People need to realize that a western pleasure horse does not move like an english horse. The horse doesn't look lame to me whatsoever, and I imagine places quite high in western discipline breed shows.
It sounds like you were surprised that he transitioned so well to bride-less. I was too, but then I thought about it... how often do we even use our reins riding western? I ask for Java's headset in the beginning and then pretty much leave him be. Looks like your guy even just naturally goes into the headset.