Switching from Western to English

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Q: I’ve ridden western for many years, but I really want to ride English and jump. Is it hard to switch from western to jumping? Do you have any pointers?

English riding

A: While I’ve spent decades competing over jumps, I have also actively participated in reining and western horsemanship. I think the key to successfully switching from one riding style to another is to first acknowledge their differences. Then you have to adjust your mindset and riding position accordingly.

To adjust your mindset, adopt a “gallop and go” philosophy. Split-second decisions are needed while jumping a course, so you’ll have to think quickly and be in constant communication with your horse. Though your hand and leg aids may at times be passive, they will never be absent. This contrasts with the image of the ideal western rider, who appears almost motionless as her horse lopes around the show pen on a draped rein.

You’ll also need professional mentoring as you transition from a western seat to the classic forward seat used for jumping. Find an instructor with a background in open (United States Equestrian Federation-affiliated) hunter or jumper competition who can give you advice that is correct, current and safe.

Switching to an English saddle requires more than just shortening your stirrup length. To prepare for jumping, you’ll spend much of your time in a two-point or half-seat position. Both situate your weight more on your pelvic bones than your seatbones.

Finally, you’ll progress much faster—and avoid a ton of frustration—if you learn the basics aboard a trustworthy horse that already knows how to jump. Ultimately, you may decide to buy or lease a proven hunter or jumper. Training your western horse to jump is certainly a possibility, and plenty of horses happily perform a variety of jobs in both western and English tack. Yet many horses cannot make the switch successfully, either due to their conformation or years of intensive training. They become confused and eventually turn sullen. Your horse should share your enthusiasm for this new pursuit.

Liked this article? Here are others on getting started in a new sport:
9 Tips for Better Jumping
Getting Started with Horses: Lesson Programs

During her lengthy show career on the hunter-jumper circuit, CINDY HALE won more than 20 medals for hunt-seat equitation. She currently serves as a judge at local and regional open horse shows.


This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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Cindy Hale
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.

2 COMMENTS

  1. great info, i was pleased to see this article. I started out riding english for 5 years then started riding western and now I want to get back into riding both types.

  2. Well said but not always so easy to follow. I love to jump yet have always had to teach the horse I’m on. I’ve had the opportunity or pleasure to ride an already well schooled jumping horse though I sure would love to!

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