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Genghis Khan in the art of riding Correctly

Somehow I don’t think Genghis Khan of the Mongol Empire (1162-1227 AD) rode "two handed” in a curb bit while cutting off the the heads of his enemies on horse back. 

Siège de Beijing 1213-1214For years I have felt that my rants have fallen on death ears. I am glad that I am not the only person that feels that a snaffle should be ridden two handed and a curb is ridden correctly one handed. I would like to remind folks that the purpose of showing (testing) is to have your western horsemanship evaluated. Riding two hands on a curb bit will mask proper western horsemanship training. If you are being tested for proper western horsemanship, how is any commentary helpful (classically speaking) if you are not properly riding your horse western in the first place?

If any trainer, horseman, instructor, judge, organization tells you different, they are destoying their credibility by advocating and allowing two hands on a curb bit. By their own actions, they are not credible and may lack proper knowlege or integraty. 

 No excuses of "well if you have light hands", that is a given that you should ALWAYS ride light handed. That is a sign of a well trained horse person. Western horses have traditionally been ridden in one hand when using a curb. If you want or need to ride two handed, use a snaffle! --- Jane Brack

The following paragraphs were written by Patty Carlson

"Western Dressage/Cowboy Dressage is being used to form new associations that are dedicated to the sport of training a horse to the highest degree and this should be balanced with the highest and best aspirations for what the western/cowboy trained horse is: a partner for the rider to perform many duties as part of their unique partnership. The adjective preceding dressage for me, creates a unique visualization If I close my eyes, I see the old west and a ranch hand in his spurs and chinks, cradling a calf across a saddle laden with a lariat, hobbles and sleeping roll. His horse is moving forward on a soft contact and is relaxed and responsive.

This new discipline of equestrians plays upon the comfort of the padded saddle designed to allow the rider to perform various duties. It has a horn to dally off, strings to tie things to, and a padded seat since you could be riding for hours. It may have double girths and a breast collar. Saddles are like clothing and are trimmed to the unique likes of each person and what they like. Lots of silver or no silver at all, the western saddle offers the comfort of an easy chair with your partner on four legs to carry you on your way. Your horse is a working animal in the western world. The mane is trained to either side of the neck depending on the rope hand of the rider. This keeps that rope from becoming entangled in the mane. Did you know that? See, these western people, we ride one handed for a reason. The free hand is holding a rope, branding iron or balancing a critter in the front of the saddle. It opens gates, shakes hands, moves stuff from one place to another. The gentleman may use it to tip his hat to the ladies or set the hat down low when he means business. The ladies may use the brim to fan themselves since riding can be hot work. 

Then why am I seeing the aversion to riding with one hand with a western saddle in Western Dressage? Is it because it is harder? I grant you it is. In a breed show, I must ride one handed in a curb bit in all western classes. No questions, no arguments, and the rules say so. I can go in the class, I can ride two handed and I will not place and will more than likely be excused from the class. In my personal opinion, the rules for WD need to change to require the horses be ridden one handed in a curb bit starting at Level 1. Horses in Intro should be in a snaffle bit and horses in Basic could be either depending on how far along they are in their training. The release of the inside rein in a 20 meter circle will tell you if you have taught your horse that meaning of an inside leg with an outside rein. 

I showed at the WDAA World show last year and I got to ride two handed in a curb bit because the rules allowed it. Not because it was the correct way to ride a western horse. The horseman that coached me asked me why I was riding two handed in a curb bit? My answer is simple. The rules say I can and with the bit I’m using, I feel it gives me a definite advantage over riding one handed in a curb bit. It is easier to balance myself, easier to cue, and as a former snaffle bit pleasure person, gave me the security in the show ring I desperately needed that weekend. Will I show two handed again in a curb bit. Heck yes, If the bit is a transition bit and designed to work as either a one handed or a two handed bit, you are darn straight I will. You can take that straight to the bank and cash that check. It will never bounce. 

The history of the western horse goes back a long way. Riding with one hand goes back even further. It may be great to use two hands when you are fox hunting with a large group, but actually working from horseback, requires a free hand. The Western Rider is the American legend and the legend needs to live in the USEF no matter what breed you ride. The working riders of the world, they ride one handed. Western/Cowboy dressage takes inspiration from these ancestors. We need to uphold the long tradition of using Dressage to create the best horses possible and do it with one hand free. You can open a gate, stroke your horse or even flip me a bird, but the western rider can do this because his horse is trained to be ridden in a curb bit. 

WDAA and USEF: Please change the rules and force your Western riders to ride in the western style. Change your rules that riders must compete on an equal level. A horse that scores a 72% two handed should never beat a horse that scores a 68% one handed. Everyone competing at a certain level should have a level of competence as a western rider”

Supplemental info:
I started showing in 1979. My primary seat is western. I have had a formal education and have an AA from Midway and a BS from William Woods in Equestrian Studies. I have had the pleasure of competing in many seats on many breeds and love the idea of western dressage. I bought my horse to ride dressage in 2003. I fell in love with dressage in college at a chance clinic and have wanted to compete for me and me along. Until WDAA and Cowboy Dressage came along, I would have had to ride in that dressage saddle with two hand. That’s not me at all. When I think of “western and cowboy” I do not see a neatly groomed rectangle of groomed earth with bright white fencing and letters on all sides that are far from any order ever seen on the plains.

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