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Switching from English to Western

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  • Switching from English to Western

    I very recently began taking lessons at a barn that does mostly reining nearby, and I feel like a total beginner again.

    I've been going home with my own horses to practice (with tack on) and discovered recently that my ploddy old man is an absolute rocket when taken western. Neck reins, moves off tiny shifts in legs and seat, and can get right up to a run without even any urging--and he's 22! I never thought this horse could be so much fun to ride, but I can literally put him in a western saddle, halter, and clip reins and bomb around the yard just having a good time and he's got his ears pricked forward and is all in--and when I got him he was wearing a slow twist! Take your legs off and lean back and he stops. It's very clear that at some point in his life, someone was riding him extensively western.

    Does anyone have any specific tips for me as a rider switching from english to western? I want to make sure I'm doing the best I can by my horses, not working them too hard, and not developing bad habits that are common with this discipline switch. So talk to me and I'm all ears!

  • #2
    Good for you to find a new way to communicate with your horses.

    Just keep learning more, some you may like, some you won't so much, but be patient and eventually you will know enough to properly sort thru all the to you new discipline brings to your communicating and what else you may already have better skills for.

    What was hard and "against my religion" when learning reining was the behind the bit experience a really finely tuned horse has for someone used to more of a connection with rein aids.
    Once I learned to use my weight and legs more precisely for the task of keeping a horse in front of the leg and engaged, more than is really necessary in English riding, I learned to keep horses collected under myself just fine, without them after a bit starting to cruise on and fall onto their forehand, like they would when trying English riding only off the seat and legs, no bridle or neck strap.

    You will rarely see that kind of total control on a dressage horse, even at the highest levels, one that can be ridden without any bridle or neck strap and still perform consistently without their performance starting to degrade.
    There are few that go there at all.
    That is common with most well trained, finished reiners.

    The first a reining trainer will ask from an English rider is to stick them in a round pen with a reining schoolmaster type horse, have them fold their arms in front of them, so they are not even used for balance and then learn to use the weight, legs and voice propely, while keeping the horse well under itself, by the way we ask the horse to work.
    Lots of transitions properly executed, catching the horse when it is starting to cruise along so it gets back in proper working mode will go a long way.
    Asking the new to reining rider learn the kind of body control of themselves and the horse that will let them later, once in the larger arena or anywhere, have that same kind of control, which is the basics of reining for everything else.

    Reining is about timing and precision, something that later will translate to any other we may do.
    Similar to what dressage is to English riding, a base of training techniques that are applicable to any other kind of riding.

    Hope that makes sense?


    • Original Poster

      It does! This barn actually started me bareback, in a halter, on an old, dead broke schoolie. It hurt. I was sore the next day. I felt like I couldn't steer or do ANYTHING, but I went home and practiced the hell out of what I'd been shown. I did notice the similarities in dressage and appreciated them.

      So far it has been *hard* to not have that constant rein connection but at least I'm getting somewhere


      • #4
        I don't know what type of English riding you were focused on prior to the change, but for me (as a hunter), I had to remind myself to ride with a longer leg than I am accustomed to. This of course would likely not apply if you are comfortable with Dressage. Mastering the sitting trot and making transitions look effortless is a crucial part of Western riding as well (in my non-expert opinion). Hand movements should still remain subtle and soft. Which ever hand you're not using to steer should sit relaxed on the thigh and don't let the elbow flap like a chicken wing. (I had a tendency to not know what to do with it and weird things -think Vanna White gesture arms- would happen haha)
        My horse has resting Mare Stare.



        • #5
          Originally posted by dungrulla View Post
          It does! This barn actually started me bareback, in a halter, on an old, dead broke schoolie. It hurt. I was sore the next day. I felt like I couldn't steer or do ANYTHING, but I went home and practiced the hell out of what I'd been shown. I did notice the similarities in dressage and appreciated them.

          So far it has been *hard* to not have that constant rein connection but at least I'm getting somewhere
          Looks like you may have lucked into a very good barn there.

          Now on to have great fun, which is all that reining is, going by the smiles riders sport when things click and go well.

          Warning, it is not as easy as it looks to rein well.
          The more we learn, the more we realize how much there is to learn yet than we knew.
          As with all horse things, it is the journey that makes any of it oh so interesting.


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by Bluey View Post

            Warning, it is not as easy as it looks to rein well.
            So...it's like everything else with horses that looks easy?


            • #7
              The only warning I would give is not to overdo the sliding stops. They are fun but hard on the hocks.

              How wonderful that you found the key to making your old man happy and young again!

              He probably just thinks, finally obtuse human has learned how to ride!


              • #8
                Sit on you pockets. You may feel like you are leaning back, but chances are you are actually sitting straight.
                Only two emotions belong in the saddle: One is a sense of humor. The other is patience.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Scribbler View Post
                  The only warning I would give is not to overdo the sliding stops. They are fun but hard on the hocks.

                  How wonderful that you found the key to making your old man happy and young again!

                  He probably just thinks, finally obtuse human has learned how to ride!
                  Adding, you don't want to ask for any sliding stops without being on the right footing and having sliders on.
                  If you do, your horse's hind legs will get stuck and not slide and wrench his hocks if he was really putting out a big effort.
                  A big no-no to practice any sliding stops without the right conditions.

                  Always remember, be correct first, fast will follow.


                  • Original Poster

                    He doesn't slide to a stop. If he did I wouldn't ask him to because we DEFINITELY don't have correct footing and he's probably too old for that shit. But he will definitely stop with just seat and leg aids and no reins! Before it took some serious effort.


                    • #11
                      Are you switching from dressage or from hunter/jumpers? I imagine the hardest switch would be from hunter/jumpers, because you have to retrain yourself to sit instead of hover but either way, you're definitely going to need to develop an independent seat. It sounds like the barn you're lessoning at has the right idea, and I would encourage you to keep practicing in a halter. Taking away the piece of equipment that you are dependent on forces you to strengthen that weakness, which has always worked for me!

                      I am also an English rider transitioning to Western. I rode Western, then switched to hunter/jumper, then switched to dressage, and now back to Western. The basics of any discipline are roughly the same, regardless of rein length, stirrup length, or hip angle. You learn how to carry yourself - gentle hands, a quiet seat, steady legs. Then you learn how to cue the horse, who should be round, soft, and willing. Although cues vary from discipline to discipline, you as a rider must always keep your balance and your position in the delivery of those cues. I believe that if you practice basic riding theory (and maintain your physical strength), you can be molded to any discipline.

                      I don't quite know what you mean by "bad habits". Do you mean bad habits developed by the rider in transition, or the horse? If you remain clear and consistent in your signals, the horse should be able to differentiate between cues and shouldn't get confused. If you mean the rider, past habits from the previous discipline just need to be replaced by new habits, even though it may take a while to erase them completely.
                      Pearly Oasis <3


                      • Original Poster

                        Dressage, fortunately I have been riding my old boy in a halter around my backyard. He hasn't had a real bridle on in over a month, doesn't need one if you a steer with your legs.


                        • #13
                          I made the change 4 years ago.. many reasons, but for me the main one was I no longer felt comfortable competing in a sport that awards marks for the word "submission". .. I changed to reining, and love the looser rein willingly guided concept.. I find it challenging.. but thats the idea of sport!!


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by belambi View Post
                            I made the change 4 years ago.. many reasons, but for me the main one was I no longer felt comfortable competing in a sport that awards marks for the word "submission". .. I changed to reining, and love the looser rein willingly guided concept.. I find it challenging.. but thats the idea of sport!!
                            In reining, the word is "willingly guided", that is what the judges go by.

                            I think it may just be a matter of semantics.


                            • #15
                              May well be just a matter of semantics..
                              but semantics are very relevant ... there is a huge difference in how the non horse public would read them.
                              I also feel the reining scoring system works better!


                              • #16

                                Im changing one of my horses over too, we are doing penning of cows (apparently!).
                                Im also an eventer, and will continue to be one for my other horse.
                                Im just fitting out with gear, and have had a ride in the stock saddle, it was long stirrups but I didnt feel like I was reaching like I do in dressage.
                                Im jealous you have a horse you can work on yourself and he is showing you the ropes, im teaching a young horse with a host of behavioural issues. Its seriously the blind leading the blind!
                                My biggest thing was with him I always ride him into a contact, as he can fly off the handle really quickly. In the stock saddle I couldnt, I had to trust him, and as a result he was perfectly trust-worthy too.
                                I thought we did amazing, tight circles (walk and trot) and big canters. It was funny watching the video back, he looked like a good little dressage trained horse, and boy were we going slow lol


                                • Original Poster

                                  Just as an update, I was able to get my horse on the bit and keep him there for the duration of my ride yesterday, for the first time EVER. I do not ride my horse in lessons. So clearly this is paying off!