Not My Style: Part 1

Basic training in English riding can enhance your western performance.

“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.

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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.”

Stay tuned for the second part of this series.

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Interested in learning more about English riding? Check out this video with AQHA Team Wrangler member Jessica Johnson. She explains the two-point position, focusing on correct leg, seat and body position.