When you begin with the riding, you can choose one of the several different riding styles. Each discipline has its own style and competitive events associated with it. When choosing a riding style you are going to want to consider what it is that you really want to do with your horse as well as what your horse is capable of doing.
If you just want to spend the weekends on the trail, then you are probably going to find that a nice and cushioned western saddle is just what you need. If you want to learn to jump, then you are going to need to learn to ride English and use an English saddle. You may also choose a particular discipline because of what is popular in your area because of the availability of instructors and shows.
Some styles are more popular in different areas of the country such as English riding (hunter/jumper or dressage) in the Northeast or Western riding in the West.
Many people enjoy the comfort and security that the western saddle provides. These saddles are large, cushiony and well suited for long rides.
They were designed by cowboys who spent long hours and many days on horseback. They needed comfort on the trail and would even use them as pillows at night.
There are several variations of the western saddle as it has been adapted for specific events. There are saddles that are designed specifically for pleasure, trail, roping, cutting, barrel racing and reining. Each saddle may have unique features depending on what they are designed for.
A cutting saddle is going to have a deep seat and large cantles to hold you in place while the horse makes quick maneuvers. The roping saddle is going to have a large horn for dallying your rope on. The barrel saddle is light with less skirting.
They may also have taller cantles and a smaller horn. If you just plan on riding western for the fun of it, then you are most likely going to choose a pleasure or trail saddle.
If you are interested in riding western you will find that many cowhands who still work cattle are still using the western saddle. The western saddle is a large part of the cowboy heritage and it is not going away any time soon.
The biggest function of the western saddle today, however, is going to be seen in use on pleasure horses and western show horses. There are several events that you can take part in while riding western including rodeos, western pleasure, trail riding (both for pleasure and competition), reining, roping, cutting and gymkhana.
Those riders who ride for the sheer fun of riding are often seen in a comfortable western saddle. Horses you might commonly see in Western tack include the Quarter Horse, although that breed has made a cross into English and dressage.
The Paint and Appaloosas are also largely western breeds as well. You don’t often see a Thoroughbred in a western saddle, but there are several out there who do work in a western saddle. Some gaited horses are often ridden western such as the Missouri Fox Trotter and the Tennessee Walking Horse.
Arabians are often shown western as well, and special western saddles have been developed for their shorter backs and lighter bodies.
The English saddle is much smaller and lighter than the western saddle. The style of English riding is often referred to as Hunt Seat, which refers back to the traditional foxhunts that take place in Britain. The English saddle is rather simple with stirrup leathers and metal stirrups.
This saddle does not provide the security that the western saddle provides and the rider must rely on her balance more so than in a Western saddle. The rider also has closer contact with the horse and is easily able to feel the movements of the horse’s shoulders and body.
English saddles include different types, which vary somewhat in seat depth, narrowness of the twist of the saddle, and flap placement, such as hunt seat saddle, jumper saddle, dressage saddle and general purpose saddle. The stirrup leathers are easily adjustable so that the rider is able to adjust the length and distribute their weight properly while mounted.
This is important because the English rider uses shorter stirrups than the western rider will, especially if jumping. A general-purpose saddle can be used in most English events including jumping and occasionally dressage, though most experienced riders find that the “all purpose” isn’t specific enough in design to either discipline to make a proper advanced rider saddle.
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