Western & English Riding in the US

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Western & English Riding in the US

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  • English how to ride the english way horses
  • Who introduced english riding to america?

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    08-13-2009, 05:45 AM
Western & English Riding in the US

Back in 1859 an American Cavalry officer, a certain General McClellan designed and eventually put into production a saddle for the US Cavalry. The saddle was designed in such a way that it would fit practically any horse. Actually if one looks at a modern day replica, it was no more than the wooden tree of a European saddle, padded up and covered with leather. Thousands were made and distributed to grateful soldiers who used them for years. They are still used by the military for ceremonial purposes and both originals and new replicas can be bought today. Personally I bought and used such a saddle on my English schooled palomino gelding for several years.

The saddle doesn’t look great and it is as hard as iron on one’s butt but it works well enough. What it gives to the rider is the feel of and close contact with the horse. Actually a rider who has been trained on a typical Western saddle could sit on the saddle and using his existing riding skills ride off into the sunset. If at the same time, the bit was exchanged for a snaffle, then just maybe the cavalryman could be shown how to ride the horse collected - ie on a shortened rein and with a gentle contact with the mouth. The US Cavalry school at Fort Riley which closed down in 1946 had for years adopted a “English” system of riding which was and is still very close to the system used by European cavalry units. Now what can be more American than Custer’s 7th Cavalry? The Cavalry Manual of Horsemanship ISBN 0-87980-222-7(edited by Gordon Wright in 1962) describes the standard US Army way of riding - it is essentially the “English” way. A copy can still be bought through Amazon. Any trooper who had mastered this system as formulated would today be seen to be a very competent rider.

So what is the great divide all about. Well fundamentally the difference falls into two parts. The Western saddle is designed to allow initially inexperienced riders to sit and work cows for a day, every day. It has a horn which allows the cowboy to work a rope, an essential tool in herding cattle. The rider’s weight is spread broadly across the horse’s back prolonging the horse’s daily ability to carry the rider. But the western saddle is a substantial tool, built to take the stress of ropework and it weighs a lot, arguably too much. On the other hand, the cavalryman had no use for a horn, he needed a simple saddle which could be swopped over from remount to remount. The saddle had to be light because cavalrymen needed to travel long distances. It should had to be a universal saddle which a soldier could use on any horse available.

Then there is the matter of holding the reins. If a cowboy wants to work a lariat, then he needs one hand to be free. His horse must respond to the rider’s commands with a light touch from one hand only hence the practice of neck reining. But to round up a steer calls for especial ability on the part of the horse. The horse rounds the steer up with supreme agility to a competence comparable with that of a polo pony. The rider doesn’t tell a roping horse what to do, a good horse follows the twists and turns of the steer of its own accord. So the cowboy gives the horse its head with a long rein. From the very beginning of schooling the roping horse carries itself long and low in perfect balance. All the rider has to do is sit still and stay on. When the horse makes a sharp turn, the western rider leans over just like he would riding a motorbike. To lean the horse over when riding “English” is almost heresy.

The English horse expects to be told where to put its feet and a well schooled horse will wait for the command and the close contact that the rider has on an English cut saddle makes this policy workable. To jump a high fence calls for the horse to be placed exactly at the optimum point of take off - a judgement call mostly left to the rider. The horse merely has to make the effort. The secret of success lies in the couple working closely together which calls for good communication between human and equine. The most obvious communication aid lies in the rider’s hands - ie from human hand, through the reins and bit along to the horse’s mouth. The rider can thereby “talk” with his horse. Riding on a loose rein throws that advantage away. Anyone who learns to hold the reins correctly won’t go back to holding the reins one handed. It would be like going deaf. Even if I were lucky enough to own a clever roping horse which would neck rein, I personally would still mostly ride the animal “collected” perhaps even “on the bit”. But when I wanted to round up those steers, I’d give the horse its head and I‘d lean over on the turns.

Every horse rider should be able to ride his/her horse in more than one style. Using the English system a rider can trail ride, race, steeple chase, play polo, compete at dressage & show jump. A three stage eventer will in fact use a different cut of saddle for each stage of the event but the fundamentals of the riding technique utilised are virtually the same at each stage. The two key components of the English way of riding to learn is the seat and the way in which the reins are held. Learn to sit properly from the very beginning and the sport of equitation becomes one’s oyster in any sphere of equestrianism all over the world.

Barry G Aug 2009
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    08-13-2009, 05:57 AM
At the great risk of being unpopular, I tend to agree with the above research.
My main discipline is and always will be English, however I do own Western tack.
I find for certain applications, the Western saddle is a useful tool.
I have a light-weight synthetic Western saddle, on it I use brass stirrup spinners (to allow the stirrup to be forward with my foot in it). It fits the Horse well, it cleans easily, and the "tree" or what ever it's material really is made of, holds up off the horses spine quite well. The McClellan saddle is butt-harsh, but I agree it is very tight-contact.
For what it's worth... -Lw
    10-09-2009, 07:23 AM

Western & English

If Americans riders are planning to switch from the Western style of riding to the so called “English” style then perhaps they should first understand the terminology and the reasoning behind the different styles.

The American Western system was strongly influenced by the Iberian system of Doma Vaquera - the rural way of training and sitting a horse - particularly what became known as the Andalucian horse. The system had come about because of the bull ring and horses have always been used within the ring - in Spain to herd the bull, in Portugal to fight the bull. The horse therefore had to be well balanced because in order to perform in the ring without being hurt by the horns of the bull, the horse had to be “handy“ on its hind quarters.
However also in the South of Iberia, the horse was used to herd the sheep up and down the mountain sides. Again, the horse had to be handy, those mountainsides are pretty steep.

The rural horsemen became proficient because they had learned to ride as youngsters and it was to be their job for a lifetime. Horses live for between 20-30 years, whereas in the old days a man might live for just 60. There was a constant need for remounts. Gradually a universally accepted method of breaking horses was developed for which the basic tool used to school the horse was devised - the serreta - a nasty steel brace across the nose of the horse. Not even the most fiery of horses will resist the pressure and pain of the serretta and once broken, the horse with its long memory will never forget the experience Neither will the scars on the horse’s nose disappear.

The other important Iberian influence was that Spanish & Portuguese men prefer to ride stallions because they believe that the stallions have more courage. The fear inbred into horses as flight or fight creatures was to be countered by the courage induced by testosterone.

From the 18th century onwards in America along came the American cowboy. An immigrant might get off in Virginia the ship from Europe and all the work available to him was that of a cow hand. His first job would be to learn to ride a horse as quickly as possible. The chances were that unless he had been in the Cavalry he would never previously have ridden a horse. The Western system was easy to learn. A nice heavy saddle, which would carry his accoutrements and in which he sat supported by a high cantle at the back and a high pommel up front enabled him to sit in the saddle rather than sit on it as would be the case in a typical European saddle. The big padded stirrups enabled him to stand up on the saddle rather than sit into it. The horn was there to enable him to use the lariat - another skill he would have to acquire quickly.

The Western way is a good system. It is practical and the saddle will fit a broad range of horses and is a working tool. A human can sit in a well designed Western version for a day without undue stress. The only saddles which comes anywhere near the pattern in Europe are those to be found in Spain, Portugal or the Camargue where they use a small wiry horse said to be a relative of the Andalucian.

What of course helped develop the Western riding system was the influence of the Mexican ranchers. It was Mexico that first started to colonize Texas and California.
They had seen the potential of the vast open spaces that then existed. South American culture itself had been heavily influenced by Spain and Portugal - southern European countries. Those earlier European pioneers took to both Central and South AMerica their cultural systems including the horses themselves and the way in which they schooled and rode horses.

In Europe the scene was different; By the 18th century horses were used as modes of transport. Horses were used on the farm or to pull carts to market. The gentry could afford to keep a horse as a means of personal transport but the peasants had to walk. Of course one could always join the Cavalry. Then slowly but surely and across all of Europe the so called “English“ style emerged. In truth the French, the Italians, the Germans and The Russians had as much to do with the development of the riding system as the “English”. The English Cavalry was to be found across Europe and for some reason lost in history Americans describe the saddles used as “English” cut. However for accuracy for “English” read “European“.

The acknowledged Horsemasters of the 18th & 19th century ( eg De La Gueriniere) were mostly French or German. The British merely produced the Duke of Newcastle and Captain Nolan of Charge of the Light. Brigade fame. In Britain, the system of riding as utilised today has its roots in the traditions of the Military and the hunting of foxes. Members of the Hunt were for the most part army officers, country gentlemen and farmers.
There is nowadays no British equivalent of Saumur or The Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The cavalry centre at Weedon in the UK was closed down in 1938 when war was imminent. The German Army was in 1941 still heavily dependent upon horses for transportation especially in Eastern Europe where roads were poor.

From the 1950s onwards, equestrian sport has been the driving force behind the changes in the equestrian world in Europe. Increasingly the Germans dominate the international dressage arena and the British follow their example so as not to be left behind in the fashion.

The British have a horsey culture which stretches back for centuries to the era before the Romans came. They have access to a wide variety of horse breeds amongst which is a significant national herd of cross breeds. The abundant green fields of Britain give sustenance to a horse in much the same way as does the Blue Grass of Kentucky. The Thorobred, an English “invention” is not the only British breed of horses to have become the foundation stock for herds across the world. The genes of Shires, Dales, Welsh Cobs, Clevedon Bays and others are to be found everywhere in the world. Likewise examples of nearly every horse breed in the world can be found on the Island of Great Britain. Britain is horse heaven.

So what is the difference between Western & English riding. Essentially it settles upon the purpose for which the horse is used. The design of the Western saddle v the English saddle assures the difference.

Although an experienced rider could use either cut of saddle in either method except he could not rope successfully a steer from an English saddle. Likewise the horn and cut of a Western saddle would inhibit any jumping. Is one system better than the other? - No - each system has its advantages.

It is important to point out that even under the so called “English” method there are several distinct riding styles. The flat racer perches up on a miniscule saddle; the point to pointer employs a typical general purpose hunting saddle.
The dressage rider rides collected with long legs on a straight cut dressage saddle; the show jumper rides with shortened stirrup leathers on a jumping saddle with deep knee rolls.
Some of the hunting fraternity sit back and ride with their legs out front; forward riders sit with weight up front on the stirrups and lean forwards when going downhill at the canter or gallop.
Some weekend riders utilise a style not described in any manual but as long as they have control of their horse and they don’t come off, who cares?

Many owners of a horse in Britain buy a new saddle when they buy the horse. Unlike the standard Western saddle, the English cut saddle must fit the shape of the horse's back and must also suit the purpose - there is little room for error if the horse is not to get back ache. Some horses have several saddles, each saddle suiting better a purpose than another of a different design. As much as there is in variance in the saddles so too is there a range of bridles and bits and other leather accessories. Suffice it to say that the British horse has an extensive tailored to measure wardrobe and that is before one counts the horse blankets.

To be continued

    10-09-2009, 11:32 AM
Chat Moderator
Barry Godden that is very interesting.

I exspecially like this part.

Although an experienced rider could use either cut of saddle in either method except he could not rope successfully a steer from an English saddle. Likewise the horn and cut of a Western saddle would inhibit any jumping. Is one system better than the other? - No - each system has its advantages.
    10-09-2009, 05:10 PM
Now what can be more American than Custer’s 7th Cavalry?
Err... The Lakota who whipped Custer's butt?

Seriously, this is interesting reading. However - speaking from my position of utter & complete ignorance - both English and Western have rather serious image problems, at least as this outsider sees them. English? Like you're ever going to get me to dress up in jodphurs, a jacket, and top hat, and spend the day riding around a ring? Western? Then I'd need the boots and Stetson, and the "Big Hat, No Cattle" attitude.

I don't want to buy into any kind of image, I just want to have an enjoyable (for all parties) day.
    10-09-2009, 05:29 PM
If you don't plan on showing, you can ride english or western and wear whatever you like. I ride western and I don't even own wranglers or a cowboy hat. I will borrow a hat for shows if I must...but that's about it.

Breeches I will wear just so I don't rub in funky places but otherwise I wear some half chaps and a polo. :)
    10-09-2009, 06:33 PM
Chat Moderator
Originally Posted by jamesqf    
Err... The Lakota who whipped Custer's butt?

Seriously, this is interesting reading. However - speaking from my position of utter & complete ignorance - both English and Western have rather serious image problems, at least as this outsider sees them. English? Like you're ever going to get me to dress up in jodphurs, a jacket, and top hat, and spend the day riding around a ring? Western? Then I'd need the boots and Stetson, and the "Big Hat, No Cattle" attitude.

I don't want to buy into any kind of image, I just want to have an enjoyable (for all parties) day.
Both can have that imagine problem, but I wouldn't say that the negitive imagine is 100% true either.

And speaking of the 7th Cavalry, it must be remembered that from the day Liddy Custer learned of her husband's defeat and death until her death. She did everything possible to kept his memory in the public eye, that plus he was a glory boy in the Civil War. And he unlike most other officer of his day, he knew how to use the press and did so while he was on the frontier. When the Cavalry is talked about exspecially about the that time period (the old west) usually the 7th, and the buffalo regiments (9th and 10th regiments) are the subject.
    10-10-2009, 01:11 AM
Originally Posted by Spastic_Dove    
If you don't plan on showing, you can ride english or western and wear whatever you like.
Sure - I just meant that those are the impressions that one gets, looking from the outside; impressions which (to my mind, at least), are less attractive than the reality. It's like thinking you have to dress up as a faux Tour de France competitor in order to bike to work

Then there's another question that nags at me: why just English or Western? Take those Lakota that did for Custer: how did they train & ride their horses? It must have been effective, to enable them to e.g. Use a bow or lance while riding among a buffalo herd. And for those of us who lack either a pack of foxhounds or a herd of longhorns (and what an impoverished age this is, to be sure ), perhaps as practical a way of relating to riding.
    10-10-2009, 04:02 AM
In Britain, except for going to shows, one does not have to dress up to ride but having said that:

The riding hat is a must - nowadays almost compulsory for a variety of reasons.

The riding pants : of whatever pattern and whatever colour and whatever material but bought specifically for the job and cut to allow free movement on horse back

The riding "shoes" ie long boots, of leather, pvc, rubber
Or short boots with gaiters - again whatever is found in the tack shop but there is a very wide range of choice.

The jacket - well a specialist cut riding jacket, chosen from literally hundred of designs in different colours in different materials

Which means that for horse riding the rider can choose specialist clothing, designed to fulfill a purpose, however one can still dress individually through choice without having to conform to a dress code.

Until the rider enters the competition ring, freedom of choice is univeral but with the show ring comes the tradition of everyone riding wearing the same cut and colour of clothes.

Neither my wife nor I own a traditional black hunting jacket nor do we ever wear riding shirts nor stocks.
But there again, we do not compete.

Some fancy fox hunts still enforce a rigid dress code -
Ie black jackets, white/fawn jodhs, black/brown leather/pvc boots but the minor hunts out in the country, mostly the farmers hunts, then you can wear pretty much what you like as long as you can stay dry and warm.

In my opinion the concept of "dressing up" is more associated with the female urge to "follow fashion" and "look the part" than a present day convention of wearing the "correct" riding apparel.

Increasingly riders hacking out within traffic on minor country roads and lanes wear a dayglo, bright yellow, or bright red jacket or waist coat to bring their presence to the attention of car drivers. Noone looks elegant wearing a fluorescent jacket.

As for men, well the physical problem of sitting on a saddle in comfort is assisted by wearing the right "trousers". The thick seam running down the inside leg of a pair of jeans rubs the inner thigh.

Barry G
    10-10-2009, 04:23 AM
One suspects that the Lakotas and the other tribes caught or "found" their horses, The horses probably did not come ready tacked up with saddle and bridle. So they started from scratch - they knew that one sat on the horse and that the horse could be controlled. So they experimented and found for themselves the best way of riding. Stacy Westfall illustrates very well that one does not "need" a saddle or bridle & bit to ride and control a horse at speed.

The "whites" came from a society where there was a tradition of riding and they would invariably have been influenced by the availability of ready made saddles.
They would to a greater or lesser degree have been taught by others who already knew how to use a saddle and bridle according to tradition.

The making of saddles and bridles calls for quite a sophisticated industry and technology which the tribes did not have access to.

What is a real problem for any grouping that does not read or write is the transfer of knowledge from one generation down to the next. Through singing, chanting, wise men - fine, a certain amount of knowledge and history can be transferred down the generations but not that much.
The tribes did discover the horse blanket quite quickly together with the bosal. I'd say they were clever folks.

Custer - well as a Brit all I can say is that he still has a world wide image of being an all American hero, who made more than one serious mistake - but that is usually par for the course with generals of any nation - is it not?
We Brits have more than our fair share of famous generals - relatively few of whom actually died in battle.

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