Western riding may be considered the formel 1 of the western classes. It takes a lot of practise, patience and skills to execute the patterns. Although we have a few brave participants entering this class at almost every show, the numbers are still low at our shows in Sweden. We would like to change that. In this article we have interviewed Natasha Møller from Denmark to learn more about how to prepare and practise for this class. Natasha is runnig her business together with her parents since 2014, at Kumlegaard Quarter Horses, located outside Roskilde, about 40 minutes from Copenhagen. Their vision is to have a breeding, training and a riding facility focusing on quarter horses and western riding of high international standard. Natasha has several merits from the major European shows, among them: silver medals in Senior and Junior WR at the European quarter horse championships in 2016 and 2014 as well as a bronze medal in Green WR at Q15 and a silver medal in Junior WR at Q14.
1. Why do you choose to show in this class?
It is one of my favorite classes! I think it is very challenging, for both the horse and the rider. You need a very well trained and good moving horse to make it happen and as a rider you must have a very good feeling and timing. I also really like the forward motion in this class.
2. What do you think it takes to get more participants into this class in the Nordic countries?
That’s a tough question. I think there are many factors in it. I think we need to put more focus on it. Most people don’t really think about that western riding exists and think it is probably to difficult anyways. So maybe on clinics, try to encourage people to work on it. At the shows, also do a ”pay time” western riding. And maybe ”special” prices in the class, to give people a reason to try it out? Another thing that really helps out, is horses that are breed for it.
Of course you can do western riding with any type of horse, I started out doing it with reiners myself. But with a plesure breed horse with the correct movement and speed for it, everything gets so much easier!
3. What qualities do you think that the horse and the rider needs to be successful in this class?
The horse needs a very strong lope, with a lot of balance and selfcarriage. The more natural mover, the more flat and pretty the leadchange is going to be. It is also a good thing if the horse is lazy so you can push more without it starting to run. More sensitive horses can also be great western riders, they just need a little more work to learn how to wait and stay at the same speed.
The rider needs to have a really good feeling with the movement and cadence. That makes it easier to feel the right moment to ask for the leadchange and prepare it in a correct way.
Also both the horse and the rider needs to practise it a lot! In the beginning it is very natural to feel insecure, but the more you try it, the more confidence you get!
4. How do I find the right cadance for my horse to enable smooth lead changes?
You need to try out a little, what suits your horse the best. You want to have more foward motion than western pleasure, if not the leadchange won’t be soft and easy to look at. Especially in the beginning you will probably need 1-2 gears more forward than you want in the end, to make sure you have enough power. On the other hand you dont want you horse to be running, then everything will look fast and the quality of the leadchange won’t be as good.
So you need to go after forward motion enough to have a good push and lift, but still slow enough to ensure a steady cadence that looks easy.
5. What exercises can I use to keep my horse from leaning to the inside after the lead change?
I usually do the leadchanges on a straight line, not a circle. That way the horse learns to keep going straight forward after and not drop in. If it still wants to drop the shoulder, I stop the horse and do a counterbend turn. For example, if I am doing a leadchange from left to right, I stop the horse after the leadchange, and do a turn to the left with the neck bend to the right.
6. How can I make sure that my lead changes are centered, not too early or too late?
You need to count the strides, and know the movement of your horse. For example, on the changes on the line down the cones, on most horses it fits with the center, if you start counting from when you are at a cone, then 1,2,3, change! Then keep going till the next cone, and repeat.
We would like to thank Natasha for sharing her knowledge with us and we hope that we have made some of you a more interested in this amazing class!
Text: Linn Olersbacken Hellberg
Photo credit: Luxcompany and Figure eight photography