Q: My horse has been ridden western his entire life but I’d like to try English riding. Is it hard to retrain a western horse for English? How do I get started?
Start by gathering up some traditional English tack. Because English horses respond to direct rein aids, put together a snaffle bridle with a mouthpiece that’s appropriate for your horse. Needless to say, you’ll also need an English saddle. And for safety reasons, always wear an ASTM-approved helmet, particularly if you’re planning on some jumping lessons.
Next, work on establishing a true working trot with your horse. This can be troublesome for a horse going from western to English. Rather than merely urging your horse to trot faster than his typical jog, you have to encourage him to stretch out his frame and lengthen his stride. His first inclination will be to break into a lope. Gently bring him back to a trot. Use lots of large circles at the working trot to help him stay balanced.
You’ll also need to work on your position in the saddle. Western riders have a tendency to sit too far back in an English saddle, with stirrups that are too long and hands that are carried below the withers. Plus, you’ll have to master the posting trot and the two-point, both hallmarks of English horsemanship. For these reasons, seek out a reputable English instructor in your area. While you can do a lot of work at home in your own arena, a professional who can provide support and constructive criticism will make the transition from western to English a more rewarding experience for both you and your horse.
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