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  1. #1
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    Default Question about exercising a Western-trained horse

    I just started exercise-riding a 7-year-old Appaloosa gelding. He is primarily used for trailriding but the owner does not ride him much herself and would like for me to work with him in the ring to keep him fit over the winter.
    One of the reasons she doesn't ride him much is his "huge trot" which really is just a normal English trot and I thought was actually quite nice.
    After riding him W-T for five minutes, he started really dropping his head Western-style and I found his other trot "gears"... Very slow - and very odd to me. He was very willing and quite easy to change tempo but the head dropping - and pulling me down with it - was just really new to me because I only ride English.

    So here are my questions for people who have experience riding the SAME horse both English and Western:
    1) Will I confuse the horse with my rein aides (the horse sure confuses me...)? He does direct-rein, my concern is just the head-dropping and pulling on my hands. Could he learn to hold his head up again? How do I help him?
    2) Should I ride him with a German martingale as the previous exercise rider has done? What exactly is that supposed to do? (First, I need to learn how to even put it on...)
    3) I rode him with an English saddle so I could post the trot and be comfortable my way, but the saddle they had is a touch too small for me and I'm not sure how well it fits the horse either. So should I just suck it up and ride in Western tack? (But remember, the big trot...) And don't the seat and leg aides have to be much stronger because of all the extra leather?

    And last but not least, do you think I may not be a good exercise rider for him? He is not a show horse or used in competition, but obviously I don't want to mess him up with my good intentions, just keep him fit and athletic.

    Thanks for all your input and suggestions in advance.



  2. #2
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    if your job is to exercise him, do that. It is not your job to retrain him to carry his head anywhere and accept contact. He's not an english horse, he's not your horse he's hers.

    Leave his face alone and ride in whatever saddle fits you both, and play with figuring out neck reining, or just use direct reining but accept that means he's going to be going along on slack. You are assuming he knows seat/leg cues...does he really? If he does...for just long trot sets for fitness...how much do you need him in your hands? You're in the arena, right? I ride 99% western and can't really say how much 'heavier' my aids are in one or the other tack..the horse learns to listen to you, regardless of the leather and padding. Watch any reiners lately LOL?

    Go easier on him, and yourself. Have fun. Get to know him. Ditch the German martingale. Trot him on out there, on slack, let him reach and go, he might find he wants to pick his face up since he can, minus the martingale. You won't mess him up if you'll take the time to get to know him. I think the hardest thing the english peeps have to do, is learn to let go of the face. It's not going to fall off or run off if you aren't holding onto it, I pinky promise it won't!



  3. #3
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    Jun. 21, 2008
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    I learnt English and rode my horse English for a while. But now that I trail ride more or less exclusively, I am leaning towards Western(I haven't had official western training, but my mustang is in training with a Western type of guy-cows and all!-so once he is saddle broke, I want to learn the official western stuff too.). On long rides, much easier to just have one hand on the rein and little or no contact. Plus I ride mostly hills-well the place I moved to has a lot of flat,but my horse now does both. She neck reins, she goes in the bit, she can be collected when asked, she rides with contact , she rides without contact, she responds to seat/leg aids-so yeah I kind of use a hybrid-whatever works and is convenient at that moment as long as the horse gets it. The horse will figure out what you are asking and adjust....



  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by katarine View Post
    if your job is to exercise him, do that. It is not your job to retrain him to carry his head anywhere and accept contact. He's not an english horse, he's not your horse he's hers. ....
    Great answer, right on the money!

    Some think it's about the tack you are riding in and it really isn't.
    Last edited by 7HL; Dec. 14, 2008 at 12:32 PM.



  5. #5
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    Jan. 4, 2007
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    If he drops his head and loses self carriage, he has not truly been properly trained for western events.
    Well trained western show horses go with a loopy rein and low heads, but they do carry themselves, if they are to place.

    They do feel like riding a horse with no head.

    It takes a while to learn to go on and keep the horse working collected without direct contact, using all other aids than reins and those only minimally, to indicate only.
    Riding those well trained horses requires a very educated seat and leg.
    Some of the show horses have also been "spur trained", which any more is penalized against and are even more confusing to ride.

    Appaloosa, paint and such shows are not up to AQHA standards quite yet, other than the very best of them, so I wonder how well if much at all he has really been "trained western", or if they say he was trained western just because they rode him in a western saddle.



  6. #6
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    I sounds like this horse was trained western pleasure because they are taught or are built naturally to carry their head low. Get off his face and let him drop his head down if that's where he's comfortable. You can post in a western saddle. I do it all the time with my QH who has a trot that will loosen all the teeth in your head. Give him a slack rein and let him trot on and leave the training gizmos in the tack room.
    Yogurt - If you're so cultured, how come I never see you at the opera? Steven Colbert



  7. #7
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    Feb. 1, 2007
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    Default

    This really is a good answer. Contact isn't necessary. Drop the reins (figuratively if not literally), steer with your feet, lengthen your stirrups, and post to your heart's content. This isn't a show horse. Just enjoy the ride!

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine View Post
    if your job is to exercise him, do that. It is not your job to retrain him to carry his head anywhere and accept contact. He's not an english horse, he's not your horse he's hers.

    Leave his face alone and ride in whatever saddle fits you both, and play with figuring out neck reining, or just use direct reining but accept that means he's going to be going along on slack. You are assuming he knows seat/leg cues...does he really? If he does...for just long trot sets for fitness...how much do you need him in your hands? You're in the arena, right? I ride 99% western and can't really say how much 'heavier' my aids are in one or the other tack..the horse learns to listen to you, regardless of the leather and padding. Watch any reiners lately LOL?

    Go easier on him, and yourself. Have fun. Get to know him. Ditch the German martingale. Trot him on out there, on slack, let him reach and go, he might find he wants to pick his face up since he can, minus the martingale. You won't mess him up if you'll take the time to get to know him. I think the hardest thing the english peeps have to do, is learn to let go of the face. It's not going to fall off or run off if you aren't holding onto it, I pinky promise it won't!
    "Riding a horse doesn't make you a Horseman. Many non-horsemen ride, many real horsemen do not ride. To be a Horseman, you must prove yourself of value to the horse."



  8. #8
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    Oct. 1, 2005
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    You've already been given great advice. All of my horses are trained to go 'both ways,' that is, can be ridden on contact, or off contact. For them, it depends on the saddle- English saddle, maybe more on contact, in the western saddle, contact generally means 'get on your toes, we are about to go do something' (as in, team penning run, or rounding up a stray cow).

    I once went hunting out west here with a group that included several guests from England, and their hirelings were local ranch horses. Early on, they were quite miserable- trying to ride on contact and the horses were jigging constantly. I advised them all to just drop the reins. They were skeptical, but gave it a try. Horses immediately relaxed, dropped their heads, and walked with the right impulsion, but relaxed. Brits were amazed but went on to enjoy the day immensely once that button was explained to them.



  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lieselotte View Post
    . . .
    So here are my questions for people who have experience riding the SAME horse both English and Western:
    1) Will I confuse the horse with my rein aides (the horse sure confuses me...)? He does direct-rein, my concern is just the head-dropping and pulling on my hands. Could he learn to hold his head up again? How do I help him? Probably not, most Western horses learn using the direct rein and then graduate to neck reining. yes he could learn to hold his head up again, but why? Katerine is right, you are an exercise rider not a trainer (in this situation).
    2) Should I ride him with a German martingale as the previous exercise rider has done? What exactly is that supposed to do? (First, I need to learn how to even put it on...) I dunno how to put one on either, I wouldn't bother.
    3) I rode him with an English saddle so I could post the trot and be comfortable my way, but the saddle they had is a touch too small for me and I'm not sure how well it fits the horse either. So should I just suck it up and ride in Western tack? (But remember, the big trot...) And don't the seat and leg aides have to be much stronger because of all the extra leather? I'd suck it up if the Western saddle fits both of you. Amazingly enough a well trained horse can easily feel your subtle changes even through all that leather. Many horses that are ridden Western, such as trail string horses, haven't had much education or have gotten used to beginner riders and won't pay attention, but they can remember.

    And last but not least, do you think I may not be a good exercise rider for him? He is not a show horse or used in competition, but obviously I don't want to mess him up with my good intentions, just keep him fit and athletic.

    Thanks for all your input and suggestions in advance.
    If I had a horse needing to be exercised I'd be delighted to have an competent, experienced rider with a good seat, good hands and good balance available to keep my horse in shape. Ditto on "not fixing what ain't broke" though. Enjoy!
    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
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  10. #10
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    Nov. 8, 2008
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    Default Thanks!

    I'm glad no one said "get off that horse!" Thanks for all your advice.

    If he drops his head and loses self carriage, he has not truly been properly trained for western events. Well trained western show horses go with a loopy rein and low heads, but they do carry themselves, if they are to place.
    I believe this horse is "home schooled" and has not had any serious Western training. I will ask. It did feel as if he "hung on to my reins" even after I dropped them and made himself "heavy" rather than self-carry, but I bet I didn't drop them enough, so I will definitely do that. I have no problem riding like that, I'm just not used to it yet.

    You can post in a western saddle. I do it all the time with my QH who has a trot that will loosen all the teeth in your head.
    Drop the reins (figuratively if not literally), steer with your feet, lengthen your stirrups, and post to your heart's content.
    I think I'll use the owners Western tack from now on, but I will definitely keep posting and am glad you guys officially approve

    I am also glad to hear that the martingale is not necessary. I am not a big fan of anything extra when the horse seems willing and we just haven't figured out yet how to communicate.

    We're off on our first trailride tomorrow, with the owner on another horse, and I hope to learn more about him... Again, thank you all.



  11. #11
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    I think you'll do just fine, Lieselotte. I hope you have a good ride for you and your four legged partner!
    "Riding a horse doesn't make you a Horseman. Many non-horsemen ride, many real horsemen do not ride. To be a Horseman, you must prove yourself of value to the horse."



  12. #12
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    Jul. 16, 2003
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    Have fun with him! Yeah, you can post in a Western saddle, though it may take a few tries to figure it out. I ride horses who go both English and Western, and they usually are fine with contact in a snaffle, and neckrein/go on no contact in a curb.
    Stay me with coffee, comfort me with chocolate, for I am sick of love.



  13. #13
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    My biggest surprise when I started riding western-trained horses is that horses can still feel cues through the reins even when the reins are on the buckle. I was so used to thinking I had to have a contact to say anything to the horse, but the movement of the loose reins can be felt just as much, and has an immediate effect if the horse has been trained to listen for it.

    I've also found that most Western trained horses go off much lighter legs than english trained horses - because of the saddle the rider's leg is not constantly touching the horse, so you tap tap and off they go, and then you don't touch them again until you need more "go". (Of course the good english rider doesn't nag with the leg, but it's much easier to use a lot of leg and constant leg in an english saddle, whether by accident or on purpose).

    The western saddles that are hard to post in are the ones with the stirrups set way forward. Most of the ones used for trail riding have the stirrups set under the rider, so the leg position is much like the leg position in a dressage saddle.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents.



  14. #14
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    I think I'll use the owners Western tack from now on, but I will definitely keep posting and am glad you guys officially approve
    Anyone who thinks you don't post western has never WORKED western. NO WAY you're sitting a big, ground covering trot while pushing cows or rounding up horses... and even a smaller trot gets posted when you're on your 3rd hour of 12 or 14.

    If the stirrups are hung too far forward, you can slide them back on the bars on most good western saddles--just be sure you tell the owner if you make this adjustment so they can adjust back if needed. Most folks don't realize it, and love it once I adjust them back for them.
    InnisFailte Pinto Sporthorses & Coloured Cobs
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  15. #15
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    You don't know how to ride the way this horse is trained, which is, and THIS is the KEY, the way the owner RIDES. If you take this horse to "exercise", you're going to give back the owner a horse she can't ride AND won't like. Remember the comment about the trot? She won't ride the horse because of what YOU consider (and probably RIGHTLY so) to be a very nice trot. You don't have ANY IDEA of what she WANTS TO RIDE, so cannot PRODUCE a HORSE that she wants to ride. What she DOESN'T like (and won't ride)is what YOU LIKE and consider DESIRABLE. Remember the old (and oh, so TRUE!!!) adage, "whenever you're RIDING a horse, you're TRAINING it." Jusy a heads up...
    Last edited by nightsong; Dec. 15, 2008 at 02:20 AM.



  16. #16
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    Default Good workout today!

    Just back from working out with my new training partner and we had a good time, getting warm and toasty from all that trotting We did lots of figure 8s and circles, and just like some of you said, he needed no stronger leg aids than any "English" horse I have ridden.
    I listened to your advice and dropped the reins and lo and behold, horse came up on its own after a while!
    I also used his Western saddle which was okay, even when posting. But I have to get used to the horn as it seems to be exactly where my hands want to be... If I go above it, my hands are too high. If I go in front of it, I have to stretch too far forward and my elbows are not by my side anymore!?
    Another new thing to me: Western tack seems very inconvenient when you ride on your own 'cause you can't adjust your stirrup length or tighten the girth from atop the horse! Or maybe you can but I haven't figured out how to do it yet

    I also found out more about the horse, or actually not really... Owner does not know if he has ever been seriously trained by anyone (but he seems like he has been), she thinks he was always just a trail horse. She bought it for her daughter who now is more interested in other teenage things and doesn't ride him anymore. So, in reference to "nightsong":

    You don't know how to ride the way this horse is trained, which is, and THIS is the KEY, the way the owner RIDES. If you take this horse to "exercise", you're going to give back the owner a horse she can't ride AND won't like.
    The problem with this whole exercising business is really that the owner has had very little feedback for me other than "just ride him!" She has her own horse to ride and doesn't know much about this one's past and doesn't ride it. So I'm pretty sure she - and the horse - will definitely get something out of this even if our riding styles don't completely match. She knows I'm not a trainer and that I'm not doing anything unusual and she has no ambitions for the horse other than to be a fit and safe trailhorse. I think I can handle that, especially after today's ride where we did very well together already.

    But that brings up another good point: What do you expect of your exercise riders, if you have them?



  17. #17
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    I am an exercise rider, for all intents and purposes. Some of my horses are in training, but most I just get out during the week to stretch their legs. For the most part, I don't ask my horses to do anything their owners won't ask them to do. What I do ask, I want them to be light and responsive. I'll ask like their owners do (I also teach most of the owner's lessons) and when they don't respond correctly, I'll get after them a little bit so they're more ready to respond to their owner. I also tweak little things like dropping shoulders, heavy on one rein, making sure they're not reactive to changes in the environment (new jumps, equipment moved to new places etc.), and introduce things I'll be working with their owners on in lessons (trot poles, backing, turns on haunches etc.). I don't expect my trail horses to be dressage horses, but I do expect them to half halt when asked and not run with their nose above the vertical and braced on the bit. I also adjust ground manners because most horses tend to get pushy with their owners. Its a pretty good balance. Also, when I bill my clients, I tell them if I've introduced anything new (opening and shutting gates, neck reining, simple changes) and ask if there is anything they'd like me to work on.

    ETA: I consider myself English, but exercise A LOT of western horses. Its not something I've ever made a big to-do about.



  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lieselotte View Post
    . . . . But I have to get used to the horn as it seems to be exactly where my hands want to be... If I go above it, my hands are too high. If I go in front of it, I have to stretch too far forward and my elbows are not by my side anymore!?
    Another new thing to me: Western tack seems very inconvenient when you ride on your own 'cause you can't adjust your stirrup length or tighten the girth from atop the horse! Or maybe you can but I haven't figured out how to do it yet . . . . .

    But that brings up another good point: What do you expect of your exercise riders, if you have them?
    Let me see. I trailride in Western tack and I post or stand(two point) for a big trot. I've heard "sit on your pockets" but I am afraid I think of that as bracing against the cantle. When I hold the reins, I use the California style, which is pretty close to holding the reins English, one handed, and I set my hand on the horn a lot, or just brush the top of it. There is another style that I was told was called Texas style, which is a driving rein, one handed, and the hand was held just in front of the horn. Fashions change of course, so hand positions might be different nowadays, and I have been caught hanging the rein from the tips of my ring and baby fingers before, or even just hooking it behind the horn. Lazy and unsafe of me.

    Western stirrups can be changed, just not easily. Be thankful you don't have a very old saddle - the leathers had no buckles or quick changes, they laced.

    Now, from the rest of the post, it sounds as though you have been given the green light to do just about whatever you like. But, since this horse will probably have a future as a trail horse (unless you want to commit to a program and the owner is willing to change disciplines), anything you do should have that in mind. Good trailhorses need to be flexible, go up and down hills, not trip over objects found on the trail, have comfortable gaits that can cover a lot of ground and be kept up all day (which is where that silly little WP jog came from, it was meant to be a very easy trot). And do it all on a loose rein.
    So, OP, take the horse out and do things that will help him be better at his job, which is to be a safe, sane and sound trailhorse.
    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
    Incredible Invisible



  19. #19
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    Nov. 11, 2003
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    Sounds like you are on the right track with your western horse!
    I used to exercise 2 super nice reining horses for a lady, would ride one and pony the other on the flat track around the local equestrain center, and all I was paid to do was warm up, long trot (posting! haha), and lope for about 30-45 minutes. I left their faces alone unless they raised their heads too much, in which case a light bump on the bit got the head down. Ad that was all I did. Granted I rode mostly western anyway so it was not a big change, and these horse were super well trainer world quality show horses that a monkey could ride them well, but I also know the horses knew what to do and I wasn't getting paid to do anything "fancy." Just keep them in shape.



  20. #20
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    What I've been told (had a couple of years of Western lessons) is that the Western curb bit (even the jointed ones) rides differently than a snaffle and just the weight of the reins when loose will put some pressure on the bit when you do an opening rein, etc. We always rode with our reins looped.

    Well-trained Western horses can do some neat things like rollbacks (lope into turn on the haunches towards the outside to change directions and then directly into a lope) and are very maneuvrable on very small circles and going from a lope to a reinback and back to a lope. Have fun!



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