What is actually meant by English Riding?
As a Brit I regularly follow the posts made on the essentially American Horse Forum. I think it is an excellent medium for all of us English speakers to compare notes about how to handle and enjoy horses. Members live in the US, Canada, Australia and across Europe. Our thinking differs on some issues but that is all part of the experience.
The term: “Riding English” comes up quite often indeed there is a sub forum entitled “English Riding“. But what does an American rider exactly mean by this expression - which incidentally would not normally be used in Britain - the national home of the English.
If it were to be said that we Brits had a national style of riding then the system would be that devised by the British Horse Society and we might call it “British” but not English. (It is a bit like saying: “Texas is America“).
Is it the tack?
There are still saddles made in the UK especially around Walsall ( eg Albion. & Ideal). These saddles are excellent but they are by American standards incredibly expensive. Undoubtedly nowadays more saddles are made outside of Britain than in it although that was not always the case. The Germans, the Aussies and several Asian countries now make excellent saddles which are sold around the world. Is it the horse?
There are several different native breeds of horse and pony (eg Shetland, Exmoor, Cleveland Bay, Welsh Ponies & Cobs, Shire, Clydesdale and more). Not forgetting that the Thorobred was an English creation from the selective breeding of Middle Eastern horses. However any breed of horse can be ridden under any system of riding.
After all, Quarter Horses can be ridden “English”. Is it the riding system?
Well the modern method by which the British ride varies significantly according to the discipline. One’s seat is different for show jumping, cross country jumping, dressage, hacking & trekking, as indeed is the cut of the saddle normally used for each sport. The techniques used to ride and school horses in England are as much European conventions particularly German, French and Italian as they are British. Is it the image ?
Ie of the rider dressed up in fawn riding breeches, wearing a smart black jacket, a riding hat and long shiney leather boots whilst holding a whip? Is it a collective expression ?
covering participation of the various disciplines not possible on a Western saddle ie show jumping & formal classical dressage.
Looking at it the other way around, as a Brit, I might say that the Western way of riding is to be mounted on a Western horned saddle, wearing cowboy boots and a stetson, riding upright, holding the reins long and loose in one hand, having taught the horse to do sliding stops and to be directed by neck reining, especially when herding cattle.
The “Western” image in Europe is a very particular thing and owes much to the film industry and is associated with such very adept riders as Clint Eastwood, my personal idol. Undoubtedly it is a very effective working system, developed to allow a man to ride all day, every day. I would not fancy working all day riding “English” copying Klimke, a very capable and fashionable German dressage exponent.
However when reading comments in the Horse Forum I detect that my interpretation of: “English Riding” is that it is not necessarily to do with England
- a small state within the United Kingdom. Nor is it even necessarily English
: just one of the numerous nationalities entitled to hold a British Passport.
However the expression does bring many of us together which is a good thing. Perhaps some of our American contributors could define in words what they visualize as “English Riding”. It would also be interesting to know why they themselves took an interest in the system.