Question: What are the differences between rein aids in Western and English? I have a western horse that I want to teach English. Will he get confused with the two different styles?
Answer from April Reeves: In my world, there are no differences in the basic rein aids. The only difference is the amount of contact you have, as you move up into higher level disciplines. In the dressage and hunter/jumper world, you have connection (contact, on the bit) with a straight line from bit to elbow, and from ½ to 2 pounds of weight in each hand. As you move into collection, the aids may be the same, but the feel changes.
In Western, your reins are often soft or loose, and the horse learns to move off the pressure from the outside rein (bearing or neck rein) in the same way the English horse does. The western horse simply understands the outside rein as weight on his neck, as opposed to the addition of weight in the hand in English. When a horse feels pressure, it is considered an aid. When the horse feels weight alone, without pressure, it is considered a cue. Cues must be learned from repetition and consistency.
Whether a horse is western or English, the horse must be able to be ‘guided’
between the reins. Guiding is when you can pick up each rein, and if you move both your hands to the right at the same time, same width apart, the horse should move his shoulder with your hands and move right, attempting to stay between the reins. When a horse bulges or pushes out from an outside rein, English or western, it is because he does not understand this, and needs to return to foundation aids and training. Although the western horse is guided by the meeting of both reins to one hand, there is a similar test for the dressage horse to judge his ability to stay between the reins. Remember, an English horse must have equal weight in both reins and both hands being symmetrical, same as the western horse, when moving straight ahead.
The outside rein is one of the least taught, but most important reins to learn about. It is the key ingredient to the turn, but most riders continue to use the inside rein and throw the horse’s shoulder out.
Horses can get confused when you move into higher levels of English, especially in collection. A true western horse moves on a loose rein, and may become confused to the new pressure he feels from the bit. There are ways around this problem. First, the horse must learn to be soft on loose rein and contact, and you may have to move into this slowly and build the horse up. I train all my western horses to accept contact as well as a loose or even draped rein.
Many horses move from one rein style to another. If you are consistent and understand the timing and feel to train for multiple disciplines, it is simply a matter of putting in the time it takes to get a horse that well trained that he can flip from one discipline to another, especially at shows. And it does take time; lots of it.