I teach “Westlish”

I teach both English riders and Western riders and I interchange tools and techniques for both.  Some of my Western riders thought they wouldn’t like English, but didn’t realize all along I had been teaching them using English tools and techniques.


For example, we start beginners with a western saddle, western reins and head stall but an English bit. I always take the best of both worlds. I like to start a rider in a western saddle because of the support of the bigger seat. I also like the horn on a western saddle because a new rider prefers to touch the horn or the swells now and again.  I prefer it for them too as opposed to hanging onto the horses mouth. I use the western bridle with the english bit because I want to use a light bit for beginner hands but the reason for the western bridle is for the rider to learn how to really release the horse and ride as if they were using a leverage bit.  Eventually all western riders will use a leverage bit, so why not learn with a bit that will not injure or harden the horse’s mouth with inexperienced hands?


When a rider is learning to use spurs, I always start them out in an English spur.  English spurs are smaller and there is less chance of a rider continually poking the horse while learning to use them than they would with a western rowel or equitation spur.  Note I said “less of a chance” it doesn’t mean the horse may not get poked.  I like to really develop a riders leg before they start to use any spur.  


For a beginner riding English, I will use English tack, but I will have them learn to ride the horse on a loose rein, similar to riding Western. I like to develop a good seat and legs before adding the nuances of hands. In both disciplines I ask that my students ride with 75% legs and 25% hands.  All of our students must learn to post and trot, even if they are riding bareback.


I don’t feel one discipline is better than the other, western is ridden with a lot of balance, feel, and minimal contact. English is ridden with a lot of balance, feel, and more contact. The way a horse moves will be different but the cues are foundationally the same.


The tack has a lot to do with the style or riding. English tack is light but more constant. Western is heavy, with the potential to be extremely harsh.  Western is very harsh in order to be super light. English is light with more contact. I think it all evens out in the end.  A correctly ridden and trained Western horse is as light as they come.  Everyone should learn how to ride a horse with minimal to no contact and build up the contact from there to become the best rider he or she can be.  Both disciplines have their advantages so don’t be afraid to ride both or take and use what you like from each.



About Deanna Castro

Deanna Castro has been training horses and riders professionally for over 18 years. She trains riders in Horsemanship, Western Pleasure, Showmanship and Trail Riding. Deanna is married to Native American Horse Trainer Fredi Castro and she is the author of "Six Weeks to a Better Horse".
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4 Responses to I teach “Westlish”

  1. Jackie says:

    I like how you describe briefly the differences between the disciplines. And I agree, it’s good to ride as light as possible in either.

    I have a hunter/jumper background, and don’t know much about the nuances of western riding. I’ve rarely ridden with spurs because they have rarely been necessary. Why are spurs, and spurs with sharp looking rowls, normal for western riding? What is their purpose, and why do all riders learn to ride with them? I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just curious. I’d love it if you’d do a post about the whys and hows of spurs in Western riding.

  2. dcastro says:

    That is such a great question Jessica. I will definitely do a post on it for you and anyone else out there who may be asking the same questions. I’m working on it now. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Jackie says:

    Thanks! I’ll look forward to it. The question I forgot to ask in my original comment was, if the horses are trained to be as light as possible, why can’t they just move off your seat and legs?

  4. dcastro says:

    Hey Jackie, I will address that question in the post as well. I will be posting it on Monday…



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