We all know that there are obvious differences in the tack (equipment used to ride, such as saddles and bridles,) but when I was taught to ride, we weren’t taught why the tack was different, and how different the two types of riding really are. I was always mesmerized by the beautiful Western horses with their fancy headstalls and breastplates and the riders with their chaps and cowboy hats walking in the parades, but other than that, I didn’t really see a lot of Western style riders growing up, except for on television. During my research I have discovered that English riding is initially more difficult to learn, and it is easier to switch from English to Western than vice versa. I am not going to focus too much on English riding today, and will pretty much just explain the fundamentals of Western riding. I will go much more in depth on English riding in a future article.
I guess the first place I should start is at the beginning… the very beginning. Western riding can first be traced back to about 400 B.C. when it is widely accepted that Xenophon, a Greek solider and historian, founded modern horsemanship. Although any breed of horse can be used for Western riding, the most popular breeds are Quarter Horses, Paints, and Appaloosas.
Western riding basically evolved on cattle ranches in the American West The Western rider uses their non-dominant hand to handle the reins, and uses neck reining to control the horse. When neck reining, you push your horse gently into the direction that you want your horse to go instead of pulling in the same direction. For example, if you want your horse to move to the right, you would touch the left rein to your horse’s neck. Western trained horses are trained to listen to your commands without much mouth contact. You might be wondering why you would use your non-dominant hand to hold the reins – the reason for using the non dominant hand for the reins is so that the rider can use their dominant hand for roping cattle, etc. Even if you aren’t into roping cattle, there are many other events you can find pleasure in with Western riding! They include barrel racing, pleasure riding, roping, Gymkhana, and endurance riding.
Western saddles are heavier, and have a horn in front which is to assist with herding cattle. The saddle is also larger and deeper and can be more comfortable for a horse who has to spend long periods of time actively working. It is also comfortable for the rider, and distributes the weight more evenly on the horse’s back. The bottom of the stirrups should hit the rider’s ankle bone for proper fit.
The rider should be relaxed but sit straight with good posture, and move with the horse. Subtle cues with your hips and seat give steering signals to your horse. Your horse will rely on you to correctly shift your weight and carry your body correctly to interpret your commands.
In Western riding it is not unusual for the rider to use noise signals to change speeds. Some Western trained horses can speed up and slow down just by hearing their rider’s signals. Many riders use the “kiss and click method,” in which you click your tongue to ask for a jog and you smack your lips together to ask for a lope. A jog is the same as a trot, and a lope is the same as a canter in English riding. Some horses might recognize voice commands, it all depends on how your horse is trained. Most horses know the voice command “Whoa” to stop, as you sit deeply into your seat.
This just touches on the basics of Western riding, and in future articles I will go more in depth. If there are any topics that you would like me to cover relative to horses and riding, please comment below or feel free to contact me, and I would be happy to write about it! Until then, happy trails…