Help a jumper rider not embarrass herself

I ride jumpers and foxhunt, but have been trying to diversify my horsey experiences and recently a friend invited me to come team penning with her next month. I said yes, then looked up team penning on Youtube. Turns out I did not have a very clear sense of what team penning was!! The closest I have gotten to cows on horseback is hacking out at home and our jumpers are TERRIFIED of the neighbor’s cattle.

I’ve only sat in a western saddle a few times and last year was immediately called out as an English rider because I instinctively got into two-point galloping down a trail, haha. I have booked a lesson with a Western trainer at a nearby barn to get a little more comfortable in the saddle, but would appreciate any hot tips on transitioning from English to Western, team penning, and how to make life easier for the poor borrowed horse that’s going to have to put up with me.


Way back when I was a young professional (at an eventing barn) I went team penning on my hunter pony project. She was registered paint I think, no spots. 14hh greyed to white, super tight knees, and a butt “two axe handles wide” according to the shipper I used to take her east to hunter land.

I borrowed a western saddle and was concerned about looking silly or out of place. Trust me, don’t worry. I could have shown up in breeches and a Tad Coffin and no one would have given a hoot. Pony was a CHAMP. Once she realized the cows would run from her she was all business and pinned ears. I’m sure she made me look cooler than I deserve, but the people were SO welcoming. Seriously great crowd happy to be sharing their sport.

No need to buy a cowgirl costume, that’s the fastest track to a faux pas. Make sure your tack is safe and you can stay in your saddle and HAVE FUN!!


I started penning and sorting on my thoroughbred jumper last year, because one of my western friends needed a teammate. The first few times I went in my English tack, but wore jeans and Dublin boots and a Navajo pad - very wenglish, but I couldn’t figure out what to wear. :rofl: I’m in MA so not sure if it is more serious elsewhere, but no one cared about my tack. I do now have Western tack, but the used saddle I found that fit my horse is a blinged out barrel saddle, so I still don’t blend in. My horse is also 2 hands taller than all the little quarter horses and loves to do his most dramatic extended trot at the cows, so I’ve given up trying to fit in. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful, and all the cow work has calmed my horse down for everything else.

Now for the tips. Sit back - I think of tucking my tail bone under. I still want to get into my half seat whenever something happens. On my horse this is fine since he has zero cutting moves, but I’ve sat on a few trained western horses and have smacked into the horn when they took off after the cow . Also be prepared to be a little out of control. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but at least the horses I’ve ridden will follow the cow and know what to do. Took a little getting used to as I’m used to riding every stride on my horse. To get used to the saddle, I started with my stirrups basically at the same length I’d use for flatwork then lowered them every few rides. I lost my stirrups a lot at the beginning, I find I need to really think of keeping my weight in my stirrups. I post and have seen that most other riders do the same at a trot and sit the jog. For what to wear, I ordered some bootcut jeans in a longer length than normal, already had cowboy boots, and I do always wear a helmet. I’m usually the only adult in a helmet, but no one has ever commented. I wore sun shirts when I went over the summer, the places I go are very casual and most people were in tank tops or t shirts. Now that it’s cold people are in a mix of sweatshirts and jackets.

Go and have fun. It’s laid back, not expensive, top placings win money. I like it so much that I went probably 10 times this year, compared to 1 hunter show.


Tip --> HAVE FUN!

Good for you exploring new things. Main thing, as someone already said, is to “sit on your pockets” in the western saddle, rather than up in 2 point. Old habits will be hard to break.

I’m a Western rider that has been dabbling in English and one of the hardest things for me is to maintain contact. I’m so used to riding on a loose rein! So I am sure it will be the opposite for you. Give the horse some slack in the reins.


I find the switch between dressage and western saddles to be very easy but then I grew up riding a lot of Western plus jump seat English (but not really jumping). I also find the switch between dressage and jump saddles easy these days.

I took my big English trained Paint in some local team penning drop in lessons. It was a lot of fun and she’s got cow talent. But it’s too late in the day to retrain her to whiz and rollback at speed. Riding a proper trained penning horse would be a hoot!

Folks were really nice and welcoming. I gradually picked up that some of the organizers were quite high up in the sport going to Calgary Stampede, etc. But they were super welcoming of newbies.

I borrowed a Western saddle, and wore some old denim full seat breeches and paddock boots. I just don’t have comfy riding jeans anymore.

Keeping butt in saddle instead of two-point will definitely be my main challenge… I do like to sit deep/sit the canter but once we pick up speed it’s so ingrained into me to get up out of the saddle. And I’ve been foxhunting lately on horses who also just want you to sit back and let them do their thing, so I’ll try to sit on my pockets and stay out of the way :slight_smile:

And thank you all for the attire tips, my plan was just to wear regular jeans, paddock boots and my helmet. So excited about this!

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Please let me join the discussion. I have a 14" Circle Y Proven full quarter horse bars barrel saddle that puts me in the same position as my dressage saddle (my main sport). My Arabs and half Arab’s like it with a heavy folded double saddle pad. I’m 5’ 4". For team penning and trail rides, what type of saddle would be optimum?

Use whatever saddle you like, team penning/sorting is not about any specific discipline, more of a general one, as ranch work is, so most any saddle will work.

I have seen competitors using barrel racing saddles and get along fine in them.

I have used over the last almost 50 years my Stubben Rex for all kinds of ranch work, including some light roping in a pinch, careful to feed rope, not get jerked off.
Like when not expecting to need to catch something and as my preference be riding colts on my English saddle.

Only if and when you get to the higher levels, I would start with what you have and see how that works for you.
Your team mates may let you try different saddles, if you decide yours doesn’t work for you.

Thanks, Bluey. My saddle is very secure and comfortable.

What you have is just fine for team penning and trail rides.

99% of my riding is done in my barrel saddle (primary discipline) including out on the trail, including reining lessons, including local shows, and everything else I do. I only switch to my English saddle to practice English (which I should do more of), and to my roping/trail saddles once in a great while to practice ranch horse (like a couple times a year) and then to show ranch horse at AQHA. Otherwise… I’m comfortable in my barrel saddle and that’s what I use.

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