Western v English
This thread has debated the Western & English horse riding systems. It has attracted a significant number of viewers about 850 to date. The debate has swung back and forth sometimes with a high degree of passion. Perhaps the discussion has run its course for the time being and this thread now deserves to be put to bed. Maybe a summary of differences can be produced as part of the peace settlement.
The two systems have different roots. The fundamentals of Western riding are to be found in the bull rings of Southern Spain; the fundamentals of European riding are to be found buried in the 19th century battlefields of Europe. (Maybe that statement could be the basis for another thread?). Monty Roberts is one of the few horse trainers to bridge the gap between North & South. Deservedly so, he has admirers in both camps. Perhaps it is worthwhile to consider how he bridges what is a traditional, indeed cultural, divide.
During a demonstration to English riders Monty Roberts rarely mounts a horse, after all he doesn’t choose to ride English. Yes, the horse will be tacked up English and it will be ridden by an assistant who invariably is a capable English style rider. The demo is mostly focussed on horse training as against rider training and so the watchers are unconcerned about whether the techniques being shown are Western or English. Monty works in a round pen, itself a rarity in Britain where rectangular arenas are the norm.
Quarter Horses are not common in Britain and the demo horses could well be anything from a cross breed or a pedigree Thorobred. Horses of every breed are to be found in Europe. In any case, horses are ambi-dextrous and can be ridden Western or English. A 16h0 horse is not perceived as unusual whereas 17h0 or above is just tall. Most male horses are gelded and it is unlikely that a stallion would be presented in the demonstration.
Monty’s first need with a horse running around the pen would be to get a head collar fitted. Parelli achieves this with the help of a noose around the horse’s neck - lassoed by himself if necessary. Monty makes sure that horses presented to him are already wearing a head collar of some sort, probably of his ‘dually‘ design. The ’dually’ is almost a type of hackamore and if fitted with reins the rider could use it in place of a bridle set. An English trainer would perhaps have used a training cavesson with rings fitted in the padded nose band.
Rope v Whip ‘
Monty uses a long flexible rope to energise the horse, in preference to a whip. Parelli confirms that his working kit bag contains a set of ropes of varying lengths. Perhaps the choice of rope in preference to whip is to do with culture. Western riders are competent rope users whereas Europeans don’t usually have a reason to learn roping skills and typically as an alternative tool they will carry either a whip or a short crop. Western riders often catch and constrain their horses by a lariat. Europeans use a head collar and either a lead rein or a lunging line. A European horse when being caught is expected to stand and be approached for the fitting of a head collar whereas a Westerner might from a distance just throw a rope around the neck. A Western rider often rides with a rope coiled on the horn of his saddle but rarely will you see a European carrying even a short leading rein, (except perhaps if he is hacking down to the pub There is no horn on any European saddle, so there is no place to hang the rope. Essentially it is here that we can see a key difference between the two camps by the preference for the rope or for the whip. A rope is a working man’s tool to be used along with the horn of the saddle. The flexible rope is the more gentle tool, which is perhaps why, alongside familiarity, Monty uses it.
A whip makes a cracking noise and is a very accurate tool with which one can touch, gently or firmly, a horse in a specific spot. Of course the whip can also be used to punish as well as cajole. The sound of a cracking whip alone will act as a spur to a horse. A handler can as easily turn a horse around with a whip as might a cowboy with a rope. Interestingly the whip is used a lot in circuses on various animals, no doubt because the handler can keep an animal at a distance with a whip.
Essentially the whip acts to provoke a horse whereas the lariat acts to restrain a horse.
Another minor difference in styles is that the European drops down off a horse, whereas a Western rider steps down with the foot planted in a very ample stirrup
What will not be exhibited in Monty’s demonstration arena is the key differences in weight dispersion between Western & European riders The Westerner rides typically “long and low” with the horse having the control of its own head and neck. Most Europeans will, immediately on mounting, take up the reins and restrict the horse’s neck and head - only releasing sufficient length of rein to give the horse occasional relief from bending the neck at the poll. Some breeds of horse, when fit and well schooled, will readily accept coming down ‘on the bit’ with the horse’s head taking up the traditional ‘ramener’ position. However the more common breeds of horse with shorter necks find this a more difficult posture to retain but they will nevertheless be ridden in contact - that is the rider will shorten the reins to allow at all times close contact of the rider’s hands with the horse’s mouth. Westerners leave the horse with more freedom of control of the head and neck.
A less obvious difference is that the modern European rides with the body weight firmly ‘in’ the saddle as against partially on the stirrups. In earlier times the English rider might have ridden “hunting” style. Forward riding is nowadays going out of fashion except for cross country work and show jumping.
A key difference in the riding apparel is also very apparent. It is quite rare in Europe these days to see an English style rider not wearing a reinforced riding hat to protect the head. Indeed the lack of a suitable headgear, fit for purpose, would deny a competitor entrance to a competition. The days of flowing locks have gone for ever. Soon maybe the wearing of a protective waist coat will also be mandatory. In Europe, the State picks up the bill for all accident and emergency cases and in return the citizen is expected to take care of his own body and brain. A cowboy hat gives minimal protection to the skull in the event of a fall.. Out of courtesy and tradition, Western visitors wearing straw or felt hats have been largely permitted so far in the riding arena but perhaps not for ever.
I personally have watched both Western and English style riders demonstrate their respective skills on horseback. Both systems of riding call for significant expertise and training. One cannot put the two side by side and make valid comparisons - they are different systems. It brings up the vision of a baseball team playing a cricket team. Both teams use a bat, a hard ball and a “wicket keeper” but there the similarity ends. I am even starting to wonder if the American way of riding English is not quite the same as the European way of riding English. Are we comparing American Football with European Soccer?
What is perhaps lacking in both the Western & English worlds of equitation is a better understanding of each other’s approach to horse riding and handling Maybe this Forum can act as a mediator and translator between the two factions? By discussing the differences we are making a start. Personally I, as an English style rider, think Europeans could learn a lot from the Western approach to horse handling and riding.
Last edited by xxBarry Godden; 10-04-2009 at 06:37 AM.