We British contributors to The Horse Forum read with admiration (and sometimes with amazement) the articles posted by Americans seeking help as to how to cope with problems presented by riding English. Mostly it seems that the rider has moved over from Western to English for some reason never quite fully defined. The rider has acquired an English cut or Australian saddle and wants to learn just how to do it. Often one gets the impression that there is in the locality no expert help in the matter of riding English so it becomes a question of “mount up and see“. One reads about the problems on the web site and one is tempted to try to help from across the pond.. But really it isn’t as simple as that.
Riding English style on a Western saddle is relatively easy whereas riding Western on an English saddle is a completely different exercise. The Western system is undoubtedly a derivative of Spain‘s Doma Vaquera way of riding as is to be found to this day in rural Spain. It is a working man’s system and is still used to round up cattle or sheep.Back in the days of the old West, many a cowboy had never sat a horse before one day the man took, for some good reason or another, a job as a cowhand. The Western way of riding based on a nice big comfortable saddle fitted with a high cantle and a substantial horn up front could be mastered in a relatively short time. Finding a well schooled mount might have been more difficult. However it is not so easy to fall off a Western saddle as it is a much smaller English cut saddle which has very little in the way of pommel, cantle or knee roll. The rider sits in a Western saddle but on an English saddle. Neither system of riding is the better, they have each developed from a different need. It is what you want to do with the horse that dictates the system to use.
If the rider wants to compete at racing or jumping in all its forms or European dressage then the rider has to master the English way. If one wants to trail ride, round up cattle or go in for those special Western sporting events, then it is beholden to learn to ride Western. If the rider has only one horse, then the horse has to learn to respond to both systems and incidentally, most horses will adapt readily. But speaking as one who has learned to ride both ways, I can quickly say that the English system is the more difficult to learn. I would also say that without help from an instructor the rider won’t get far without drifting into a poor technique.
In this little crowded island of Gt Britain, one is lucky in that one is never really far from a school riding centre wherein can be found not only teaching expertise but the school master horses which are used only for teaching newcomers to ride. To learn to ride English, one primarily needs a docile and a forgiving horse - the instructor ‘merely’ stands in the middle of the arena and shouts out words of wisdom. Nowadays other teaching aids are coming into play - the teaching video, the video camera itself and last, but not least, a library of books to read.
I would encourage anyone who has developed a love of horses to learn to ride English but unless you are one of those very lucky youngsters who have been born with an innate skill to ride a horse you (and your horse) are going to need access to a good experienced instructor to learn to ride English properly. You could of course fly over and stay at a riding centre for two weeks which would help a lot in learning the basics. There are a lot of riding centres who'd be pleased to see you.
I would also make one final comment. We Brits nowadays are rarely to be seen riding without a good, tough, well fitting, riding hat. You never really know when you are going to fall off but it is not a question of “if” rather “when“. When you buy an English cut saddle, buy the hat at the same time and always wear it when on the back of the horse. The hat might save your life.
Whatever you do, have fun and enjoy the companionship of your horse.