Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why Do You....?

I'm putting out answers to many of the questions and statements I receive about western riding. There is a slight difference order to pretend the questions were just that, and the statements were made to encourage conversation, not attack the discipline itself, I rewrote, combined and improvised to keep things polite.

1. Why do you ride in those big clunky saddles?

Because we do stuff like this.

We need a saddle horn in order rope and drag stuff. It is not intended to be used as a handle, but it can be used that way.

English saddles don't have a horn, so it's much harder to rope a bear in one. They can however be fitted with a thing called a grab or cheater strap. I don't think it helps drag a cow to the fire.

2. I can't feel my horse with a western saddle. I want the close contact I get with my English saddle.

English boots encase the leg up to the knee. Western boots stop right below the calf muscle.
Western riders have different contact than English riders do. Our legs are relaxed in the stirrup and leg contact is made with our calf muscles as needed. The leather fender is rarely any thicker than the leather of a knee high boot.
Also, different western saddles are used for different things and the contact differs. Roping saddles are stiff and the fenders are thick, to allow the roper to stand up and rope. These saddles are not meant to have much feel.
A cutting saddle is all about feel. The stirrups are free swinging and the fenders are flexible.
I find feel is more about learning to ride than the amount of leather on the horse's back.

3.Why are your reins so long?

Well, duh.

Western horses in split reins are meant to ride long and low, on a loose rein. Long reins allow the rider to give the horse his head or gather up for contact, as needed.
Long reins provide extra leather for emergencies. One split rein is long enough to use as a single rein. The other can be used as a lead rope or for quick repairs out on the range. It's why the tie strings are so long too. Our saddles aren't Barcaloungers, they're tool trucks.
Neck reining is all about a signal from a long loose rein.

4. Why do you ride in those huge bits?

They aren't all huge, although the one I ride Madonna in is a beast.

We don't ride with continual contact. Our reins are loose and our legs relaxed. Western horses are ridden one handed. A solid mouthed bit with a port, shanks and curb strap, (curb) is designed to tell the horse which way to go while being ridden one handed on a loose rein. The point is to signal rather than tell.

Plus, we can whack a pluggy sour monster on the butt with them.

5. Why is your horse so hard mouthed she has to be in a spade bit?

It takes 5 - 7 years to create a horse, so soft, so broke, so hair trigger responsive they can graduate to a spade bit. It is about communication, riding with a touch and a sigh. If the horse is afraid of the bit or the rider, it isn't a bridle horse. If my bridle horse can't be ridden in an O-ring snaffle at any time, then she isn't a bridle horse.

6.Why do you always wear spurs? Why are your spurs so big?

Not all western riders wear spurs. Not all western spurs are big.
Most of them look like this:

It has to do with the relaxed leg. Our leg is off, in order to cue, we make contact with our calf, then, if needed, turn our foot out  to make contact with the spur. Long legged riders will wear a spur with a longer shank. This allows contact with less leg movement. The spur is used for turns and to lift the back, not to increase speed. If you watch a good rider, you will very rarely see a spur actually touch
the horse. 

7.Why do you always have your spurs on? 

We leave them on our boots, so we never lose them, and they sound cool when we walk.

8.Why do all your horses go downhill?

Cowboys need bursts speed, turns and stops from their horses. Quarter horses can run a quarter mile from a flat-footed stand still in less than 21 seconds. They reach speeds up to 55 MPH. Some of them do, indeed, stand higher at the croup than at the wither.

We don't need this.

Horses that can do this...

and this....

are built like this.
This particular horse earned well over $100,000 dollars during his career.
He is now enjoying life as a ranch horse, a leading cow horse sire and a beloved family member.
He is sound, sane and famous for his sweet nature.
We should be so lucky as to ride a horse built like him.

Why don't cowboys wear a helmet?

Because cowboy hats keep rain off our backs and face, stop us from getting sunburned, keep wind and dust out of our eyes, and make us look fricking amazing.

Cowboy hat awesomeness.

Western helmets do not.


Becky said...

If you guys aren't using that white horse with the long mane, can I have him? I haven't roped a grizzly in ages, so he doesn't need to be built for it.

I love this post so much it hurts.

mugwump said...

He's all yours.

Crysta Turnage said...

"If you watch a good rider, you will very rarely see a spur actually touch the horse." YES! It's been driving me a bit crazy riding with some local cutting trainers and the horses have been taught that you have to bump, bump, bump with the spur to even get them to go. The second your legs stop, they stop.

I much prefer a horse that stops off my SEAT rather than having to constantly drive with my legs. But I ride one of those crazy Ay-rabs so WTH do I know! ;)

mugwump said...

mugwump said...
Crysta - Most of the cutting trainers I know will bump a horse with their CALVES, if the horse has a tendency to float back toward the herd, this reminds the horse to hold the line. It might look, especially to someone who doesn't cut, that they are spurring, but they are not. Spurs are for turns, not forward, especially in cutting.
The cues I have been taught to use while cutting are considered universal, for good and bad cutters alike. Two legs (calves, not spur)on, means GO!, left leg off, means turn left, right spur follows through if the horse doesn't respond to the left leg, right leg off means turn right, left spur follows through if the horse isn't quick enough. Both legs off means stop. The rest of the time are legs are at rest.

Spur stops are another matter all together, used in completely different circumstances. I don't use them, condone them, or particularly understand them.

None of these methods, good or bad, change with the breed of horse being ridden.

Justaplainsam said...

I love #6 and #7. Thank you for this, it was great!

HorsesAndTurbos said...

"We leave them on our boots, so we never lose them, and they sound cool when we walk."

Why I want to wear spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle!

Crysta Turnage said...

I understand what you're saying Janet and agree with it. But a few of the local trainers I've taken lessons with recently, and even some of the cutting horses my friend and I have been riding, are actually being trained with very active spur bumps. The one trainer told me quite literally to bump, bump, bump with my legs to get forward motion, the faster you bump, the faster they go. Amount of pressure (or release) would indicate a turn. The second you take your spurs/legs out of these horses, they stop. This was while working circles to warm up and while working the flag. And even when entering and sorting from the herd.

We've been taking lessons with cutters in order to improve our team ranch sorting. It seems to work for them, just isn't my preferred style. I can't imagine taking one of the horses trained in that manner out for a leisurely trail ride - bump, bump, bump....

Cindy D. said...

Ah...Spurs. I love my spurs, and yes I love the way the sound when I walk. When I put on my super cool Barbara Stanwyck hat, I am the coolest gal I know.

My horse does not love my spurs, and has no problem slapping me in the back of the head with his tail if I get lazy and forget to cue with my calf.

Actually for me buying spurs turned me towards being a better rider really quick. The trainer I was working with at the time had me put them on, but told me I was not allowed to use them. Doing so made me stop cueing with my heels and start using my legs like I was supposed too in order to keep them off of my horse.

Besides it's embarrassing when your horse does the NCIS head slap to you in front of a bunch of people.

Great post.

MalteseLizzieMcGee said...

Really interesting post. There is no Western riding in my country, so we've got very little first hand knowledge of it.

Heidi the Hick said...

Yes but that little feller at the end is kinda cute, despite his desperate looking helmet.

And as usual I agree with what Becky says!!

maryka said...

Don't think you are supposed to "spur " your horse in any sort of riding Mugs . Was brought up to believe that you had to earn your spurs by having legs that are stable enough for you to be able to ride in spurs without them coming touching your horse. Have to admit though that I'll stick to my helmet as my last few brain cells couldn't stand even a minor blow to the head lol

maryka said...

Don't think you are supposed to "spur " your horse in any sort of riding Mugs . Was brought up to believe that you had to earn your spurs by having legs that are stable enough for you to be able to ride in spurs without them coming touching your horse. Have to admit though that I'll stick to my helmet as my last few brain cells couldn't stand even a minor blow to the head lol

Scamp said...

I'll stick with my helmet, too - though partly because I look kind of dorky in a western hat. I have a tiny head and they overwhelm, much like that little boy in the photo. :)

I can't leave my spurs on my boots, either: I apparently am unable to walk without crossing one foot in front of the other often enough to score the toes of my boots. :( I'm much more aware of them when I'm sitting on a horse... it could be because, like Cindy D., my horse gives me the Gibbs head slap with his tail when I spur and he thinks I'm being unfair. He'll still get a poke with them if he's ignoring an earlier, more subtle cue, of course.

FWIW: I feel like I get plenty of contact with my western saddle...

mugwump said...

Maryka...what's your point? I very clearly stated the spur was only engaged as needed, not because our wildly flopping uneducated leg stabbed them as they trotted. We too, earn our spurs, but there is a reason to hang them on our boots. To use them.
Do you earn your spurs and then use them for decoration only? What sport, exactly, is that?

RHF said...

Love this. Seriously sick of explaining why my 13.3hh, stocky, downhill mare is perfect/awesome to bewildered dressage folks.

Katharine Swan said...

"and they sound cool when we walk."


And this kind of thing is exactly why I love your blog!

I'm with Maryka and Scamp on helmets, though. Whether to wear a helmet is obviously a personal choice for any rider, but I feel protecting my brain on the off chance I do fall is well worth looking a bit dorky or being more exposed to the weather. If someone wants to wear a hat, that's their choice, but I would hope that they wouldn't look down on anyone who opted for the helmet instead.

mugwump said...

Katherine - please note I never said a word about whether or not I think people should or shouldn't wear helmets. Nor have I ever said people look silly in a helmet. Ever.
I am simply explaining why we where our cowboy hats.

mugwump said...

It's why we wear them too.

KD said...

Ha! I LOVE walking into a store or restaurant wearing my red buckaroo boots and hearing my spurs jingle, jangle, jingle. ( I get the most looks in the grocery store) :-)

I will never be light enough or patient enough to have a bridle horse, but I can admire from afar.

shadowlake2005 said...

Great post. And personally I loved that it looks like the cowgirl with the sitting horse might have an english saddle on him? Or maybe it's just that the screen on my phone is too small to see it clearly. Either way, very interesting points made.

scsarah said...

The mane on the white horse would be a full time JOB just to keep clean and ungnarly (is that a word?)

And the reason I love all Clint Eastwood westerns are his spuuuuuurs! They make me want to....well, I like them.

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