Riding Western is more than just a pair of jeans, cowboy boots and a Stetson. A closer look at Western riding reveals a technique that encourages a number of skills that are transferable to English riding – in fact, giving Western a go could improve your riding more than you realise.

Ross Cooper of Rosca Horsemanship explains what you can learn from this style of riding.

1. Teaches an independent seat and improves balance

Western horses generally have a calm nature and work at a steadier pace, which gives you the opportunity to concentrate on your own balance and independence of seat.

As there’s no direct contact with the horse’s mouth — as you ride with a longer rein — there is nothing for you to hang on to.

This encourages you to find your balance with the horse’s movements without relying on your reins, so you need to focus more on your seat for forwardness, stopping and direction.

2. Allows your horse to move freely and naturally

Aside from tack, the most notable way of identifying a Western horse is through its carriage, specifically the position of the horse’s head. Their poll is just above or below the wither, with the nose slightly in from of the vertical.

For many horses, this is a natural position and promotes unrestricted movement and allows them to use their body and balance correctly.

It helps them to develop confidence, spatial awareness and proprioception.

3. Teaches your horse to listen and respond to the lightest of aids

The split reins are usually held in one hand with slack to the bridle

Western bridles have split reins, which can be held by both hands over a bridged rein, but are predominantly held singly in one hand.

You ride with obvious slack between the bridle and hands, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a contact.

Instead, the contact is used as a means of communication to refine a cue, not to hold the horse in place, keeping the aids light.

A well-trained Western horse is usually accustomed to neck reining, where they rein is applied to the horse’s neck to ask them to yield to the opposite direction.

4. Teaches you to use and apply your weight as an aid

Your seat is the primary point of contact with your horse, no matter the discipline.

Ranch work requires a horse to be finely tuned to the movements of the rider — starting with the weight distribution of the pelvis and in turn the complimentary movement of the legs.

As you approach a turn, looking in the direction of travel allows your shoulders and torso to rotate in unison, and with Western, the opening of the inside leg and closing of the outside leg to follow the movement, like opening and closing a door.

The weight lightly on the seatbone to the direction of travel is a natural consequence of this, and can help direct your horse through the movement,

5. Gives you a free hand for useful jobs such as operating gates

As the reins are split and usually held together in the left hand, this leaves your right hand free. Now, you can easily rope cattle or open gates.

This is only possible when you can correctly neck rein, in unison with your seat, to direct the horse safely.

6. Helps you improve your horsemanship

Horsemanship is not about what you do, but how you do it. At the very heart of Western riding is the practicality of life on the ranch and fulfilment of getting the job done in unison with your horse.

It’s not about rosettes or competitions, but about being the best horseman you can be.

Putting aside the stereotypes, the Western horse can teach you the value of movements steeped in history, build confidence in your ridden independence and trust that communication is the key — all of which will improve your relationship with your horse.

About the trainer: Ross Cooper of Rosca Horsemanship is a British horseman, UKCC Coach Holistic Therapist and Equine Behaviour Consultant based in Derbyshire. Rosca Horsemanship provides hands-on training to dynamic ridden coaching for all disciplines and abilities, specialising in bitless training, young horses, foundation groundwork and behavioural issues.

Photos: Shutterstock

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