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Working an English horse vs Western horse

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  • Working an English horse vs Western horse

    I was curious on people's in puts here... I've posted a similar question in the western 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 that you're trying to accomplish as a rider?

    Is the way that you go about accomplishing these the same? 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

    Last edited by skittle_little; Feb. 5, 2013, 11:35 PM.

  • #2
    This is going to be a great thread!

    IME, the goals for the horse are the same-- you want light, back-to-front, flexible, symmetrical and bro-hoke, not just obedient..

    But there's a difference in how much leg and how many pounds of pressure you should have in your hand with each horse when he is "finished." (And there's a difference between the finished hunter and finished dressage of the German school).

    What I like about the WesternWorld is the goal of working toward a signal bit. Same for the leg. It should not take any physical strength to ride these horses. Most of us trying to get those bro-hoke Hunters/Jumpers/Eq horses also want lightness. But we'll accept the need for more leg, and many want a horse to pull on them a bit-- not as in on-the-forehand, but gamely pulling them to the jumps. There's no space for that in the finished Western horse. He goes with a loop in the reins and you never moving your hand out of a 4" square box just ahead of the saddle horn.

    I'll be interested to see what more knowledgeable Cross Dresseurs have to say. Thanks for starting the thread!
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat


    • #3
      I have ridden both general disciplines throughout my life with more experience with western horses since I grew up on a cattle farm. Many of the cues/goals are the same...suppleness, manners, handiness, etc. The perfect western horse?...one who you can take on an all-day work adventure (i.e. check cattle and fences) which means a quiet, well-mannered horse that moves smoothly and slowly...on the flip side, that same horse should be able to shift into 5th gear at a moment's notice and work a cow and remain responsive enough to the rider to change direction on cue and be handy enough to stop just as quickly as he started (and I mean that quite literally). Those of us with working western horses are always working towards that goal.

      I feel it is the same way with the english disciplines. It's just a different general job and the final touches are put on in different places like an off-road package on a pick-up truck vs. a high speed acceleration on a sports car or high fuel efficiency on an every day vehicle.
      The holy grail is to spend less time making the picture than it takes people to look at it.


      • #4
        I'm much more experienced with English riding, but lately I have been riding a few western horses for the western trainer's clients. I've found that the goals are generally the same (lightness, straightness, balance, sensitivity to cues, hindquarter engagement), but the buttons are installed differently. The communication with an English horse is quite a bit different than with a Western horse; a more direct contact vs. a very indirect contact. When riding a Western horse, I've found that your go-to riding style needs to be "off" - no contact, leg, etc. until you WANT something. Go back to that once the action has been performed. In comparison, I think of the riding style needed for an English horse is more of a "low hum" - supporting leg, rein contact, just a light communication until you need to be more direct.


        • Original Poster

          Pretty interesting responses so far! As ar as I can tell, you're asking for the same thing, but in different ways... Looking forward to more inputs!


          • #6
            No contribution over here because I know nothing about Western, but I remember that video posted a while back where a dressage rider and a Western rider switched mounts. Could anyone find that link? I know it was dressage and not hunter/jumper but seeing the two swap really showed some differences in personality/responsiveness/etc.


            • #7
              Here is one link of dressage vs reiner


              • #8
                There are so many english disciplines and so many western disciplines that it is hard to make general comments.

                A western pleasure horse and an open show hunter under saddle horse, have very similar training/styles.

                These would both vary from a dressage or typical jumping horse, in that the "rail class" horse needs to be fairly self contained regarding headset and even gait. With a rail horse, its head stays on the verticle, flexed at the pole, with a flattish neck (thinking stock breeds) regardless of rein contact and it keeps the same rhythm until told otherwise. The rider has to quickly correct and then go back to passive to help the horse learn to stay the same on its own.

                A dressage or jumping horse on the otherhand, is typically taught to follow contact, so it will stretch down into the bridle if allowed and will want to maintain a feel with the bit. These horses are also more used to needing sudden changes of stride/gait, so the riders typically manage each step and are focused on maintaining the forward desire.

                For a rail horse, being canted is acceptable to help get leads or maintain "collection". This is not acceptable for a dressage or jumping horse.
                Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                • #9

                  Speaking of USEF Hunters, I'd disagree with a couple of points. First, it is *not* acceptable to have the horse "canted" (moving diagonally down the rail?) in order to produce collection. IMO, that's a bastardization of collection in Western World that gets accepted and used but shouldn't be.

                  Also, many of us USEF Hunter types use a lot of dressage in our training. Some take lessons with dedicated dressage trainers. Hunters *do* follow contact downwards if it is offered. And they *do* go with their neck slightly raised as it comes out of the shoulder. Typically, hunter folks will talk about a horse going with his nose just ahead of the vertical.

                  In any case, I think USEF Hunters and AQHA HUS are different animals.
                  The armchair saddler
                  Politically Pro-Cat


                  • Original Poster

                    So from my understanding, western horses are expected to carry themselves with a very light feel on the bit, if any at all? The horses I ride as a hunter/equitation rider are normally ridden with a light, but constant feel of the mouth.


                    • #11
                      Yes, the finished western horse goes in a leverage bit so no direct contact. It's a "signal bit" meaning that the change of position in the horse's mouth takes the place of our hands/arms/shoulders creating small differences in the bit's position.

                      There is a huge body of knowledge connected to choosing the right bit for the western horse. The greatest trainers consider the horse's conformation from the inside of his mouth all the way back to the way his neck is set onto his shoulders. There may be even more involved. Some folks have bits custom made for particular horses. And then the weight and stiffness of the reins can change the way any movement of the rider's hand conveys to the bit as well.

                      Western horses are usually started in snaffles, but to the English way of thinking, trainers choose harsh bits and want to teach the horse to stay behind the bit. They speak of getting a colt to "pick up and carry" the snaffle bit.

                      Really, however, they are preparing the horse to regard whatever is on his head as a signal devise. (We English types do too, if you want to get down to brass tacks. After all, no one wants to physically pull a horse's head around or pull him down to a stop.)

                      So the western trainer wants to use the bit simply to reinforce whatever aids to direction, speed, collection and balance he is giving with is seat, body and legs. IMO, the same is true with English horses. The goal is to be able to ride the horse with minimum input from the hand. IMO, horses dig that lofty goal. Who would want their tender mouth "yelled at" with a piece of metal when its possible instead to get this all done with the rider's balance and body?
                      The armchair saddler
                      Politically Pro-Cat


                      • #12
                        Yes you want a western horse supple, engaged in the hq, straight and bendable just as any English riding or western riding. A good barrel horse is supple and responsive a good wp is also as well as dressage horse or jumper. The difference is the job and the way you ask. In general we all want a horse light off the leg and seat. A good wp horse should stop only by seat yet dressage and hunters or jumpers we will use seat and a little hand as well as some leg to get a nice halt. English we keep a supporting leg on the horse usually not nagging but supportive yet western you don't want to have to support the horse. They should do that themselves. Think about what a pain it would be out on a ranch riding 100 miles when you constantly have to support them with a leg. It would be tiring. Even my carriers top roping horses will accept contact and move off the leg or the will move off just rein depending on the job and what he wants at the time and what he is doing. When he breaks from the box he is worried about roping a calf not where his leg is so he mainly will use the rein and just the training the horse knows but the basis of the training is leg and seat. Same for my old barrel horse. He was equivalent to 1st level dressage but when I raced him that wasn't my concern. I did use leg around the barrels only but didn't want any contact. When I showed English pleasure and wp it was all about how light the horse is and how well they moved with as little noticeable movements from me as the rider just like hunters and dressage. Some buttons can be different such as if the wp horse knows a spur stop etc. But mainly the same except for the amount of pressure on the bit. A lot of times wp trainers will start their horses on contact as dressage to get them to learn to use themselves and then adjust the speed and go to a very long and low frame from their.
                        Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                        • #13
                          A lot of the local pleasure shows around here have English classes in the morning, Western in the afternoon. I'm usually there with my 4-H kids and can't leave after English, so I ride in both divisions. On more than one occasion, my horse has gotten tricolors in both divisions. He understands the difference in tack and goes totally differently in a curb bit than an English snaffle (though both have a similar mouthpiece.

                          BUT, what I ask for is the same (HOW I ask for it is different): suppleness, responsiveness to aids, lightness, pushing forward from behind. My horse is too forward to win Western in a bigger competition (and I'm not a good enough western rider to completely fix that), and in fact doesn't place as well in Western pleasure...but because he is responsive and quietly forward, he kicks butt in equitation pattern classes. He also wins halter/model both ways. IMO a good horse is a good horse, and can do more than one discipline if given time to learn.