...I have tried using my calf but don't get the response I want. I think that though is just retraining myself, and then the horse to new cues. I have wondered if the saddle skirt is deadening the feel for the horse. Just a thought...
The lady I took lessons from this summer has lessons horses who know a lot, but who are also ridden regularly by, shall we say, insensitive riders.
The point she always made, and many of the students in the group lesson seemed to ignore, is that you ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS start with a squeeze. If the horse doesn't respond, bump lightly with the calf. Then a firmer bump. Then a kick. If a couple of kicks don't do the job, then a crop, with whatever force it takes to get the point across.
But you do that sequence EVERY time. She said it might take a horse 300 times if he is slow, but on sequence 301 he might figure out to respond at a firm bump instead of a kick. And that is progress. And if you keep at it, eventually he'll respond to a squeeze.
Of course, if the horse is ridden by 20 different riders, then it is tough. But with her lesson horses, even the stubborn ones usually caught on after a half hour or so, and by the end of a 60-90 minutes lesson would be responding to a nudge instead of a crop or kick.
If the horse is ridden by just a few riders, he'll pick up on the rider. My daughter, I'm sad to say, usually starts with a kick and doesn't listen well to stupid Dad. That is why she is now taking lessons from the place where I took lessons over the summer. But when she rides Trooper, she has to kick because he expects it from her. When I ride Trooper, the biggest problem I have is that an accidental squeeze from my poor ability will be interpreted as "Go faster" or "Turn". I sometimes find myself making a conscious effort to spread my knees to avoid giving unintentional cues.
Still, it is nice to have a horse who will go from a walk to a canter with a squeeze of the legs accompanied with a kissing sound.
FWIW, the western saddle I use probably has more leg contact than my Australian-style saddle. Past about mid-thigh, the only thing between me and the horse is my Levis and one thin layer of soft leather. The cinch is a bit in front of my leg. With either the Aussie-style or an AP English saddle, the double flap construction and location of the girth puts more stuff between my leg and the horse than the western saddle.
(My favorite is a jump saddle, ridden western style. Lots of feel thru the seat, and nothing between my leg and my horse but my jeans. Unfortunately, my marginal skill leaves me nervous riding like that, and nervous means tension and tension means bad riding...but I'm slowly making progress. Someday...)
English saddles transmit more feel of the horse thru the butt, and vice-versa, but I wonder if that isn't because they have less load bearing area, so the same force sent thru a smaller area makes it more obvious.
I think anyone who gets the chance should try both styles - or toss in Australian equitation as well.