One of the things I like most about the work I do for HorseBack UK is that I get to meet a dazzling variety of people. One day, I may find myself talking to someone who served in the dangerous streets of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles; on another, I may discuss all aspects of the art of farriery. Today, I met a remarkable woman who is a Western riding champion.

Western is not a discipline I know anything about. I was brought up with racehorses and show ponies. Western was something I saw in old films with John Wayne in them. It was as distant from the wide downs of the Lambourn Valley as science fiction.

They use Western riding at HorseBack for many reasons. One is that, for a beginner, or someone with serious physical challenges such as prosthetic legs, the saddles are amazingly comfortable and easy. They are big, raised fore and aft, so that they cradle the body, giving a wonderful feeling of safety. On a very basic level, it’s much easier for someone with no knowledge to get on and go.

HorseBack UK instructor Jess March shows off the Western styleHorseBack UK instructor Jess March shows off the Western style

This can give the impression that Western is somehow cheating, the mimsy province of the phoney cowpoke wannabe and the rank amateur. According to my riding champion, other disciplines like dressage can be very snooty indeed about the Western way. It’s not considered proper.

Proper be damned. I grew up with a bit of dressage and eventing, and know all about those. But my new exposure to Western has shown me that it is as delicate and nuanced as anything the English have produced. It may have its roots in ranching instead of the military, but there is nothing inferior in that.

The other thing that is enchanting about it is how relaxed and sensitive to guidance the horses are. They respond to the merest shift of the body, and move along gracefully on a loose rein. It is instructive that instead of talking of the canter, Western riders speak of the lope.

The Western saddle, in all its gloryThe Western saddle, in all its glory

I love the idea of loping. It opens whole new horizons of delight for me. I am seriously considering re-training my thoroughbred mare in the discipline. I think: how glorious it would be for her, after her years of racing and polo. We can become cowgirls together, and ride the trails of Scotland as if we were in the green grass of Wyoming.