hat working or riding out.
The saddle is essential though. This is because it’s designed for the range of leg movement needed and also to allow shifts of body position . And that pommel, there to provide an anchor for your rope when you come to use one, is also very handy to hang on to when you’re rounding a barrel or cutting a cow. But so much as touch the pommel in a Reining or Western Riding class and you’ll be seriously in trouble!
Finally, you don’t have to own an American Quarter Horse or an Appaloosa or one of the other American breeds. Find out more about this on the American Quarter Horse page. I have met very many riders over the years that have come to Western Riding with an English trained horse and have successfully made the transition, been delighted with the resulting change in demeanour of their horse and found an altogether more varied and interesting way of enjoying their horsemanship. Give it a try!