IHSA: Riding Both Western and English

An Ohio State University Equestrian Team member interviews two students who compete in Western and English events in IHSA team competition.
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An Ohio State University Equestrian Team member interviews two students who compete in Western and English events in IHSA team competition.

I decided to get the scoop on what it's like to ride and show in both hunt seat and Western classes at Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) competitions. As we all know, riding in only one discipline can leave us physically, mentally and financially drained. Read on for the thoughts of two members of The Ohio State Equestrian Team who have started showing in both disciplines this year.

I interviewed Erin Dean, who showed only hunt seat last year, and Kirsten Hecht, who showed only Western last year. Some of their answers were typical while others were a bit surprising:

Question: What is your primary discipline and how long have you been riding?

Kirsten: Western is my primary discipline although I've done both for a while. I started Western, and though I've ridden English it was mostly the stock breed "pleasure" type of English, which is still very much Western-oriented in my opinion. I started riding when I was 7.

Erin: My primary discipline is hunt seat, and I have been training in this area since I was 12 years old. I have been actively riding for seven years and showing for five years.

Question: Why did you decide to show in a second discipline?

Erin: I decided to show Western this year because I wanted the opportunity to try a different discipline. Intercollegiate riding provides one of the best possible opportunities to show in both disciplines, and with such a wide range of skill levels in riders, I decided this would be the perfect time to show Western pleasure riding. I've often heard that riders who train in both disciplines become better riders overall, so my thinking is that I have nowhere to go but upward as I further improve my skills. Another reason why I decided to show in a second discipline--and this is kind of funny--is that I really like the "flashy" Western show clothes. In hunt seat, for uniformity, everyone has the same outfit, and I wanted to get the chance to stand out in a really unique Western outfit! My personal favorites are my cowboy hat and belt buckle!

Kirsten: Last spring quarter I couldn't fit the Western lessons into my schedule, but I had to take lessons for three out of four quarters, so I decided to take some English lessons to get in shape for the summer show season with my own horses. I was then told that I would be riding English for the team next year.

Question: What do you feel is the biggest challenge in your new discipline?

Erin: I feel the biggest challenge in riding Western is trying not to look like a hunt seat rider trying to learn Western. I have to constantly remind myself to maintain a long leg and square my shoulders because I have to become accustomed to riding with the reins in one hand.

Kirsten: Besides having to pay all the bills, I would say that the toughest challenge is just getting used to some of the English horses. I'm used to riding the lazy, slow stock horses, but some of the horses you can draw at these show are very forward, and it's hard for me. Also, we don't have any lesson horses who are that forward, so I can't really practice working on riding the forward ones. Other than that, posting without stirrups.

Question: Do you plan to continue in both disciplines after you graduate?

Kirsten: Yup, I'd actually love to do more real English-type stuff.

Erin: I have enjoyed riding for the past seven years, and I certainly hope that after graduation I will at least choose to stick with both disciplines. Hunt seat is my "serious" training, so to speak, while Western is a fun outlet for me. If my schedule after college permits, I hope to find a reasonable show schedule to compete in one or both disciplines because I like to think that the whole point of all my practice was to show off all my hard work.

Question: OK, last question. Which is easier, English or Western?

Erin: I feel that Western is definitely easier just because one can use less leg and ride with a more relaxed seat. In my opinion, though, there is a trade-off; jumping in hunt seat makes English more difficult, yet reining in Western is just as challenging. I think that since I've been training English for so long and that I have had experience with riding horses, Western is naturally just a bit easier because I am no longer a beginner.

Kirsten: Definitely Western. Usually you can just sit and look pretty, and it's also not as physically demanding.

Julie Caldwell majored in international studies with a minor in Japanese at The Ohio State University and competed in intermediate flat and jumping for the school's equestrian team.