?Good English and Western riding are the same to me,? says AQHA Professional Horseman Andy Moorman. ?It's just different tack.?
Moorman should know. In her 40 years as a trainer, the horsewoman from Venice, Florida, has taught riders at all levels, in both Western and English events, from barrel racing to over-fences classes.
?I teach all my riders basically the same,? she continues, ?because I'm looking for a person who can stay balanced on a horse, can stay in their leg (their leg on the horse), soft in the hands and relaxed in the body, whether they?re riding English or Western.?
But through the years Andy has discovered that training in English riding offers a lot to both beginning riders and more-experienced riders who have primarily ridden Western. It might not be a bad idea to hang up your western chaps for a bit, and see what English riding can do for you, whether it's your style or not.
To learn more about the differences between English and Western riding, download a FREE guide?English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles.
Show Me Some Leg
In a nutshell, English riding places a heavy emphasis on using both leg and weight aids in addition to hands and reins in controlling a horse.
?English people tend to pay a lot more attention to the leg on the horse as a support mechanism for both the horse and rider,? Andy explains. ?I find that Western riders who started Western usually have a better seat, as far as just to sit on the horse, but they often have no leg to go with it.?
Having a good leg improves a rider?s balance on the horse, allowing the rider to rely less on the hands and reins for that balance. ?Western riders can tend to ride off the face of the horse through the mouth, it can cause the horse to back off from the bit.
They end up with a horse that's too much behind the bridle and they don't know how to fix it or they might not even realize it's a problem,? Andy says. ?The horse should be ridden forward to the bit.?
?Higher-level Western riders certainly understand that and do it, but less-advanced riders often don't.?
One of the reasons it can be easier to learn how to use your leg while riding English has to do with the difference in tack.
?In an English saddle,? Andy points out, ?you're closer to the horse. There's not so much leather between you and the horse, and it's not so confining.? The thinner English stirrup leathers allow a much freer leg, so the rider must learn to control where that leg is on the horse.
The Western saddle is made to give more support to a rider. ?It's easier for a rider to sit there in a Western saddle and not learn to use their leg,? she says. ?In an English saddle the rider is not so supported that they can develop that bad habit.?
An Exercise in Balance
English riding offers the benefit of traditions rooted in old European schools devoted to the discipline of riding, such as the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria.
?English riding has a thousand years of good horsemanship behind it,? AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman explains. ?Its training methods are based more on time-honored methods that are recorded and have been proven over and over.
?For example, in English riding, there are a lot of exercises to help riders understand balancing techniques and rhythm techniques better,? she says. ?I use exercises with my riders that I have learned from other trainers and some that I?ve developed on my own.?
Andy uses these exercises on beginners, as well as advanced riders needing some tuning in their balance and leg. She has her students perform them in western or English tack.
?These exercises improve them a hundred percent,? she says.
No. 1: Posting Trot
?I make all my riders post and learn their correct diagonals,? Andy says. ?It teaches them to feel and understand the movement of the horse's legs.?
No. 2: Two-Point
?You want to have a deepened leg, whether you're riding Western or English,? she says. ?Riding the two-point position (at the trot) really makes you get that leg down and under yourself.
?You can't stay balanced in two-point if you don't have your leg in the right place. If the leg is too far forward or too far back, your body is going to topple forward or back.?
No. 3: In Series
?I ask my riders to do a lot of series of exercises, such as: ?at the trot, sit five, post five, two-point five, post five, sit five,? and so on.
?I also make them count out loud while they?re doing this,? Andy adds, ?which makes them breathe. They can do anything that won?t let them hold their breath, like whistle, sing or hum. If you can't hold your breath then your body will stay relaxed and you won?t get stiff.
?It sounds easy, but it takes focus and thinking about what you're doing. You?re so busy thinking about yourself, you just ride your horse by your natural instinct, and often the horse is much better.?
No. 4: With Transitions
Andy also works on transitions, counting strides in each gait. ?We?ll go from either the sitting trot or a walk into a canter for so many strides, and then come back to a posting trot on the correct diagonal.
?If you're cantering along and you're counting the rhythm, when you come to a posting trot, you will naturally be on the correct diagonal.?
No. 5: Stride Length
?I like my riders to practice lengthening and shortening the gait,? Andy says. ? And that's not going faster and then slower, it's making the stride longer and then shorter.
?Going back and forth between a longer and shorter stride makes the horse elastic so it understands to either move out or come back to you.?
No. 6: Working Off the Seat
The real riding test of leg and balance is to do all of the above exercises without reins.
?I like to put people on a longe line,? Andy explains, ?and have them do all these exercises using their seat and leg, with no hands on the reins.
?Most of the time, people are so much into their hands they don't realize that a lot of the problems they are having they create with their hands. They?ve never learned what they can do with their other body parts.
?It's amazing how much you can control your horse with just your seat and your legs and your rhythm and breathing.?
If It's Worth Having, It's Worth Working For
If you want to improve your leg and balance in your Western riding, some English schooling just might be the thing for you.
?It does take a lot of work,? Andy warns. ?Some people want instant success, and it's not that way when you want to learn to do something right. Like anything else, it takes a lot of practice.?
Andy often advises her beginners to try English riding before sitting in a Western saddle. ?I think people are generally better off if they learn to ride English first,? she says, ?because they typically develop better leg and better balance from the get-go.
?But, if you're in the proper hands with the right person schooling you,? she adds, ?you're fine whether you're riding English or Western.?
The right trainer will ensure that you learn how to properly use your leg and seat as well as your hands, no matter your style.