One of the great dividing lines in equestrian activities is between “English” and “Western” tack. I grew up in Texas and rode Western until I discovered cross country … my first attempts navigating over small logs and even barrels laid on their side was in a Western games saddle.
The stock saddle allowed for an introduction to jumping, and I transitioned to a jumping (English) saddle to continue over higher fences.
Putting the division of “Western” and “English” in perspective
First of all, Western saddles are very well-adapted for their purpose: a) spending long hours in the saddle, and b) security and stability during ranch work. They are not foreign objects to a horse’s back. “English” saddles are derivatives of the ancient cavalry/sport (ie, hunting) saddle, but it could be said Western gear is an update of the deep-seated saddle of the medieval knight and also follows the cavalry tradition.
The saddle represents millennia of development, and all existing forms are contemporary adaptations of the same equipment.
History of the present
The “English” saddle gets its name from early days of America, when immigrants came to this country to form a New World away from the (then) hated landed gentry and the whole corrupt system of aristocratic squires and merchants and oppression and war. The conspicuous game of this Old Order was fox-hunting, and derision for the British extended quite specifically to include field sports. From this motive, “English” riding in America has been called pretentious or effete or whatever the prejudice made it seem advantageous to assign.
America had gradually surrendered the reason for this division, but kept the division itself. Jumping is hardly the province of the British … cavalries and now citizens across the world have adopted the skill as a training exercise and sport. America has been very successful itself. It is time to embrace the differences. We can do this for the horses.
The objection that doesn’t apply
The main objections to using a Western saddle for jumping are that it is too bulky and heavy, puts the rider in a ‘chair’ seat, and has a stiff skirt which cuts into the horse’s back over a higher jump. All true. For these reasons a Western saddle is unsuitable for jumping an obstacle that requires the horse to use themselves athletically.
But that does not apply to a rider using a Western saddle to trot groundpoles or small crossbars. The horse makes no exceptional physical effort over these low obstacles. Only over a larger fence when the horse begins to use their back flexibly will the stiff skirt press behind the rider upon landing. (Most) western saddles do not restrict a horse from making a step or hop.
Give the fun of Jumping a chance
Many grassroots riders have easier access to a Western saddle than an “English” one … by allowing the use of a Western saddle in Groundpoles and Crossbars, riders can test the waters, so to speak, to see if they enjoy the game. Using familiar tack will make riders more comfortable, a key to participation.
Western saddles are suitable for the preliminary steps that come before actual jumping. Once the horse needs to actually jump–to change their profile–the rider needs to use an appropriate sports saddle (English) to avoid restriction. But allowing Western saddles in the Groundpoles or Crossbars level adds no undue burden on the horse. If there are no substantive objections, the league will accept it.
I opened a topic on the new forum for discussion about this issue: Cowboy Jumping: the Groundpoles level is a Western Trail class