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Trying western after 15 years of English

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        12-28-2013, 03:33 PM
      #31
    Super Moderator
    I took some western lessons last year and found that the seat was barely any different to that used in dressage - actually less different to the seat and leg position used in jumping
    These were horses that were taught to work in a collected frame and the actual contact (they were all in snaffles) was no different to the way it should be in an English horse (they should not be held in frame by a vice like grip) it was simply done on a longer rein so it was a case of learning how to hold those reins to ask for that contact - not a totally different sort of contact. The end result was no different
    You can be a passenger drifting along on an English horse - that is not exclusive to western riders. In either discipline it all depends on what you want out of it and how much work you're prepared to put in
    No one can understand or appreciate the difference unless they've experienced it first hand
         
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        12-28-2013, 04:03 PM
      #32
    Started
    Well Jaydee, I started to colour the bits of your response to which I agreed - then suddenly I realised I agreed, pretty much, with all of what you had written.

    BG
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        12-28-2013, 06:50 PM
      #33
    Trained
    "These were horses that were taught to work in a collected frame and the actual contact (they were all in snaffles) was no different to the way it should be in an English horse..."

    Were those lessons outside an arena?

    Modest collection works fine outside of the arena, but modest collection does NOT require a 'headset', nor does it require contact. If the rider shifts his balance to the rear, most horses will follow. If you spend time doing circles and turns and changes of direction, any horse will work better during those times with the rider's weight to the rear, just as they can move forward better when the rider's weight is more forward.

    But that does not require a headset. It does not require "a collected frame". Arguably, all good riding rejects a 'frame' and insists on balance and movement, with the outward appearance following.

    Nor does it require a horse to be 'on the bit'. Not per the FEI definition, and not even with a bit in its mouth. Lilly was a green-broke Arabian mare when I started riding her. She weighed around 775, so my 180 lbs plus saddle was a significant load for her - roughly 27% of her weight, and her with very little time under saddle. I also was riding her in a sidepull halter...and yes, she soon learned to adjust her balance without bit, headset or frame. It wass the practice of motion and balance that taught her what worked and what did not work - not a headset.

    As for contact: I have long argued that the weight of the reins, particularly when amplified by the leverage of a shanked bit, forms its own sort of 'contact'. But it is NOT the same as the English form, since you use the weight of the reins and your hand position. When riding Mia in a snaffle, I use my little finger to adjust the pull. With a shanked bit, using one hand, I adjust my hand position and that signals the horse...but it has a very different feel to me than using 2 hands on a snaffle.

    I would argue it is a better approach for a beginner, since it is harder to mess it up, and easier for an instructor to see what you are doing. And while quoting authors seems to be frowned upon, VS Littauer also argued later in life that a beginning rider should be taught with slack in the reins - which can also be done with a snaffle bit.

    In some traditions, such as the California Vaquero style (bridle horse), that is then refined to form a very genuine sort of contact via a spade bit, with the end state a very collected horse - very similar to dressage.

    However, my original contention remains. Few people train bridle horses. Few western riders train for collected gaits. Most train for what Littauer called "gathering" - a temporary shift in balance to achieve a short-term goal, or to prepare the horse for a sudden turn, a jump, or acceleration. That is a different sort of balance shift and requires a different level of strength compared to a collected gait, and thus western riders talk about teaching their 3 year old horse to collect in a month.

    What I wrote in my first post on this thread remains true, at least in southern Arizona:

    "The norm in western riding is to drop the idea of 'contact' and headset. Ride with slack in the reins, and let the horse choose its head position. You can direct rein still if you wish, but the goal is to transition to using one hand. With a curb bit, moving your one hand up, back, left, right - without taking all the slack out of the reins - will communicate your goal to your horse...once trained."

    I know western riders who use snaffles, including my youngest daughter. But regardless of snaffle or curb, the norm where I live is to transition both horse and rider to one hand, slack in the reins, and a freely moving head that allows the horse to seek its own balance and to see whatever the horse thinks it needs to see. I've yet to see a western rider on a trail riding in a frame, or seeking a headset. The instructor I took lessons from, and another instructor my daughter took lessons from, wanted a relaxed, flexible neck and poll and jaw, but never used or taught to seek a headset. Apart from HF, I've never heard a western rider use the word "headset".

    Maybe that means I hang out with inferior riders. I think it makes the folks I know better riders, because they are not trying to ride the head!

    "You can be a passenger drifting along on an English horse - that is not exclusive to western riders."

    You do not become "a passenger drifting along" if you reject contact and being on the bit. Darn it, if Mia can be responsive to me without contact or being on the bit, then it simply is not that hard! If you have not experienced a responsive, listening horse while riding one handed with slack in the reins, without seeking a headset, then come out to Arizona some time.
         
        12-28-2013, 09:04 PM
      #34
    Super Moderator
    "As for contact: I have long argued that the weight of the reins, particularly when amplified by the leverage of a shanked bit, forms its own sort of 'contact'. But it is NOT the same as the English form, since you use the weight of the reins and your hand position. When riding Mia in a snaffle, I use my little finger to adjust the pull. With a shanked bit, using one hand, I adjust my hand position and that signals the horse...but it has a very different feel to me than using 2 hands on a snaffle."


    The heaviness of the contact is entirely up to the horse. If the rider makes contact on the bit, either via a direct rein or via the lifted weight of a heavy rein on a shanked curb bit, the horse's willingness to respond to the signal is what sets how much contact needs to be used. If Mia goes will without much contact it's becuase she has learned to be soft and available to you the instant you lift the rein, so you have no need to go harder. (good on you for having that training). A horse that has not been trained to recognize the presignal of a raised rein will need more contact before he 'hears" the rider and recognizes and give to the contact. If the rider rewards the instant the horse gives, then you are building softness and responsiveness. You CAN let the hrose go on a long rein becuase he is available to you at the ligthtest touch. He will stop or turn without you needing to apply a lot of contact becuase he has set the reponse level very low. That's a soft, well trained horse.

    You can ride on the same long , loose rein on a horse that does not recognize contact or know what to do with it, and you will have to apply a LOT for the horse to give to it, like when stopping or turning. That horse's response level is really high. Riding him on a long rein will not teach him to respect the bit and be soft and available. He can, however, be taught to be that way, but it might mean you have to put on some REAL contact at first, a lot stronger.

    See, the horse sets the amount of contact that is needed, with training, he can learn to require very little. But it's not the same as a horse running on a very loose rein that when the rider picks up the contact, does not know what that means.
    bsms and jaydee like this.
         
        12-28-2013, 10:58 PM
      #35
    Trained
    Training is important, and I'm sure the feel is different for a horse as well. One of the many mistakes I've made with Mia was trying for contact, but not being quick enough to give her release. My hands were light, in terms of lbs of pressure, but they were not responsive to her. Since she didn't get the release at the right time, even if the pressures involved were small, she would become frustrated and start up with what I now realize are classic bit evasions - everything from nose at chest to rooting. My error, her frustration.

    When we switched to curb and using the weight of the rein, she sometimes seemed lost. She stopped well, but it took her a while to realize the reins would stay loose unless I needed something specific from her. If I wanted her to 'collect', I might bump the reins briefly if she tried to root around, but otherwise I would shift my weight back and wait for her to follow...or maybe do some turns to 'force' her weight back.

    I'm not saying it is wrong to ride with contact, English style. My screwing it up does not mean others screw it up, and far too many great riders use contact to good effect for me to suggest it is wrong. But the Texas style of western riding kept one hand free to work a rope, and it would be darn tough to ride with contact and one-handed, particularly if you were doing something like cutting cattle, or even moving tough cattle.

    So the western approach was to use slack reins, sometimes amplified by leverage. One aspect I've seen but still do not use is from using one hand with split reins. At least when the splits hang down each side, moving the hand also slides the rein against the horse's shoulder. When I do it, Mia responds much faster to the neck rein input, so apparently that feel is its own cue to her. I normally ride with a single loop rein, but eventually will switch to split reins because she responds better with leather split reins.

    Western riding is rooted in ranch work and rough country. It is also rooted in the rider having more to do that just ride the horse, so it adapted to a style where the rider pays less attention to the horse and where the horse assumes responsibility for keeping its footing and avoiding gopher holes, cactus, etc.

    The guy in the picture owned Trooper's sire and dam, although the breeding was unintentional. Trooper spent his early years as a ranch horse. He didn't work the land in this picture because my friend's lease to run sheep and cattle there expired before Trooper was born - but they still run cattle to the south. To understand western riding, it helps to appreciate what the west can be like. They used to run sheep and cattle thru the bottom land in the canyon:



    An English trained horse can learn western, and vice-versa. Riders can learn different styles, too. But it doesn't seem radical to me to say they ARE different, and different for good reason.

    I'm trying to adjust to using a western saddle. I primarily rode English and Australian designs. Maybe it is just MY rump, but they sure feel very different to me. If Mia didn't move better in a western saddle, I wouldn't switch. But she does, so I am...and they sure do not feel interchangeable to me! The weight distribution, the loss of feel of her back, the loss of contact between my calves and my horse - it all feels weird to me. But I honestly do not see the point of changing tack if one doesn't also change one's approach to match the capability and history of the tack. I may love a forward seat, but I need to make some big changes in how I ride to get good use out of a western saddle.
         
        12-28-2013, 11:12 PM
      #36
    Super Moderator
    There are folks in Australia that run cattle in country pretty darn near as rough, and do it in snaffles and Aussie saddles.
         
        12-29-2013, 12:44 AM
      #37
    Trained
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jaydee    
    I took some western lessons last year and found that the seat was barely any different to that used in dressage - actually less different to the seat and leg position used in jumping
    These were horses that were taught to work in a collected frame and the actual contact (they were all in snaffles) was no different to the way it should be in an English horse (they should not be held in frame by a vice like grip) it was simply done on a longer rein so it was a case of learning how to hold those reins to ask for that contact - not a totally different sort of contact. The end result was no different
    You can be a passenger drifting along on an English horse - that is not exclusive to western riders. In either discipline it all depends on what you want out of it and how much work you're prepared to put in
    No one can understand or appreciate the difference unless they've experienced it first hand
    Quite, thank you for being concise and sharing your personal EXPERIENCE, can't beat actual experience.
    jaydee likes this.
         
        12-29-2013, 06:27 AM
      #38
    Started
    We experienced riders should be training our horses to fulfil the roles in our lives, which we have in mind for both the rider and the horse.

    In the UK, my mare was acquired to carry me out into the community and the countryside. The horse was to be trained to ignore the noises of both vehicles and people. At such times, when coming upon something strange, the horse would seek reassurance, which was to be given by the rider's voice, seat, calves and the hands through the bit.

    I felt it to be counter productive to ride my horse in a full rounded outline since that would distress her since she was at the beginning of her time with me, she was not fully trained and muscled to adopt the full rounded pose for extended periods. And if I am honest, neither was I, as the rider, fit to adopt the dressage pose.

    I usually rode her into the community with two hands and a very light contact. Keeping horse and rider in a relaxed mode was always the aim. When it was necessary to negotiate a possible obstacle - such as for example meeting along the track a pedestrian with a dog, then I would shorten the reins so as to inform my horse not to be worried. As my hands would already be in contact, only the lightest of aid need be given to the horse - perhaps as little as a tightening of the fingers on the reins.

    However, when DiDi was training for competitive dressage, where a full rounded outline was called for, I reduced significantly my own riding of her, since the dressage trainer always rode in a rounded outline. At that stage of her training, DiDi might have become confused by the two styles of riding: dressage or hacking. (Unbeknown to me at the time, there were other undiscovered health issues which were affecting DiDi's moods).

    Generally speaking, the narrow single track width lanes of rural England are unsuitable for riding on a loose one handed contact. Also, if a horse gets used to riding on a light two handed contact, then mostly it will seek out contact on both reins.

    Again I suggest the saying: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"

    B G
    bsms likes this.
         
        12-29-2013, 11:00 AM
      #39
    Trained
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tinyliny    
    there are folks in Australia that run cattle in country pretty darn near as rough, and do it in snaffles and Aussie saddles.
    Yes, but they also don't rope their cattle, IIRC. It tends to look like this:





    I love Australian saddles - at least the style, I don't have the money for a real one - and I love the position. I'm not quite as thrilled with the use of reins..but in fairness, the amount of time actually spent chasing a cow that hard & close is pretty small. Pictures of cowboys in a roping competition wouldn't look much nicer. But I'd be curious if Australians, riding on a ranch, seek a headset or ride around in a 'frame'. I doubt it, but I don't live in Australia and only visited it once. The guys campdrafting above obviously are not seeking a headset!

    In Arizona and Utah, outside of an arena, I haven't seen anyone riding western with a headset. I also have not heard a western rider, outside of the Internet, say, "headset". And in making my own switch from Australian saddles to western, I've noticed it does does some things I like, and others I do not.

    I've never said riding with contact is wrong. I've never said putting a horse on the bit is wrong. My daughter rides western, and she uses snaffles. My western riding lessons used snaffles - but not a headset! I've merely said a headset is not part of the non-bridle western tradition, and it is ill suited for riding rough country. As an Australian wrote in 1890:

    Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
    Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
    And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
    At the bottom of that terrible descent.

    If someone wants to ride western, I recommend riding western, and not riding English in Western tack. When I ride 'English' as shown below, I do not pretend I'm really riding English:



    It isn't evil, but neither is it true English riding...
         
        12-29-2013, 11:33 AM
      #40
    Super Moderator
    [QUOTE=bsms;4398049
    Were those lessons outside an arena?

    You do not become "a passenger drifting along" if you reject contact and being on the bit.[/QUOTE]

    I really don't know what you mean by your first question - it really isn't possible to give effective lessons to someone outside of an arena. Teaching requires the trainer to be able to stand and watch the student
    The horses they use are mostly working ranch horses, some also compete in Western Dressage and some in Horse Agility/Trail Riding competitions
    If you have no contact with your horses mouth at any given time (unless its trained to work completely off your legs, including being able to spur stop) then you are just a passenger. If the horse suddenly spooks then you're reliant on either jabbing it in the mouth or it understanding a one rein stop to restrain it quickly
    It is possible to ride a horse on a long rein and still have it 'on the bit'
    All of my horses have had to work in collection for jumping, showing, dressage, even hunting yet they still have no problem hacking/trail riding on a loose rein where safety allows. They can gallop flat out, long and low, necks outstretched one moment and be doing a collected canter the next.
    That is what training achieves.
    Golden Horse likes this.
         

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