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WalkerH 11-23-2010 01:34 PM

Transition from English to Western
So I have ridden English all my life, well for about five years now. Next summer, when I graduate high school, I am going to be getting a horse. But the couple of times I have ridden Western I have found it so much more comfortable then English, granted these times have been far and few between. Anyways I know most of you are going to be like oh you are going to be getting a horse...blah blah blah, you shouldn't have these questions if you are getting a new horse.

Well first off my riding instructor lives within walking distance, like almost literally across the street so I will continue to take lessons at her house with the new horse. Anyways I was wondering what the huge difference and what are some major points I should realize and know before making the transition from English to Western style of riding?

charlicata 11-23-2010 02:58 PM

Does your instructor deal with western horses at all? If not, have you asked if they would work with you and the horse if you did decide to go Western? I've had a couple of horses that were started out English and carried over to Western just fine. In their cases, it was a matter of getting used to the different saddle, and it did take a little time, but I didn't have any help. I personally find Western more comfortable and relaxing. But I'm sure there are people that would say the exact opposite. Hopefully, somebody else on here will be able to give you some better insight.

franknbeans 11-23-2010 03:13 PM

Well, I have ridden english for 40+ yrs, and am now trying to change over. The challenge I am having is steering.:lol: I know neck reining, and have done some over the years, but I never realized how totally insecure I feel without SOME contact. Actually, my new trainer in Va wants me to direct the horse almost totally with weight and legs. No rein at all. My horse is also still a bit green, so that causes some issues in communication. We are making progress tho, and learning, which is good!:D

WalkerH 11-23-2010 06:12 PM

To Charlicata: Yes, actually she mainly teaches western riding. I have only been riding with her for a little over half a year now, because we just recently moved. But we have discussed making the transition and she said she would be totally game for it. She had only been teaching English for eight years, while western for twenty I believe.

To franknbeans: Well that is reassuring. I have done leg and weight work when it comes to steering before, although I felt so insecure, but it has improved. I hope you come along well. =) Thank you for the advice, I just hope it will be smooth for the horse also.

Eliz 11-23-2010 07:07 PM

When I change back and forth (depends on the horse lol) I always get sore ;P

Obviously in english you use a lot more legs, so when I'm not used to it I'm always sore the next day.

When I haven't ridden western in a while I really feel it in my hips, I guess from stretching my legs down and the wide saddle stretching my hip down.

It's so fun though, and good to be well-rounded. Each has improved each other. Have fun! :)

WalkerH 11-23-2010 07:13 PM

To Eliz: Oh gosh I know what you meant. Last Spring I took off lessons for lacrosse, for three months. When I finally got back the next day I was just about dead. I forgot I used like every muscle in my body. But it was well worth it to get back on a horse.

xxBarry Godden 11-24-2010 04:18 AM

If you have been riding for 5 years the you should have no problem converting over to Western. The seat position is similar. and the bigger Western saddle is designed to hold the rider firmly in place.

Most Westerners will direct the horse by the leg and weight shift - so if you have been taught classically then you’ll have to learn to keep your leg on - watch Stacey Westfall video and see how she rides without bridle or reins. A well schooled Western horse will turn to match the turn of your body so look where you are going.

The big difference is contact. English will ride with full contact at all times on a shortened rein giving permanent contact with the horse’s mouth whereas Westerners allow a long rein and the horse takes up a long and low outline.

The Westerners mostly seem to fit a lever bit which can be fierce but which provokes a sliding stop but if you can swop to an English snaffle bit then you can ride in Western gear but bring the horse’s nose down a little and ride in permanent contact the English way. But take care, Western horses are taught as a matter of principle at a young age to stop sharply on command.

The Western horse might at the beginning object to not having full use of its head and neck but try riding the horse in an arena with shortened reins held in two hands and see what happens. Always when riding a new horse, check at the beginning, before you set off on the ride, how the horse responds to the aids. Do a few turns and halts and starts.

In the meantime at home on your English horse learn now to ride English with both reins held in one hand - Westerners usually use only one hand but they use the weight of the long loose reins as a light pressure on the horse’s mouth. A Western horse will neck rein - ie respond to the feel of the reins lying on its neck and it will respond to respond to voice commands just like any other horse. Any English horse can be taught to neck rein.

As with all riding tuition, the theory can be taught by a human but in the end it is the horse that teaches you how to sit. Make sure that at the beginning you get a quiet well schooled Western horse. Personally I like to ride a horse which naturally carries its neck high - so if you have any choice look out for a Morgan or a Thorobred.

When I have ridden in the US, the cowboys merely checked to see that I had control of the horse and that the horse was happy with me aboard. They are not so fussed about perfect style as are we modern day English riders. The Westerner will lope rather than trot - so practice sitting in to a slow canter.

To me the impression I got is that the Western rider allows the horse the freedom to get on with it and carry the rider, whereas the English rider wants to be in full charge all of the time. I’d like to see more English riders learn to appreciate the differences in the two styles.

Have fun.

PS You can wear a simple cross country skull cap under a Western hat - those cowboy hats don't give much protection to the head.

xxBarry Godden 11-24-2010 06:54 AM

After writing the post about how an English rider could take up Western I sat and thought about how I could introduce my mare DiDi to an old friend of mine who has his own horses in Texas. DiDi is a well schooled Irish Sports horse who has the sharpness, intelligence and sparkle to win at competition but she is no easy ride even for a well trained English rider.

When thinking through an encounter I realise that my friend would be horrified at the skittishness of my mare and he would be determined to either retrain her or to offer her up as a bucking bronco. I myself accept that if she is asked and persuaded to perform then I can get more from her than ever by trying to subdue her. If I were to try to discipline the spirit out of DiDi then she would be broken. As a result I am prone to pander to her whims but whilst she is winning at dressage who am I to complain.
My cowboy friend would simply not understand, he is of a different school of thinking.

However I have access to a tough little (15h2) cob and he would be better suited for my friend to ride. Yes from time to time he might drop his shoulder and buck but that would be no problem. The horse will ride on a long loose rein and his trot is very choppy, so slow canters are in fact a better pace at which to ride him. I often ride him with the reins in one hand. He will accept the occasional tap of the whip and, anyway, he needs kicking on from time to time. All that would phase my Texan friend would be riding in the English semi rural civilisation with the constant noise, the heavy traffic and the barking dogs.

For him come to appreciate my pretty mare would take far too long for a quick visit. If I gave her to him, then for sure he’d quickly put her to stud.

charlicata 11-24-2010 10:31 AM

Not all Western horses here in the US are like that Barry. I've had some that did have good breaks...and some that had practically no breaks. As far as the sliding stop, the only time that any of the one's I've had has come to a sliding stop was this last time I came off after my gelding got spooked and took off. And not all western horses neck rein. My little TWH mare is 17, and has been learning to neck rein. On the other hand my TWH gelding is 10, and does very well at neck reining. I do generally ride with one hand, but with my mare, the other hand is needed from time to time to slightly enforce the neck reining. But before these guys, I had never owned (or ridden) a horse that would neck rein. Also, with the leg pressure, my mare has no response to it other than picking up the pace. The gelding will respond. As far as being laid back, I've had some horses that were, and some that weren't. My gelding is anything but laid back when in a crowd, but if by himself he's very laid back. I can't just let him go about his business because I take him on a lot of organized trail rides where most people want to walk and enjoy the scenery. Both of my guys hold a high headset but that's not because I jack them up with a lever bit, it's because they're naturally that way. My mare, I ride with very limited contact...while my gelding is limited contact when alone, or light to heavy contact when in a group.

The Morgans I have had contact with were generally calm. Unfortunately I have only seen a couple of Thorobreds that were very calm (but then again I haven't had much contact with them). From what I personally have seen, in my very limited amount of contact, they are mostly used for fox hunting, jumping, dressage, and racing. This is by no means saying that they cannot or are not used for western. The Saddle Breds that I have had also carried a naturally high headset while being ridden Western. And those I did ride in a snaffle bit.

WalkerH: I'm very glad that your instructor has had experience training and teaching western. Have you thought about having her go with you to look at the horse? It would be a good idea to have trained set of eyes and ears with you, not to mention someone who could tell you if the horse fits what you're looking for, and how your interaction is with the horse. She would be good to have somebody there that is being led by their experience, instead of being led by their heart.

I wish you the very best of luck in your search!!!!!

tinyliny 11-24-2010 02:43 PM


I love your posts. Your command of the English language is a joy to read. And your descriptions are colorful and engaging. I do agree, however, that your description of the Western horse was perhaps a bit stereotypical. Who can blame you, however, if your only experience is with some cowboys, perhaps at a dude ranch?
Most western trainers nowadays ride as much direct reining as they do neck reining. The horse is, however, taught to carry itself with little or very light contact and be extremely responsive to the slightest lift of a rein. This can be assisted by the use of heavy rope reins and slobber straps, which amplify any change of weight/pressure in a rein.
I agree with you personnally that some folks train every bit of spritely behavior out of the horse in the name of making it a "dead broke" horse, for funcionality, I pressume. Such horses do seem dead.
On the other hand, I have seen a lot of English horses (hunters, jumpers and some dressage mounts) that may be good under saddle but their ground manners are attrocious, to the point of the handler basically having a wild thing on the end of piece of leather line, and trying to control that by gripping an inch or so below the bit, and "hoping". Why would anyone NOT want their horse to have good ground manners?

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