Since I started riding again early last year, I can count the times I’ve been in a western saddle on one hand (twice, actually: once in June during my last ride at my former barn and once on Halloween when I was cooling out Ezhno after his ride with Trainer M). Before my hiatus away from horses I used to ride solely western, but I returned with the intent to explore things like dressage, eventing, and show jumping (all of which are English disciplines). It was weird to return to western.
The moment my butt touched the saddle, I cringed. After almost a year of exclusively English riding, the western saddle put a buffer between me and Ezhno that we weren’t accustomed to—so clunky! Not to mention that the saddle I used (the only one the Trainer said would fit my stubby legs, lol) felt a like a pile of bricks underneath me… ow, my gluteus maximus! D:
Day Three’s focus was on using our legs/seat to be able to rate our speed without having to use our reins—in fact, Trainer A challenged us to ride with as loose of a rein as possible, something that’s counter intuitive when you’re used to riding with contact. Trainer A also preemptively encouraged us to only half halt once before correcting our horses with a halt if they continued to ignore our seat (much like I did on Day Two of the clinic when Ezhno and I were practicing our canter).
We kicked things off with the walk (and a lot of halts for me, since Ezhno went right into his best trail walk the moment he sensed a loose rein), then quickly moved to the jog once we’d established the “slow as molasses” pace with our horses. I had to really sit back to keep Ezhno focused, but after a few halts we had something semi close to a western jog—success!
Ezhno and I spent the majority of Day Three working on our canter, though. We ignored frame completely and went back to the same exercise we did on Day Two (collecting him up for a few steps, then letting him have a break before asking for slow again). His leads were pretty sticky, but he immediately picked up a very controllable canter on the left track and then got organized on the right track after a little bit of work. We also threw in a little of the extended canter on the long side/collected canter on the short side exercise (with added hand gallop for the hell of it 😛 ) and then did a few simple lead changes, too. Two hours later Big Horse was soaked with sweat, so he got to chill in his cooler before I bundled him back up for the night.
Ezhno spent most of Day Three with his nose in the air, but the coordination of his canter was vastly improved by the end of Day Three. I’m also impressed by how darn maneuverable he’s gotten! I have complete control over his steering/pace 90% of the time, which means I feel comfortable weaving in and out between nine other riders at the canter, no problem. A full arena is a lot more pleasant than it was when we were starting out.
As one final note, both western and English have their pros/cons (better communication in the English saddle versus the added stability of a western saddle, for example), but I don’t regret making the switch. I feel like changing disciplines has made me a much more well rounded rider, and I love the connection I feel with my horse in an English saddle. I’m looking forward to trying out a lot of different disciplines with Big Horse when we get to a point where he’s more finished.
To wrap things up, here’s a GIF set of “places braided English reins can get caught on a western saddle”: