08-25-2009, 07:09 PM
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Wow. This seems very out of touch.
10-04-2009, 07:33 AM
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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.
10-11-2009, 03:41 PM
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Western To English - taking the plungeSome Americans who have learned to ride Western decide later in life to ride English. If I were American I would want to try the English way for sure but it would be nice to have some idea of the English system before I took the plunge. Here is an attempt to explain the fundamental principles of riding English.
The School Master
At first glance it should be easier for the Western rider than someone who comes to riding as a complete novice. They will know something about horses although this slight advantage disappears if the trainee chooses to go to a riding centre where there are horses who can teach riders the English way. Undoubtedly when time comes for the Western rider to learn to post to the trot, it is best to have a rhythmic, unflappable horse which will tolerate a learner bouncing up and down on its back until the rider has learned the knack of posting. That will be by no means the only advantage in having access to a school master horse. To turn English, both the rider and the rider’s horse have to learn to do things in a different style and the best way is to be shown how to do it by the horse.
The different tack
The Western horse faces two fundamental changes: - the cut of the English saddle and the use of European type bits. The change of equipment leads to the weight of the rider being carried by the horse on a smaller surface area leading to a higher per square inch pressure over the muscles of the back. Western saddles, especially with an underlying blanket, spread the weight of the rider more evenly over a wider area.
The English bit - most likely a simple snaffle - is adjusted to be high in the horse’s mouth and since the rider might well be attempting to ride “collected”, the horse will come to have permanent contact with it. Many Western horses ride for much of the time “long and low” and when allowed a longer rein the horse can stretch its neck and head down and so lengthen its back. The Western rider gives the horse the freedom to place its feet and to balance itself. On the other hand, the English schooled horse, when ridden collected, rides with its neck held up and perhaps, at an advanced stage, even with its head coming down to the perpendicular ie “on the bit”. If truly ‘on the bit‘, the horse will have transferred some of its weight onto its hindquarters, a state which seemingly Quarter Horses acquire with the genes. The English rider having shortened the reins therefore has to be a lot more careful with the hands otherwise the horse’s sensitive mouth will be jerked by the bit. Some English schooled horses may even seek out the bit because they have learned to use the bit in the hands of the soft hand of the rider to balance themselves.
There are other issues here - the Western horse may not have the developed muscles to take a rider in the English way and likewise the Western rider may not have developed the muscles to retain the English riding upright posture. It can be tiring to try to sit upright for an extended ride if one is not used to the posture. Certainly prolonged posting to the trot calls for back muscles in the rider which probably need to be developed.
Collection and “On the bit”
What will confuse matters is that not all English riders attempt to ride “collected”. It is a very much a matter of what serves the purpose of the rider at the time. Some horses have never been schooled to work “on the bit” in a rounded outline since some riders have no intention of entering any form of dressage competition. Other English riders will often allow the horse to relax by riding “on the buckle” that is that the horse will be permitted to use the full length of the reins, much as “long and low”. But the classy way is to round the horse up by getting the horse to engage its hindquarters and this will call for a shortened rein and the horse to be “on the bit”. As an interim stage in schooling, the rider may just ride “collected” ie the rider has close contact with the horse’s mouth through the bit but the horse’s head and neck is not perpendicular and the horse’s back will not be rounded. This halfway stage suits the rider who is not interested in dressage and it will suit the chunky cob type horse who does not have a long neck.
Allowing long reins
To add confusion to this issue, it is interesting to see that in the regions of Britain where there are hacking and trail riding centres, the operators prefer that the riders use a long rein and that the horse is always allowed to go long and low. This is largely because the trek leader, probably riding the alpha horse in the group, wants to control the other customer’s horses from the front of the line. Accustomed to be ridden in this way, the horses given to customers will not go in front of the trek leader’s horse. If a trained rider does come along as a customer, he/she represents more of a problem to control. The trek leader can spot a trained rider easily and may well choose to ease matters by giving that rider a dobbin of a horse.
Then there is the conformation of the horse. Some European breeds of cob have a shortened neck and a big broad chest. They are powerful up front and although much of their power comes from the hind quarters, they don’t have to go back on their hindquarters to carry the lighter rider especially on the flat. Equally some horses are born with lighter front ends and long necks which will bend at the poll the more readily.
The matter of being rounded can be a confusing issue. A Western horse when riding long and low is rounded. A tall Continental Warmblood almost naturally rides with a rounded outline, indeed it is often bred to do so. A tough British cob can ride very well by some standards with its nose carried high, yet still be a very handy horse. But any horse which throws its nose up in the air and refuses to bring it down is unhappy and is in conflict with its rider who may have harsh hands. That horse’s spine will be bowed downwards and the horse will be working against its own natural posture.
to be continued
10-11-2009, 03:42 PM
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Control of the neck and head
I, a long time English rider, have a problem riding QHs which are used to being ridden long and low. I feel uncomfortable riding a horse with its neck extended and with its nose down. I feel that there is nothing in front of me. To me, from the way I have developed as a rider, I want to control the neck and the head, because the horse has to follow its neck and head in practically everything it does. Yes, from time to time I will allow my horse to stretch but once the tension in the horse has been relieved, I will shorten the reins again. I like to look through the horse’s ears and thereby to work out what the horse is thinking.
Fundamentally the significant difference in attitude is that the Continental “English” rider wants to make the choices for the horse; whereas the Western horse and to a lesser extent the English hunting horse are left to find their own footing for much of the time.
Whilst there can be a discussion about how the horse carries its head, one thing about the saddle does divide the English from the Western rider, it is the horn. The vast majority of European riders don’t rope steers, even for fun. The use of the lariat is not taught. Noticeably Monty Roberts promotes the use of ropes in schooling scenarios where a European trainer would use a whip. A European might find a use for that horn especially when leading a second horse. It could also act as a hook for bags etc although at the cost of the horn getting in the way of jumping, it would not seem to be a good exchange. Some European saddles are cut back at the wither and even have a hole over the wither where the horn be fitted. However the English saddle is not tough enough to take the strain of using the horn for roping. However I notice that they do make Western saddles without horns.
The English saddle
The English saddle takes up a very small footprint on the back of the horse. The rider’s weight is carried over a very small surface area - indeed the shape of the saddle tree suggests that much weight is transferred down through the four feet at the corners of the saddle tree. It is imperative that English saddles be selected to fit the horse’s back. The Western saddle is far more universal and the addition of a thick blanket helps to spread the weight even more so. The English rider must sit still and upright at all times otherwise shifts of weight are instantly transferred to the horse’s back. However the English saddle thereby allows the rider to give aids/cues to the horse by shifting body weight. This advantage comes at the price of it being very easy to come out of most English cut saddles. Conversely the horn, the high cantle and the substantial knee rolls of the American and especially the Australian saddles give the Western rider a lot of security. There are English saddles with deep knee rolls and high cantles but they are a rarity. Most English riders can’t rely on the saddle they are sitting on to hold them on the horse‘s back in times of emergency.
The Riding Hat
The riding hat seems to divide Western and English riders. In Europe the use of a specialist riding hat is nowadays almost mandatory and any rider seen without one is liable to attract condemnation very quickly. The damage to the head from a fall can be horrendous leading to brain damage and even death. Most English riders are insured and the insurers will not pay out if the rider was not wearing a hat at the time of an accident. The horse rider must at all times be seen to be responsible and to ride a horse without wearing a riding hat is perceived to be irresponsible. No rider can compete or hire a horse for any purpose without wearing a hat - which will very often be provided along with the horse. OK, a cowboy would look odd wearing a riding hat but maybe it is time that the tack industry looked at the problem of producing a Western styled safety hat. A simple answer would to wear a safety skull cap with a cowboy hat stretched over the top.
There is no real need to dress up to ride English these days but there is no shortage for choice of riding gear. It just so happens that riding gear has been designed to help the rider feel more comfortable. If the rider wants to wear jeans and a T shirt - then fine go ahead - as long the hat is worn. But wearing trainers with laces instead of boots is perhaps foolhardy especially if the rider can’t keep the heels down in a narrow English stirrup iron.
So, Western riders, do feel free to try “English”. As a newcomer, it will not be expected that you jump - although most likely the horse will carry you over a small jump without any expertise on your part. Although if you do jab the horse’s mouth during the jump then the horse might not be so keen to jump the second fence. If you ride at a fence riding on a long rein, then you probably won’t jab the horse’s mouth but the horse with the freedom of its neck might decide not to jump the fence anyway.
Have a Go
Undoubtedly riding English calls for a slightly different technique. But there is absolutely no reason why a competent Western rider cannot enjoy even his/her first ride English style. If you want to take the plunge, then I would suggest for the first attempt you visit any one of the numerous riding centres. Therein you will find the knowledge and facilities and most importantly the school master horse to make the first ride enjoyable, which is what horse riding is all about.
The horse teaches an individual to ride, not books, a tutor and certainly not me over the internet.
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