Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
I also tend to ride a forward position in a western saddle. When I took lessons, it resulted in my hearing "Get on your pockets!" a lot. So I also learned to ride on my pockets...but a forwards seat just feels good to me. My horses all have short backs, and I think they respond well to a forward seat.
Still, nrhareiner is right about the effect of a saddle. I tend to ride forward in my Circle Y Arabian saddle, but I'm fighting the saddle to do so. That may be why 90% of my riding is now in my Aussie-style saddle...the saddle is designed to do what I like to do. Why fight it?
The forward leg seen in many of the cowboy pictures isn't used much now, but the saddles were designed with that in mind at the time. I still use it sometimes. If I want my mare to relax a little, I can shove my feet forward, settle on my pockets, and she usually responds by taking a notch off the pace.
If my horses get wound up, their heads come up. Then I usually raise my hands with them, settle into the seat, feet forward - and I start to look a LOT like the old-time cowboy pictures.
Something V.S. Littauer's book taught me - and it probably is obvious to everyone else - is that your seat is fluid. We look at pictures, frozen in time, with no momentum, and judge a position. But the horse is moving, what you want to do next is changing, and thus your seat, legs, and hands need to be changing to match your horse and your goal.
On rocky trails, surrounded by cactus, I ride with a long leg. I'm not jumping ANYTHING! If I'm in a place where a gallop might make sense, my stirrups may come up some, and I'll be ready to ride forward. But if I want a tight turn, my shoulders go back, my pockets are under me, and my horse will dig in and turn faster with better balance.
V.S. Littauer also makes the point that certain individuals, because of how their body is put together, may find they have better balance when they are doing something 'wrong'. I have very tight hips, and I'm sure some of what I do is in response.
With regard to the thread, the saddles of the day had cantles up to 8 inches, IIRC. I also believe their stirrups were further forward. The horses were built more like my little Appy - 14.3 hands, 840 lbs. The work was dangerous, no hope of medical help if things went wrong, and done by men in their late teens or early 20s, on horses that were barely broke at the beginning of the season. 12 hours in the saddle was an easy day. I'm willing to bet they rode the way they did because it made sense for what they were doing.
"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."