I talked to the owner again this morning to see about scheduling another time to go out with a snaffle bit and an English saddle. I told her about everyone here being concerned with my ruining him for WP or other western sports. She told me that she has moved on from this horse and if she does ride him it will be at low level shows this summer. They love this horse too much to send him off to the first person to come around, but also don't want him anymore.
Essentially this horse is retired for them and they have moved on. I'm more than happy to give him a job and see what we can do together.
She has encouraged me to do what I want with him and both she and her dad, who I will be working with the most often since she lives 2 hours away, have told me that if he is not working out then I do not have to lease him.
Clippityclop - that's exactly what I'm wondering. I guess this is a 'you don't know until you try' type of thing. I know enough about training any kind of animal to be able to tell when they're unhappy or if it's too much for me to handle.
And please, before you decide that wanting a direct reining option means I don't trust the horse educate yourself about what Dressage really is. Having contact on the mouth has nothing to do with trust issues and needing full control. It's all about a different style of riding. I'm perfectly fine with a huge loop in the reins or just laying them on the neck while going around a field or out on the trail. If the horse spooks or refuses to go forward having my hands on his mouth isn't going to help me stay on or persuade him to move.