What Western Riders are Missing in Terms of Equitation

Western riders are a bunch of slouches who don’t bother with the finer details of body position and just yank their horses around…

Wait…WHAT?!

I’ve ridden “English” horses and “Western” horses and here I go on my first rant.  “English” riding is such a broad term.  Are we talking about Jumpers? Show jumpers or Hunters? If someone is talking about a western rider, do they mean a barrel racer or a western pleasure rider? Are we prepared to divide riders by the style of their saddle and not by whether they are riding for speed versus accuracy? Or for cadence versus variation of rhythm? Or whether or not they have a cow or a jump in the arena with them? Riding horses, whether it be in a flat saddle, one with a horn, or one that sits both legs on one side requires the same things; training our mind and body for strength, flexibility, awareness and balance.    

One notable observation I’ve made over the years is how it is generally accepted amongst English riders, specifically Dressage riders, to constantly be studying their equitation.  Masters of Dressage have developed terms, phrases and an ideal riding position that most other disciplines are familiar with.  Many of the western riders that come to me for lessons are familiar with the idea of having their ear, shoulder, hip and heel all in alignment.  I’ve observed that many of the riders that come to see me also understand the importance of their body position in relation to their horse, although the terms and phrases are fairly rudimentary.   Western riders are missing some of the well-presented information that Dressage riders take advantage of.  Maybe its because Dressage riders, historically, were soldiers, learning to ride in a specific way to create formations for battle. Western riders, on the other hand, were cowboys.  Perhaps they grew up on a horse and learned more by “sink or swim”? Dressage riders use terms like “forward”, “impulsion”, and “collection”.  Western riders use terms like, “broke”, “stay-back” and “yee, haw, whoa, go”. 

Ear, shoulder, hip and heel alignment

 Are western riders and trainers simply less rigid about their body position and the body position of their horses? Are the horses just more forgiving of a lack of balance or straightness?  I don’t believe so.  I especially don’t believe that’s the case when I watch a rider run a horse down the wall and turn a cow. Training a horse to put its body in a correct position for a pirouette is no more challenging than teaching a horse the body position for a correct spin, although they are opposite. I have worked for years to teach my hands to be increasingly disciplined so that the slightest movement from the one-handed position is felt by the horse and interpreted as something they should react to. Neck-reining is an INDIRECT feel to the horse so is the discipline in my hands not equally as important, or maybe even MORE important, as the Olympic level Dressage rider with the double bridle?!

These are questions we will probably never really know the answer to.  Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter which discipline/event is more challenging or which one requires more from the horse or a more skilled rider.  What matters is that we use the information that we have to improve our skills as riders and trainers in every discipline, every event and on every individual horse.  

 I’m a HUGE fan, okay Nerd, when it comes to body position and body mechanics on a horse.  When I was a student at Meredith Manor I loved the idea that there was a formula or a science to aligning my body with the horse.  As I grew as a horseperson, I noticed that the body position, (ear, shoulder, hip, heel in alignment), was applicable in a lot of my western riding, BUT NOT ALL OF IT. No matter how hard I worked, I could not keep my body in alignment when I was running a fast circle in my reining pattern.  If I had tried to hold that position in a sliding stop I would have certainly eaten dirt.  So where is the information, the recipe, the formula for where my body should be when I’m running a fast circle? Or doing a sliding stop? How can I explain this to my students effectively?

I’ve spent the last fifteen years since graduating Meredith Manor studying how the formula applies to western performance horses.  Western Pleasure, for example, is fairly similar. Cutting is fairly opposite.  If you sit like a Dressage rider when you ride a cutter, you will eat dirt.  HOWEVER, the basic rules are the same.  You’ve got to balance your centre of gravity over your horses centre of gravity. Studying the biomechanics of the horse through various maneuvers and watching riders at the highest and lowest level of western riding has given me incredible insight on how to do this.  I’m confident that this approach has played an enormous role in my success in the show pen as an open rider with almost zero show ring experience as a youth or non-professional.

And I have to say, western riders are NOT a bunch of slouches who don’t bother with the finer details and yank their horses around!  Reiners, Cowhorse enthusiasts and Using horse people are the finest horsemen/women I’ve had the honour of watching and learning from. 

To sum up, western performance horse riders are not lacking the balance required from riding in a saddle without a horn! Give me a break.  What I think most western riders need is the formula and the body awareness so they can adjust their position to stay balanced on their horse whether it be running a fast circle, spinning, turning on a barrel or jogging over a log.  This is my passion and I hope you’ll ask me lots of questions, get involved with further blog posts and videos and be able to apply some of my knowledge to your own riding! 

Hi, I’m Lindsay! You can usually find me juggling my kids in some sort of frenzy or teaching riding lessons at my farm in London, Ontario. I’m an equitation NERD, a passionate horsewoman and a chocolate chip cookie fanatic (Joanna Gaines recipe from Magnolia Table, you guys. Her recipe is unreal!). I’m married to a goofball who is equally passionate about our western lifestyle and we are surrounded by THE best community of horsepeople.

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