Western Riding, is it as comfortable as everyone presumes?
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
So this May I went to Italy, and my god I fell in love with the place. The place I visited was a small city in Tuscany, called Mointaine whilst staying at Castelle de Tonda. I managed to stumble across this deal whilst looking at holidays away, which had to include something which I hold close to my heart, horses, of course. So I found the company called 'In The Saddle' a much-recommended site if you want to find a fabulous riding holiday. And off I went.
I arrived on Sunday and left on the Saturday, so it gave me a full week to appreciate and learn the very basics of western riding, and my god I was in for a shock of how different it really is to English riding.
C o n t r o l
When looking at western riding on television series like Heartland it's easy to spot the common differences that western riding holds. It's not just the saddle that differs but if you pay close attention the steering is different too. When riding in England we figure out which bit is best so that we can easily control our horses, this is the same too in any place of which uses an American bride. The main difference, however, is how they're trained. (Normally) English horses are very hard mouthed. However, horses which are taught using an American bridle (which looks identical with a missing noseband) are normally found to be soft mouthed due to them being trained more so to listen to certain speech commands as well as leg movement in conjunction.
The respect still remains, if your horse starts misbehaving then you kick forward, click on with your voice, and stand tall. But I must admit, not holding the reins to tightly was very weird to start off with.
T u r n i n g T h e R e i n ' s :
In England we are taught to bring the reins back toward our bodies, turning the horses head almost into us, pulling the reins backwards. This is however not the case in American riding, you're hands need to be at a 90 degree angle to your body, and whenever you move them you have to always keep each hand at the same distance apart, not passing across the centre of the horse. My god, this takes some getting used to when you're so used to turning the reins anywhere and everywhere. The number one rule: don't freak out and just pull the reins willy-nilly, your horse will have no idea what you want it to do, and then start going loopy. No wonder the Americans are so calm, they have to be on horseback.
R e i n i n g 3 6 0 º S t y l e :
Whilst we were there we also had the opportunity to have a reining lesson with the amazingly talented Franco, with his amazing assistant Marco who translated for Franco. Learning how to come to a screeching stop whilst riding hell for leather, whilst cantering in a (trying) straight line, as well as turning the horse hard in a 360 degree circle over and over again until you got too dizzy and stopped (when you're head didn't quite catch up.) It's hard work, and of course, you are put on horses that know every command off by heart, they've been trained this way, but don't think it's easy. If you ever have the opportunity to experience one of these lessons it's well worth it. Just don't take it personally when they're getting frustrated at you when you get it wrong, they've trained these horses up to an impeccable standard, they don't want you programming in naughty habits.
I s T h e M y t h T r u e ? ! I s a w e s t e r n s a d d l e r e a ll y m o r e c o m f o r t a b l e t h a n a n
E n g l i s h o n e ?
It really depends on what American saddle you ride in. It's like all English saddles, the number of different shapes and sizes you can get are limitless, some are more comfortable and less comfortable. The common American saddle is anywhere from $700, to well over $5000 (especially for special reining American saddles.)
Personally I'm used to the control, and I'm used to the balance (or lack of) which an English saddle provides, so for me it's an English saddle, and bridle all the way, but I would love to hear your experience and what you prefer.