I have been riding for twelve years. I have always been an English rider and Jumper despite spending my formative years at a Saddle-Seat riding barn that also dabbled in western riding and rodeo competitions. Since I grew up watching Cowboys and Cowgirls racing around in their bedazzled outfits I dreamed of doing just what they did and winning a giant silver buckle. Obviously that was only a dream because I enjoy Jumping to much to switch to an entirely different riding style. This summer I was able to try western riding in Germany.
Oh, the irony that I do English riding in a predominantly western town and I was trying western in a predominantly English riding country. I was intrigued in having a lesson in a riding style that I only knew in context of tourist trail rides. The experience was fun, but semi-uncomfortable. I am used to sitting slightly tilted forward, with my heels reaching down to the floor. I am very comfortable with my legs bent and my feet turned inwards. I especially like having my feet in the stirrups. Western is different. You sit on your tailbone rather than hinged forward on your hips. Your legs are straighter and your heel does not really reach to the floor, its more parallel. I had trouble with this type of position, especially when my foot kept sliding out of the stirrups. Although I suspect that had something to do with the fact that I was not wearing boots I could still hear my 4’9” riding instructor yelling to put my heels down, close my fingers, and puff out my chest.
When you are in the saddle your position is wider with your legs in a man spread position. Also your legs are in front or on the girth rather than being behind the girth as with English. I liked cantering, cantering Western was very smooth and comfortable and it required a lot less core strength then English cantering, but posting trotting was iffy just because my legs were not as bent.
Untacking the horse was easy, considering I did not have to take the girth off from both sides, but the saddle was a lot heavier than the English saddle. The strangest aspect of the whole event was the fact that I was to wash the horse then take it to a muddy arena and let it roll around. I cringed at this because I grew up with understanding that you never let a clean wet horse roll and if it did then you would have to rewash it. I understand that not all western barns have the same polices with their grooming as this particular German barn. Western riding is a very respectable sport and I admire those who have the guts to be able to move their steeds into a gallop and then to an immediate stop, while overall I liked the experience I do not think I will be changing styles anytime soon.