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  1. #1

    Default Working a Western horse vs English horse

    I was curious on people's in puts here... I've posted a similar question in the hunter/jumper topic as well.

    I have a background in english riding. In my opinion, I have developed my skills so that I can effectively work my horse (straightness, moving off the aids, collection, bending, etc etc.)
    However, I have recently started riding western here and there as well, so I was just curious as to the parallels between working an english horse and a western horse. For example, is the goal of getting a horse to go well in a western discipline, still straightness, engaged from the hind, etc? Or are there other attributes from the horse that you're trying to accomplish as a rider?

    Is the way that you go about accomplishing these the same in english and western? Do you use leg to push the horse's momentum forward into your hands as with english?

    I'm just curious about the similarities and differences, from both viewpoints :)

    Thanks!



  2. #2
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    A horse is a horse is a horse. You get the horse straight, use bend etc because of the bio-mechanics not "style." For specific tasks you may develop specific skills, but the basic mechanics is the same.

    Pushing the horse into the hand is a misnomer anyway. You ask the rear legs to be active and the neck to telescope. It can do that without leaning on the hand. The Baroque dressage horse was started in a cavesson which became the bosal when the Spaniards took it to the New World. Resting or pushing on the hand isn't really what stretching over the topline is about and it can be accomplished without a bit. Hiding from contact because of fear that keeps a horse from stretching the neck up and out is just as bad. Light feel of the mouth that doesn't include stretching into that feel, no matter how light, may feel great to the rider but does nothing for the horse.


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  3. #3
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    The basics are all the same. The trainer that started my younger mule works with everything from warmbloods headed to the dressage ring to quarter horses headed for reining competitions and they all get the same basics. The things you mention, like straightness, bending, moving off the aids, collection, and extension are common to everything.

    Now, that's not to say that there aren't some western trainers out there who don't do those things, but if they don't they're not good trainers. IMO, of course. Others may certainly disagree.



  4. #4
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    I ride English - h/j and dressage. But I moved around a lot for my job, and lived in predominantly western areas in TX and CA. I got to ride a barrel horse in TX, and working ranch/cow horse competitors in CA. I recently watched barrel racing at QH Congress, and saw the folks who just yank the horse's head around the barrel - they go WAY wide, sometimes even hitting the arena walls! The ones who did best clearly use legs/seat TO hand like English - they supported the horse with their outside aids, and made clean turns, and it was clear these horses were BROKE on the flat. I got to ride a barrel horse in TX, and I think the owner was likely one of those who just kicked, yanked, and prayed...

    In CA, I boarded with folks who did the working cow horse or ranch horse competitions. They do cutting, but can assist more than "real" cutting, work a single cow in pattern, and do a reining pattern. It's sort of like 3-day eventing for western! I rode a few of those horses, including one they planned to sell as an all-around horse, so I taught him to jump - he was so well-broke and trained, that in one session, we progressed from the pole on the ground to a single 2' vertical. I was AMAZED at how nicely these horses went. The one we put english tack on - we put a nice, soft HS KK bit in his mouth. He wasn't sure about going up to the bit and taking contact, but he did - he was in front of the leg and while the reins are slack on Western horses, the same level of use/control is there. It was just incredible. I said if I won the lotto, I'm getting me a horse from them!!!

    I think good trainers in both disciplines produce really rideable horses - and these western horses put some of the dressage horses I've known to SHAME!


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  5. #5
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    We always start with a basic walk trot warmup, the will loosen up the body from poll to tail. Lot's of bending , hips, shoulders etc. My Western Pleasure horse is very broke and is so much fun to ride ! Other than the saddle it looks like basic dressage.



  6. #6
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    Good training is good training. One thing to note is that a western horse should work on a looser rein, so while you are pushing one forward with your seat and legs, getting them into the bridle is a little different. They learn to carry themselves, and then we're talking about developing the correct muscle development to enable them to do that, but also the difference in bitting.



  7. #7
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    "Do you use leg to push the horse's momentum forward into your hands as with english?"


    You use leg and a reversed, tucked seat to do a lot of half halts to suck the horses's withers up into you lap (figuratively) so that the withers will rise, rear will become engaged, forehand will lighten and the neck can drop to a comfortable level because of the (again, figuratively) arch in the back. You can use a lifting hand to start accomplishing this, but eventually it should come from your seat and leg, with a very loose contact on the mouth. The western bit is a signal bit, not a horse balancing bit.

    Snatching (or *bumping*, as they say ) on the mouth does not accomplish this and makes a rigid horse. (Watch the moment in the 'Buck' movie where he asks a guy to hold the rein and tries to snatch it from the guys hands. By the third snatch, the guy is braced and ready, as your horse will be.)
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  8. #8
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    wow, lots of great stuff in here, and super interesting! Plumcreek, I loved your explanation! I suppose what it really comes down to is the details.



  9. #9
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    I should add that you may need to get quite firm with that lifting hand at the very start of teaching a horse to lighten in front, but the moment you feel those withers come up and the horse want to lower it's neck (not just argue with your hand), immediately give them slack in the reins, so they understand that the slack is their reward for collecting up and rounding. One of the good tips I always remember is to teach a horse to "hunt the slack". The slack in the rein always, always, always happens when they do what you want.
    Comprehensive Equestrian Site Planning and Facility Design
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plumcreek View Post
    You use leg and a reversed, tucked seat to do a lot of half halts to suck the horses's withers up into you lap (figuratively) so that the withers will rise, rear will become engaged, forehand will lighten and the neck can drop to a comfortable level because of the (again, figuratively) arch in the back.
    Wow, that sounds hard. Is it hard to learn to "dial up your butt" and get it to half-halt this way?
    The armchair saddler
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plumcreek View Post
    One of the good tips I always remember is to teach a horse to "hunt the slack". The slack in the rein always, always, always happens when they do what you want.
    That's one of the best (universal) techniques I have learned from WesternWorld. Another way to say it is "The horse learns whatever you release." In other words, the thing the horse did just before you made his life easy is what he will do again. (And who wouldn't do the thing that got him to "Miller Time"?)

    IMO, Englishers don't talk about this so much and the releases they give aren't as quick or pronounced. From a training point of view, that's too bad.
    The armchair saddler
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  12. #12
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    Not all western training is the same, demands the same training for each different one, but the basics will fit any horse.

    Now, one difference is that English generally riding requires contact, even if very, very light and the more technical types of western riding, not so much speed events, depends on complete self carriage, with drapey reins.

    The basics for that are all the same.
    I was starting colts for a trainer and we took this one filly with some 30 days to this show, just to get her out and seeing the sights.
    They needed one more rider to get points in a western pleasure class, long ago, before peanut rollers and they asked me to fill in.
    I had never even sat in a western saddle, the stirrups didn't go up enough for my short legs, so I was fishing for them, holding them with the top of my toes to keep from losing them.
    Guess what, we won that class and some point chasers were not amused.

    Really, the basics of riding are the same for any horse, in any place.
    Now, technical movements, in English or western riding, that takes advanced training and that depends on what each discipline may demand.



  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by mvp View Post
    Wow, that sounds hard. Is it hard to learn to "dial up your butt" and get it to half-halt this way?
    It was hard for me to learn not to lean forward after riding english in my formative years. When this became a big issue with working cowhorse fence work, I started tucking my butt every time I came to a stop sign or light in the car, which helped, although DH ridiculed an occasional "whoa".

    I start the wither sucking leg action/lifting hand, at a walk, so everything is in slow motion which makes it easier to control. I always struggle with the reversed seat thing - when I am having trouble keeping a horse together, I check to see that the sacrum area of my butt is pushed forward and my seat is as far toward the horn as possible, so I can be effective, and the horse always gets easier to collect, funny how that works.

    The mental image of sucking the withers up into your lap really helps you do the right thing with your body.
    ....As does the mental image of using your legs like you were trying to squirt all the toothpaste out of the tube you are riding. My hunter trainer's sister often fills in for her, and her favorite anology is to ride a horse like you are pushing a full wheelbarrow, which you cannot do unless you are keeping it balanced and out in front of you.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by mvp View Post
    IMO, Englishers don't talk about this so much and the releases they give aren't as quick or pronounced. From a training point of view, that's too bad.
    Yes. Western has ruined me for riding a big, powerful english horse in a snaffle. I hate hauling on them, and feel lost without that control/release capability. I compromise with the shortest shank Tom Thumb, 99% on the snaffle rein, but I (and my horse) know that curb rein is there if needed.

    When I was riding my snaffle bit futurity colts in a snaffle, the release then was more a "quick check and release", with those big leather rein attatchment ends for quick release weight and a sliding action take up signal. They never got a chance to lean on the bit. But it was always a "hope they don't find out" sort of thing with the snaffle. Good thing they were smallish.
    Comprehensive Equestrian Site Planning and Facility Design
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  15. #15
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    I think every english rider should spend some time riding a well trained western horse, if they can. I learned to ride with an eventer, and spent some time with a dressage queen, but I learned more about how to use my seat and weight and leg when I was exercising a string of team ropers for a summer than I did with YEARS of lessons with "big name" dressage trainers. They all went in big curbs, and while I didn't know a whole lot about how they were trained, I DID know that I didn't want "english" contact with that bit. I got to just play around and see what worked.

    I had a BLAST figuring it all out, and I still look back on that summer as a seminal, "light bulb" type moment in my riding career. It has probably influenced how I ride and train more than any other single event.


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  16. #16
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    Well-trained western horses have a degree of lightness and responsiveness that most dressage people don't realize is even possible. Mixing your disciplines is a great way to pick up techniques and possibilities that will make you a really good rider.

    Classic example in point: Jimmy Williams.
    If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket



  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Simkie View Post
    .... YEARS of lessons with "big name" dressage trainers. They all went in big curbs, and while I didn't know a whole lot about how they were trained, I DID know that I didn't want "english" contact with that bit.
    ...

    I had a BLAST figuring it all out, and I still look back on that summer as a seminal, "light bulb" type moment in my riding career. It has probably influenced how I ride and train more than any other single event.
    Quote Originally Posted by poltroon View Post
    Well-trained western horses have a degree of lightness and responsiveness that most dressage people don't realize is even possible. Mixing your disciplines is a great way to pick up techniques and possibilities that will make you a really good rider.
    I think that what the German-school dressage rider wants and the Western rider wants are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of where the "signal" in the mouth comes from. I don't know how dressagers who are entirely of the French school compare to Westerners.

    But I'm with you: If that many pounds of pressure in the hand is the sign of a well-trained (German) dressage horse, then they can keep it. That's way, way too much work.

    And plenty of English types want a horse who is closer to the Western end of the spectrum with respect to how the horse sees the bit. I want to do almost nothing with my hand in order to get the job done.

    My life-long training goal for a horse is to have it all come from my body. I am truly lazy. No reason that I should have to pay for a horse and then also break a sweat riding him. I should think and move my shoulders and he should change whatever I want.
    The armchair saddler
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by mvp View Post
    I think that what the German-school dressage rider wants and the Western rider wants are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of where the "signal" in the mouth comes from. I don't know how dressagers who are entirely of the French school compare to Westerners.

    But I'm with you: If that many pounds of pressure in the hand is the sign of a well-trained (German) dressage horse, then they can keep it. That's way, way too much work.
    .
    I was lucky to be standing at the rail of the make-up ring to watch Edward Gal and Totilas do a half hour warm up before his GP Special test at WEG. He was as close to a well trained western horse as I have seen, and walked off relaxed like a cutting horse does after a spine chilling work. If you watched the video where the two guys critique Gal vs Rath, and how it all went south for the horse, it is what you are talking about.
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  19. #19
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    Let's see. Yesterday my ride went like this. Warm up at the jog, both directions of the ring; lope both directions of the ring. Encourage horse to lift back at all gaits. Must stay engaged and lifting at all gaits. Start lateral work-half pass in both directions from the center of the ring. Progress to shallow serpentines along both walls as jog and lope. Work the counter canter in both directions. Stop, back regularly-always encouraging lightness in front and engagement behind. Progress to full serpentines across the ring at jog. Cool out at jog on rail for 3-5 minutes. Get off-give cookies for a good ride. Yep, sounds just like some of my rides years ago on my OTTB. BTW, we are preparing for lead changes and western riding.
    ~~~~~*~*~*~*~*~
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plumcreek View Post
    If you watched the video where the two guys critique Gal vs Rath, and how it all went south for the horse, it is what you are talking about.
    I haven't seen that. Which side do they come down on-- pounds of pressure in the hand or the "signal bit" approach?

    I have to say that my brief forays into dressage have been marred by my sense of how light in the hand a horse should be... a product of Western World. To the Dressagers teaching me, that "lightness" I went for meant that I couldn't have a horse that was "though." Maybe I didn't have enough feel of the back and hind quarters, but I *refuse* to believe that that can only happen if a horse is pushing on your hands because you taught him too. After all, he can do lots of things with his head and neck while doing other things with his shoulders and hind end.

    But maybe I'm wrong?
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