In My Boots: Blurring the lines

Western, English… who says you have to pick a side? A horseperson is a horseperson, says Kristen Kovatch, and we could all stand to benefit from a little cross-training.

From Kristen:

While most of you readers are probably gearing up for show season, the end of mine is rapidly approaching. By the middle of May, I will be taking a much-needed deep breath before taking the focus off of my university varsity teams and switching the spotlight onto my two show horses (one western pleasure, one reined cow horse).

For all of the fancy show tack I’ve been adding to my wishlist (Smartpak, you are both good and evil) this past Sunday found me in the English section of my local tack store. (When I say “local,” I mean “two hours away.” That’s dedication.) I stood before the wall of hunt coats, shoulder to shoulder with my English-trainer-coworker’s boyfriend, gazing up in rapturous confusion. Our conversation went something like this:

Boyfriend (JP): We looked at these last night on the Internet. I know black is a good color.
Me (KK): Yes. I think. That pinstriping is ugly.
JP: Like these up here?
KK: Yes? Wait, that has four buttons. I remember her saying something about buttons.
JP: What the heck. Why are there so many options?
KK: This one has shiny buttons. I think that’s definitely not in.
English Coworker: (muffled cry from fitting room) HELP I THINK I’M STUCK IN THESE BREECHES.

In the end, the wonderful JP with very little assistance from me selected an excellent R.J. Classic to set my friend up for a successful (or at least well-dressed) show season.

I haven’t always been, as I like to call it, a non-English speaker. I rode hunt seat, fairly successfully at the local level, for about six or seven years before experiencing my first cattle drive and losing my heart completely to the western discipline. In the past two weeks, I’ve ridden as much hunt seat as I have western, helping to get 17 of our university horses prepped for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s national championships, starting this Friday in Syracuse, New York. I’ve mostly been riding two of my western horses who also go hunt seat (other than a great flat ride on our imported Irish sport horse “Gandalf.”)

Given the success we’ve had on our teams with crossover riders this year, it’s not surprising that our horses should be able to do the same thing. If an athlete is an athlete in any discipline, a good mover is a good mover under any saddle. My own pleasure horse prospect was added to the Syracuse “short list” only this morning, and I bid him good luck. I hope he helps carry a young equestrian to a national championship this week. Next week, he’ll be heading to the western zone finals, hopefully helping my own team to progress to its own nationals in Oklahoma at the end of June. I’m pleased to have a multi-talented animal to provide for these horse shows.

The lines are blurring at our equestrian center. My supervisor was sporting a snap-front shirt today as she schooled our Czech warmblood on the flat. My coworker is proudly rocking her zebra-print crystal-concho sunglasses and her new tall boots, at the same time. I have yet to purchase anything in Baker plaid, though I did find myself looking longingly at a pair of Dublins in the tack shop the other day.

Ultimately, though, it’s not how we dress that matters. Just like our horses, we are versatile—we can all put a horse together over fences just like we can all warm up a reiner. We have our areas of specialization, but we also realize the value in crosstraining. We borrow each other’s ideas for teaching and training. We encourage our students to do the same—and it’s starting to show in the number of titles we’re earning. The lines have always been drawn between western and English, but we’re proud to help blur them if it makes us stronger riders.

Go ride western. Or go ride English. Better yet, go ride both.

About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny anymore. Kristen coaches the varsity western team, teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving, and keeps several of her own horses in training on the side. She shows reined cow horse and also shows western pleasure and horsemanship for fun. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian and Take the Reins.

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