Are you one of them who know to ride in both ways, or did you simply believe that there is no difference at all?
I want to explain you the differences and advantages under, to give you an idea about where to start.
I actually started to ride in a huge western saddle… Equestrian centers didn’t exist on my island, so I had to learn it on my own. My father used to ride as a cowboy and sometimes he let me try his horse. But being only around 3 years old, I often fell off! When I was around 14 the big interest for horse riding turned up, but we didn’t have a horse any more. I had to go searching for one…
No equestrian center
In my island most people knew about the English riding style. Most of the horses were either trotter horses or Islandic horses. I actually learned to ride by doing some trotting and galloping on a straight road by the sea-side. I used a couple of Islandic horses, which were great horses for getting started.
Later on I found a couple of ex trotter horses, which belonged to a young girl. One of them could run forever, which actually meant no breaks… But I was used to follow the road, and since they always kept running on the road, I was fine about it. Gosh, we had a lot of fun those days! I continued to try all the horses I could possibly ride, always with the English riding saddle.
Finally taking a riding course
At the age of 18 I did a one-year riding course not far from Oslo. It was very unusual to ride in a square riding ground after all the years on the road! In the beginning I felt like a totally clumsy fool trying my best not to crash into the other horses.
I started to learn basic dressage and show jumping, which opened up a new world to me. All classical English style of course. Everything I learned that year has followed me until today, and I’m still using this important knowledge while riding or working with the horses. The point is that the basics for making a horse work covers more or less the same principles in both styles.
One thing that really separates the two styles is when it comes to jumping.
Jumping with a western saddle is almost dangerous. Imagine if you land on the saddle horn! That’s why the English saddles are flat and light. English people have always been able to jump natural obstacles while hunting in the fields. It’s a part of their culture.
The English saddle
Riding in an English saddle is more challenging for the balance skills. The stirrups are smaller and less steady. It’s more likely to get the feet stuck if you fall off. The seat is flat and smooth. It’s really easy to slide off the horse if he turns fast. But these small saddles also let you get more in touch with the horse, almost like bareback riding.
The American saddle
This is almost the opposite of the English saddle. It’s much bigger and heavier. The seat is deeper and it comes with a saddle-horn in the front. The stirrups are wider and your legs are more protected. It’s less likely to fall off the horse, but it’s also easy to get hurt while hitting the saddle-horn. One of my friends got a blue eye because of it, and the other broke two ribbons while falling off.
Choose your style!
Now it’s up to you to choose which style you prefer. If you didn’t like any of them you might try the Australian saddle or the trekking style saddle. They’re both a good option if you like to ride far away.
But always remember to never wear a big belt, western boots and jeans in an English saddle or riding pants and leg chaps in an American saddle!
Next time I’ll talk more about how to use the hands and reins…