I wrote this a few years ago. It might help with the discussion
ENGLISH to WESTERN
The pretty equine which occupies my stable is a 15H2, 7 yo, Irish Draught X Connemara Mare. DiDi is dapple gray, with a broad back and a powerful rump. She’s not that tall in the modern fashion but she is up to weight, and would make an ideal hunter: that is a chaser of foxes over uneven terrain. Trouble is she is Irish and as intelligent, strong minded and as crafty as they come. When up on her back, just think of what you are about to do and she has done it. She is light, sensitive and intuitive. And that quiet friendly demeanour in the stable yard is just a front - she knows what she wants out of this life and she makes sure that she gets it from her humans. The way to her heart is with food - she is always ready to eat. - just in case the grass stops growing. Don’t raise your voice to her and never use a whip on her.
When up on her back the slightest movement of the hand, the leg or the seat will provoke a response in her. Turn your head to the right, drop your shoulder, twitch that under muscle of the right thigh and she’ll turn. Squeeze the leg just a fraction, hesitate a second and she’ll stop. Trouble is, if she wants to be, she’s skittish then she’ll come off all four feet and hop sideways by a yard before the rider even sees the hazard. If the wind blows, a dog barks, a car revs up then her ears will go up and the rider must be ready for a shy. If you tense up in anticipation, then she’ll sense the tension and start to worry about why the rider is concerned. If she does shy, it will be a sharp vicious, powerful whirl off her hind quarters around to the left. Oh, and I forgot, she hates flies. She’ll shake her head, bend her neck and vibrate her skin whenever a flies hums past but she won’t allow you to spray her with fly killer, she doesn’t like the smell. So just what would I get from buying her a Western saddle.
Well for a start I’d have to be careful with the fit - DiDi is close coupled.
I wouldn’t need a horn because I can’t work a lariat, anyway there are no steers to round up.
I don’t carry any gear when riding, so there is no purpose for any of the traditional laces or rings.
A regular levered Western bit would too fierce for DiDi so I’d probably use a simple European snaffle affixed to a one eared bridle.
I could use Western reins but would prefer to use English with a buckle.
I always use a Western training halter, so there would be no change there.
A Stetson does not provide enough protection for the head especially when riding in woodland, so, it would have to be a typical English lightweight riding hat.
English johds are cut especially for riding with pads for the inside of the knee but I suppose one could wear jeans.
I’d still wear under the shirt a broad elasticised belt to give a little protection to the lower spine and to support the lower back I’d always chose a padded, lightweight but waterproof riding jacket Western boots are fine but I never wear spurs of any pattern for any horse.
Mounting up would be easy. There would be no reason for a third party to hold the stirrup iron and I would not have to worry about tightening the girth.
I would have to sort out the length of the stirrup leathers so as to ride longer legged than I would normally choose to do with English stirrup irons
I‘d take up the reins with one hand and hold them high on a long loosely looped rein. There would be less contact with the mouth than I am used to and I’d only be using one hand to hold the two reins. The horse could stretch its head down long and low but she would have a little more freedom in the neck to move than I would normally allow
She might wonder where my hands were because she is used to feeling them sensitively working the bit. She steadies herself off the bit even when not being ridden “rounded and on the bit“.
She would expect my weight to be distributed evenly in the saddle and more forward towards her centre of gravity but the Western saddle might disperse my weight differently - perhaps further back.
English stirrup irons are there to keep the feet still, Western stirrups are there to carry some of the rider’s weight.
It would be interesting to see how much of my thigh muscles she can feel through a blanket and a heavy saddle. Would I have to prod her more with my heels ?
She can feel the weight of the reins, but will she neck rein without some tuition?
How much back pressure on the reins will it take to slow her? Would she like being allowed off the bit? What would happen if I sit back in the saddle and lean back, will she shoot forwards as the broad skirt of the saddle digs into her back.
We would have to re-establish a system of weight shift communication. It is all about subtlety really.
I like riding DiDi English because she is so sensitive to my body language. Would I lose that close contact by riding Western?
When mounted English, I can feel her soul through my thighs and legs. By watching her ears and the position of her head, I can read her mind. Will I have lost a element of communication with her by riding Western?
She hasn’t been taught to do emergency stops though and if she were to get moving then stopping her might prove to be tricky. It is not good practice to let this mare think she is in charge.
For her part, she might appreciate my 225lbs of body weight being spread more evenly over her back. She would certainly like the additional freedom given by the long loose reins which would allow her to move her head and she might take advantage.
I might be able to sit into her slow jog but whether she will slow canter steadily without tending to speed up is another question. Anyway the canter is not a pace for tarmac surfaces. Normally to move at the speed of a slow canter, she would be working in extended trot on the tarmac lanes hereabouts. I wonder which pace we would come to use when riding the lanes and up and down the hills. The Trot is a very useful pace for roadwork.
Even to think about the concept has proved to be an interesting exercise. I think maybe I should try out one of the treeless saddles which are mostly cut to a Western pattern.
You never know the trial might fool my Girl and give me the upper hand for a change.
B G .