Riding my Western Horse English - thoughts?

So I just purchased a QH mare who is trained very well in Western (she was previously worked on a cattle and handles nicely in an arena). I bought her from the guest ranch where I work and she will live there. Although I currently ride Western (mostly trail riding) for work, the majority of my riding background is in eventing, with most of my focus on dressage. This mare is incredibly athletic and so much fun to ride in more of an English style and I feel much more comfortable working her in a more “English way” (i.e. riding two hands in a snaffle) but I’m worried I’m going to confuse her with my English background or sort of mess up her Western training. I’m very aware of my hands when I ride her this way because she is so sensitive and I personally think some English riding is good for any Western horse but some of the cues, as you all know, are basically opposite in the two disciplines (thinking leg cues specifically). Do you all think it’s good/bad/ok/etc. to ride this Western mare in a more English style? Curious to hear thoughts and opinions because I’m not quite sure how I feel about it myself! Thank you! :slight_smile:

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My friend jumps her made ranch horse that she competes. He has no problem remembering his real job when needed.


First of all, welcome to the COTH forums!

Second, I’m not sure what you mean about cues or aids being the opposite. Sure, some western show horses are trained with a spur stop but certainly not all. My current horse is a typical western all-around horse, and he moves off my leg and responds to the usual leg aids and cues. Through training and consistent practice he’s very adaptable to adjusting his pace and length of stride depending on whether I’m riding him in western or English tack.

Western horses (generally) are started in a snaffle and have been trained to have both a jog and a long trot, which would be an English posting trot. So you should be fine riding your mare English. Have fun and enjoy! :smiley:


Sounds like a great horse - the good western horses I know have no problem remembering their western training after being ridden English; in fact, it’s great for them to move forward. Have fun!!


First - welcome to COTH Forums!

Second, to answer your question…you might just ask your horse, as she’ll be the best resource.

Saddle her up English. Ride English, but when you do so, keep in mind she’s attempting to learn a different accent and give her a little grace. Maybe don’t try to put her in full contact right from the start, kinda build up to it. Start by trying to ride a little more forward but on a semi-loose rein. See if she objects. Does she toss her head, pin ears, swish tail? Or does she just settle into it? And build from there.

In my experience, most horses make the transition pretty easily. It’s pretty rare that a horse refuses to switch, because to them, they don’t understand that it’s “different sports” - it’s just another thing that humans ask them to do, so sure why not. They’ll just try to do what you ask.

And I’ve never met a horse who knew one and added the other that forgot how to do the original.

So try it, and have fun! :slight_smile: And make sure to give her some cookies after your ride, that’s the most important part to them :wink:


Thank you! That’s a good point to let her decide. I tried riding her with more contact last summer and she was pretty receptive but there were a few times that she gave me a tail swish or a head toss. I’ll definitely be more cognizant of that and let her tell me when she can take more contact.
And there will certainly be cookie rewards :wink:


Thanks! I’m thinking specifically of leg cues, i.e. if I need to move her shoulder while riding Western I would move my leg more towards her shoulder whereas with English I would more so keep my inside leg long and the outside leg back. Maybe that’s incorrect? Like I said, my training is primarily English so I may be asking incorrectly when it comes to Western cues but that’s what I have been taught!
Good to know that your horse can be adaptable to both disciplines, I’m looking forward to working with her!

That’s helpful to know, thank you! :slight_smile:

I think the horse recognizes the tack it wears and adjusts to the job required. She might tell you, however, which she prefers.


I am not familiar with that specific western shoulder movement cue, all the trainers I’ve worked with use basically the same cues western or hunt seat. The spur training may be the biggest adjustment. One of my hunt seat horses has a “modified” spur training where he drops his head, rounds his back, lifts his shoulders and slows his stride. Our older style western pleasure horse has a spur stop where she shuts down on pressure - that is very hard to change.

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I’m going to argue with @Willesdon here & say it’s not so much the tack, as the rider’s position & aids/cues.

My current horse is a gaited breed.
Friend who gave him to me thought TWH, but when he gaits, no noticeable nod.
She rode trails exclusively in an Aussie saddle for the 6yrs she had him. He came to me as a 13yo.
With the help (from the ground) of my Dressage trainer, he now trots in a nice, round frame.
Canter is still a Work in Progress, as former owner never asked for the gait.
It’s not a question of my dressage saddle & snaffle bit, as much as him not understanding what I’m asking for.
He rarely gaits now, but my intent is - once canter is also established - to ask for gait if I’m trailriding. It’s comfy :grin:

Your mare should be able to learn different cues & do what you ask, tack not a factor.
Have fun!
& Welcome to COTH :wave:


Yes, this. ^^^


I totally agree with you! But once the horse has the cues sorted out, putting on one saddle tells him “do it this way” and another saddle “do it that way”. Horses are very smart and can read a situation in a flash.


I’m feeling feisty today :sunglasses:

So, if this is true, how did my TB know to frame up - a la Dressage - when I rode bareback? In a rope halter :wink:
There’s a video of Isabella Werth riding one of her horses bareback*
*in a manner I can only aspire to :grin:

FWIW, also bareback, I could make his trot slow into a semblance of Western jog.
I did the above to mess with an asshat BO who insisted English riding required a helmet, Western did not.
I would share the arena with a godawful “Western” rider whose body GoTo was Fetal Position, sans helmet.
TG, her mare was a saint.
Asshat would actually come out & watch us both w/slitted eyes, but couldn’t fault Bareback, jogtrotting Me for also being bareheaded :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
{smugsmile} Memories! :notes:

Horses read a situation in a flash. Yes, your position, energy, thoughts were all thinking “western jog” so the horse did it. More generally, on an everyday basis, western saddle means western cues, English means English cues … and in your case, a head collar means sloping around bareheaded to annoy an asshat woman. You must have noticed your brain activity clearly affects the way your horse goes? Our brain is a seriously under valued riding aid.


Just something to think about - QH breed show people ride and school their hunt seat horses in western saddles, and show in English saddles … so I don’t think the type of saddle has any effect


@Willesdon for the win! :trophy:
Yes, brain/posture all contribute subtly.
BTW: Asshat was a guy :unamused:
Karma got him in the end when he offered to back Fetal Western’s filly (out of the Saintly mare, acquired as a feral 3yo). Bucked him off in a way that was injurious to his dangly bits.
Pity :smirk:


Your horse will be just fine. Just ride her. It doesn’t matter what tack you have on her. Cue her the same you normally would for what you are asking her to do.

I have all my horses do multiple things. Our primary discipline is barrel racing. However, we also work on reining things. And ranch horse. And we jump, and do equitation. The more broke, and more trainer, the more well rounded they are, it just improves everything else.

I took my horse Red to a good-sized AQHA show last year. He pinned very nicely in the ranch horse classes. And then the next day we went in a WON one of the hunt seat equitation classes (against some very experienced show horses). The only difference is that I was holding 2 hands on the reins for English, and 1 hand for ranch horse. I ride him the same. He knows what I am asking him to do. Not too shabby for a barrel horse, IMO.

Leg cues are NOT opposite.


Congrats on your horse! I second everything Beau said above. Remember, all western horses were started in a snaffle and two handed. Western horses don’t just automatically go in a shanked curb bit from the start. If she was started by a good trainer, then she already has had experience doing basic manuevers that you’d in beginner dressage. Like Beau, I mainly ride and train barrel horses. However my horses have alot more handle and feel on them than alot of single discipline horses. I also ride them english, do cattle work, run barrels, etc. I can frame them up two handed in a snaffle and do basic dressage and move every part of their body at a walk, trot, and canter or I can ride on the buckle and either way they ride the same, but I spend countless hours getting that level of accountability. Don’t overthink it and just go ride your horse. Horses are horses and are capable of much more than we give them credit for. The versatility of doing more than one thing on one is IMO a great advantage!


I am so glad you posted this! I bought a western broke horse 2 months ago and I am having a heck of a time riding her (albeit I’ve only sat on her a handful of times due to weather and getting a saddle that fits her short little back and my leggy self). I’m a USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist and trained my horses myself using dressage principles and techniques. This little horse has no clue what I’m asking. And I have no clue why she is responding to things the way she is. I recently watched a couple of Ken McNabb’s videos and apparently the outside leg on the shoulder turns the horse like you stated.I have been riding her the opposite way like a dressage rider would. She was trained by students of the Ken McNabb system so I’m waiting for his DVD’s to come so I can figure out where the heck the buttons are. Once I learn that I’m hoping to re-install the buttons to my way of riding. Unless of course I like the buttons that are there :slight_smile: