WESTERN/ENGLISH Riding Part II
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Last time we touch on the differences between an English and a Western saddle. Today I thought I'd talk a bit more about the tack as well as the actual riding styles.
The two pictures above are both of show horses, and although the grey on the left is trotting, while the sorrel on the right is walking, I think it show quite clearly the difference in the two disciplines.
The English rider is riding on a show or dressage saddle, and uses both hands on the double reins with short stirrups and a bent knee, with a straight line running through the knee to the toe. The horse is 'between hand and heel' with its head up and its hind legs well under it. Although English riders often say they think a Western curb bit is severe, note the curb bit in the 'double or show bridle,' and in fact the horse has two bits in its mouth, the second one being a small snaffle or 'bradoon'. There is also a curb chain running under the horse's jaw. An experienced rider like the one shown can use each bit to raise or lower the horse's head to the required position. For normal pleasure riding, most English riders usually use a plain snaffle bit with a single rein, and noseband, sometimes with a running or standing martingale to prevent the horse tossing its head around and for a little more control. Note that even though the rider has the reins fairly short, she is holding them lightly and there is little pressure on them. In English riding one should just be able to 'feel' the horse's mouth at the end of the reins, without yanking or pulling. Clothing in English riding is usually fairly plain and dark, although it is becoming a little more colourful for casual riding, and endurance riders tend to wear bright colours so they can be spotted by their 'crew.' a 'hard hat' or riding helmet is always worn. The rider in the picture is wearing blunt spurs, which are usually only worn for showing or in the hunting field.
The Western rider is using a Western show saddle, with silver trim. The show saddle pad is much thinner than it would be for trail riding and often tones with or matches the rider's shirt. The rider is wearing a show shirt or 'slinkie' and suede fringed chaps. Chaps are not essential for showing but are a nice touch and for trail riding chaps would protect a rider's legs from thorns and brush. A Stetson type hat is usually worn for both showing and pleasure riding, and although hard hats are available in Western styles,most riders prefer the traditional felt type. Blunt spurs with rowels are often used for showing. The rider is using a curb bit so is only using one hand. (Note the loose rein with a very light contact) The horse has a much lower, more natural carriagte and is allowed to find its own 'balance'.
Snaffle bits are used for young or novice horses and not all horses are trained to a curb bit. If a snaffle is used the rider holds a rein in each hand. The rider's stirrups are longer than English style and normally the legs are a little more forward, with the heel just on the girth area. A curb strap is always used with a curb bit, and is usually a simple leather strap rather than a chain. A curb strap can also be used with a snaffle bit, when riding Western style, unlike English. Note the lack of noseband and the simplicity of the bridle. A Western show bridle may have silver buckles and trim, but does not have a noseband for either showing or pleasure riding. The bridle in the picture is a 'one ear' bridle, which has a loop which slips over the horse's right ear, rather than a browband. Martingales are rarely used in Western riding, except sometimes for roping or barrel racing, but a breastplate is often used, to prevent the saddle slipping back or for show.
Like most UK riders, I was taught to ride English style, but personally, I prefer the more relaxed natural Western way of riding, and find the Western saddle more comfortable. I've been very happy to see how easily an English trained horse will adapt to Western, as well.
In both disciplines though, the most important thing is to ensure that the saddle fits properly and that the horse is comfortable.