Guest blog by Shona Hamilton-Higgins, Lilac HR
I have ridden English all my life. I practically live in my jumping saddle. So when my husband, Dan, and I ventured out to Sovereign Quarter Horses for a Western Experience Day, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d ridden in a Western saddle when we went trekking in upstate New York in 2017, but I wouldn’t say I did much actual riding! I was a typical touristy passenger on my surefooted little sorrel taking selfies in the snow.
Western Riders Use Their Whole Body
So off hubs and I went to our Western Experience Day with a couple of unsuspecting, novice friends, not really knowing what to expect. The team did a great demo of how to apply the basic aids: going, stopping and turning etc. The main difference I noticed compared to English riding was how much the riders were using their whole body, not just legs and hands as we are traditionally taught in our English riding schools. There was no pulling on the mouth, no heels digging into ribcages. Everything was as smooth as Valegro’s extended trot.
Saddling Up and Familiarisation
After breakfast and a quick nervous wee – we got saddled up and mounted! My usual approach to riding any new horse is to quietly work out where the buttons are. So that’s exactly what I did with Chicmare.
The first thing I had to get my head around was how long my stirrups were! They weren’t even dressage long, but they felt it compared to my usual length! The saddle was wonderful for my wonky seat, it really held me in position and the first thing I noticed was my legs hung differently on either side of the saddle which highlighted just how uneven I was!
The second thing that confused me was the long reins – how do you get them on the bit with such long reins?! I thought crikey I’m glad we’re in an arena! I needn’t have worried though…obviously!
It's All Riding Horses Isn't It?
Once I had worked all that out and once I understood what instructions to give Chicmare I soon forgot about it being “different”. After all, it’s all riding horses isn’t it? I soon got moving up my paces and learned very quickly that the Western jog doesn’t need to be anything like a working sitting trot (thank God!) and the canter transition is basically the same as in English.
Western Riding Can Help Improve English Riding Skills Too
So as soon as I was comfortable that I could actually ride these cowboy horses, I started asking David and Sarah for some pointers on my riding. We did some exercises to get me straight in the saddle to start off with and then we worked on my over excitable shoulders in the canter transition.
We had a break for lunch and did some lassoing while we let our food go down, which by the way, I’m surprisingly good at (sorry Dan!). When we got back on again after lunch, I felt like a full blown cowgirl; loping around the arena with my legs where they should be, my shoulders back, practicing doing less in the saddle all with one hand on the reins; I was basically Annie Oakley at this point. We did some more work on what I had been practicing that morning. David, Sarah and even I were amazed at what an improvement I had made in my riding in such a short space of time!
Top Tips for English Riders Going Western
We had an absolutely cracking day as I’m sure anyone who has experienced a Western Day at Sovereign Quarter Horses can attest to. But for me, the real magic happened afterwards when I went out hacking on my Cob in my jumping saddle. All the lessons I had subconsciously absorbed from bombing about on our Western Day had really stuck in my mind and cantering down a track on my dear cob, I could hear David’s voice saying: “Sit back. Do less. Move your hip across slightly.”
We all know lessons are great for your riding. We all know riding different horses is beneficial too. But if you really want to challenge your riding, go and ride in a totally different style on totally different horses at Sovereign Quarter Horses.
Whether you return to your comfy jods and jumping saddle (like me) or whether you become fully converted and buy a Greely (like Dan), it’ll do wonders for your riding.
My top tips for English riders going Western:
- Wear whatever you normally ride in – don’t worry about looking the part.
- Let go of what you already know and listen to the horse underneath you.
- Don’t squat with your spurs on!
When not riding, Shona provides businesses with human resource support via Lilac HR.