Western or English?

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Western or English?

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  • Learn to ride english or western first
  • From western to english horse

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    11-14-2013, 10:11 AM
Western or English?

Well I hope you lovelies can help me with this.

I've been riding (badly) for about three years now, lack a bit of confidence although it's improving at the moment, and just love everything about being with my lovely boy Papillon.

Thing is, my loan of him comes to an end on November 30th which is very sad BUT does mean I will then go back to having lessons and will get the chance to try out other horses and other disciplines.

I am in the UK and so have learnt to ride English style, but was watching a western lesson today at the school where Papillon is, and, hmmmm, something intrigued me. But my dilemma is, will having western lessons confuse my very small brain, because the position will change, the tack will be different, the gaits will be slightly different, and maybe the aids too. Will it adversely affect my English riding?

I'd also love to hear people's opinions on whether they believe one style to be more 'natural' for the horse than the other? Obviously it's not natural for a horse to be saddled up and have a human on it's back, but does anyone have any thoughts on whether horses are more comfortable and secure riding one way or the other?

Well done for reading this far!

Linny x
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    11-14-2013, 10:27 AM
For gods sake don't start the english vs western debate! I have ridden both, but my horse seems to prefer English, though he is rather petite. It's all own to what your horse is built for, IMO. And I reccomend starting English, getting to a rather advanced point, THEN switching to western. I did things the other way around, and boy howdy was that hard. ONE IS NOT BETTER THAN THE OTHER! It's like comparing baking potatoes and sweet potatoes. Their both good, but some people like the taste of one over the other.
    11-14-2013, 10:44 AM
Originally Posted by Chickenoverlord    
ONE IS NOT BETTER THAN THE OTHER! It's like comparing baking potatoes and sweet potatoes. Their both good, but some people like the taste of one over the other.
I realise that, and am not asking if one is better! Just curious as to how riding both might affect the rider.
    11-14-2013, 11:09 AM
Think of that as directed toward everyone, lol. Western is (usuall) more pep robe to be ridden in a chair seat, and less emphasis on proper rider balance, in the lower levels. You are, IMO, more likely to fall English.
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    11-14-2013, 11:54 AM
A western saddle tree distributes weight over a larger area, so in that sense it is easier on the horse's back. It varies with make & model and type of English saddle. The black Abetta in the picture below has roughly the same area as the English saddle - but the Abetta has the smallest footprint of any western saddle I've seen:

The western standard for reins is one hand with slack in the reins. Teaching the horse to neck rein is a priority. In traditional western riding, there is no attempt to put a horse in a frame or a headset - although that is one of the things going wrong with western riding in the modern world...people riding in arenas are starting to think about 'headset'.

In that sense, it is an easy to learn and forgiving style of riding.

Will it affect your English riding? Perhaps. Lots of people do both, so it can be done. Our Circle Y saddle - the big one above - puts my legs in an awkward position. Think 'chair seat' with no lower leg contact. I like forward hung stirrups, but it is the shape of the saddle itself that does it to me. It all depends on the western saddle. There is as much variety there as in the English saddle world...maybe more.

On the whole, I ride the saddle, not the style. If my butt is in the lowest part of the saddle, and my stirrup straps (or fenders) are vertical, then I'm in the position that saddle was designed for, so that is how I ride it.

"less emphasis on proper rider balance"

Proper balance cannot be discussed without examining tack. The western saddle was DESIGNED to have more weight to the rear. It is only improper balance if you ride in a way your saddle was not designed to be used.

With that sort of saddle tree, this approach puts the rider's weight in the center of the load-bearing area - although it is not a good approach to use in an English saddle:

Henry Lyman, range boss of the LS, looking across the panhandle country. LS Ranch, Texas, 1907

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    11-14-2013, 12:11 PM
Thanks so much BSMS - that was a really useful post, lots of food for thought.
I am lucky to have a very good yard close by who do have Western trained horses and a very good instructor. These are few and far between in England - I have discovered after some research that there are yards that claim to teach Western when in reality all they do is put some Western tack onto a horse and everything else is exactly the same as the English lessons. Sad but true.

I will get myself up there this weekend and have a good chat with the Western instructor and spend some time in the tack room examining the saddles etc.

I guess it will be interesting to try out - it may not be for me or it may become the only way I want to ride in future, who knows, but there's only one way to find out....
    11-14-2013, 12:17 PM
My trainer always begins her students in a western saddle and then moves them to English after they have good balance and are secure in the saddle. She's found that most students learn quickest this way because they have the security of the larger saddle with a horn to grab onto. Also, since reins are generally kept at the longer length, the student is less likely to bang the horse's mouth when they lose balance, as they are bound to do when they are beginning. Also, since the reigns are held in one hand, you have a hand free to grab the horn if you feel like you are falling. This worked very well for me when I was learning.

I don't think your riding will e changed by riding western, you may simply find that you like it better (or not). Everyone prefers different styles. It ma also help you gain more confidence and feel more secure in the saddle, which would be a great thing.

I switch back and forth between English and western and have never had an issue with one messing up the other. The saddles automatically make you sit differently, so it's easy to go back to the "proper" way of riding when you switch out.
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    11-14-2013, 01:50 PM
Green Broke
Originally Posted by Chickenoverlord    
Think of that as directed toward everyone, lol. Western is (usuall) more pep robe to be ridden in a chair seat, and less emphasis on proper rider balance, in the lower levels. You are, IMO, more likely to fall English.
How does that make sense? I'd expect a well-balanced English rider to stay in the saddle through an "incident" MUCH longer than an unbalanced Western rider... so how does it make sense that the saddle would make more difference in your riding than how well-balanced your seat is? I'm not saying that you're wrong or right, but the logic as I understand it seems flawed.

I've ridden English since I was 11 (over 10 years) and until I bought a western saddle a couple of weeks ago I could probably count the number of times that I've ridden in a Western saddle on my fingers and toes. I guess there are pros and cons of each... but it comes down to what you feel most comfortable with.

Most folks that I know regard a western saddle as more secure and comfortable... the kind of thing that you want to ride out a buck or go on a long trail ride. The average western saddle holds you in more than the average English saddle, though we all know how widely western and English saddles vary!

Most western riders that I know don't know what to do with themselves when placed in an English saddle. I don't know if this is typical of most western riders, or if it has just happened to be the bunch that I've been around. They're used to the secure seat and having a horn in front of them, whether they use it or not. Put an English person in a western saddle though, and you're generally adding security. For this reason I think that the average English person would have a much easier time switching to western than the average western person would switching to English.

I feel weird and less secure in a western saddle because I have seldom ridden in one, but I think it'll change over time if I start doing it regularly. I'll never say that one style of riding is always better than another, but in general I think that it's best for people to learn their balance in an English saddle first. It seems as though it would be easier to get used to the more relaxed western position than to transition from that relaxed position to the more... don't really know how to say it... upright or forward position that an English saddle would put you in.

Basically, the culmination of all of those ramblings is to do whatever you want, but that there are differences that you should be aware of in both saddle style and riding style. If you have been riding "badly" (your words, not mine!!), then depending on your issues I would probably say that you should sort out your balance in an English saddle first. Those things are great for teaching body awareness and balance! However, there's nothing in the world wrong with deciding to go western. Heck, you can even start taking both types of lessons and seeing what you like best! Or pick one, and have an occasional lesson of the other.

Of course, if you have a specific discipline or goal in mind (you want to jump, run barrels, etc) then that'll pretty much make the decision for you. There's still no law that says you can't take another type of lesson once in awhile, but if you plan to jump then go with English lessons. If you want to run barrels, then a close contact saddle isn't the way to go!
    11-14-2013, 03:16 PM
Green Broke
I rode English for many years and recently have switched to western. Being in a Australia I imagine it's sort of similar as the UK in that there is a very small western riding scene.

It depends on what you want to do. Like if you want to get into jumping western isn't going to be for you. Now you're just taking lessons, but if in the future you want to get your own horse and compete there is a lot "less" to do, tack and gear is much more expensive, western trained horses are hard to come by.

Lots of people say the riding itself isn't too different. I can see where they're coming from but I have found it quite different. I've yet to find a western saddle that I can sit in and have my legs underneath me properly - which I get isn't the western way but that means I have to relearn a new leg position. It's very disconcerting. I like western saddles more, but I feel that they don't "fit" with the horse so well. Like you're riding the saddle rather than riding the horse, something I've never felt with english.

I don't think it will ruin your riding or anything, nor do I think any is particularly better for the horse. The longer bars have a bigger surface area, but they have their negative aspects as well. Just as English saddles have their positive ones.
    11-14-2013, 03:47 PM
A lot of western saddles will put your heel under your hip. Most Wade saddles are supposed to do it. Our Abetta does it. Saddles intended for Western Pleasure would do it. Barrel, cutting and roping saddles will tend to put your feet forward.

If anyone wants to read about western saddle trees, fitting a western saddle, etc, the best website I know is one done by a custom western saddle tree maker:

Can the loin of the horse carry weight?

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