Natural Western Riding


Click to ORDER NOW

"Natural Western Riding Gets It Right;
Demo horse wins Reserve World Championship title"

The proof they say, is in the pudding.

In this case, the proof is in the AQHA Reserve World Championship trophy. And that puddin' is pretty tasty.

First Rate Mos, pictured as a three-year-old in training in the book Natural Western Riding by Don Blazer and Cathy Hanson, won the Junior Trail Horse title at the 2002 AQHA World show in Oklahoma City.

The training techniques offered in the book, without a doubt, get results. First Rate Mos is owned by Fay Vonada and was ridden in the championship performance by Quarter Horse trainer Cherie Vonada. Cherie designed the practice trail horse courses included in the book.

"Most of the time you use a horse which has already earned his titles to demonstrate 'how-to' training techniques," said Cathy Hanson. "But in the case of Moses (his barn name) we knew after the first few saddles that he would be a pretty solid performer. We really didn't worry about him making too many mistakes during the photo shoot."

Hanson wrote a special section for Natural Western Riding entitled Mastering Trail Courses. Hanson and Vonada specialize in trail horses and western riding horses, and are headquartered at Hanson Quarter Horses in San Juan Capistrano, CA.

"Naturally, as a western riding horse, Moses can do flying lead changes," said Hanson. "So he is also pictured as a demonstration horse in the chapter Cues for More Advanced Riding."

Natural Western Riding has long been considered the classic on western riding techniques. The book details every weight, leg and rein cue for every western exercise. In addition to providing solid training tips, the book explains the horse's footfall sequence for every maneuver. Originally written 25 years ago by Don Blazer, the book was revised and updated just last year by Blazer and Hanson. The book is used by more than a dozen colleges as text for riding and training classes.

In the section on trail classes, Hanson explains how to measure the horse's steps, the importance of cadence, how to make each obstacle easy, your horse's job and how to show for the judges.

Pictured on the cover of the book is Obviously Confused (Margaret), a horse many remember as a weanling featured in a 12-part training series which Hanson did for Horse & Rider magazine. In that series, Hanson took Margaret from the first halter to the first saddle. Margaret finished in the top 10 at the AQHA World Championships just three years ago.

Horse and Rider Review April 2002
The first edition of Natural Western Riding - published 24 years ago - is a classic traning guide for Western riders. This revised and updated edition still contains explicit explanations on the fundamentals of good horsemanship. Plus, it includes a new section on mastering trail-course obstacles.

Co-author Don Blazer has trained horses and riders of all disciplines. However, in this 157-page book, as the title implies, he focuses exclusively on Western riding. He explains how to precisely apply natural (hands, leg, and seat) aids for clear, concise communication with your horse. If you're afraid you're sending him mixed signals, you'll appreciate the book's simple step-by-step instructions and clear black-and-white photos.

In the introduction, Blazer offers brassy insights worth pondering. For instance, he writes, "Western riders have transcended all other styles of riding in the creation of harmony and equality between horse and rider. Western riders are the only riders bold enough, confident enough to request an action, then allow the horse total freedom to release all his brilliance and magic. Today it is all other styles of riding which should look to western riders for inspiration and direction."

Though you might disagree with Blazer's claims, don't stop reading; you'll benefit from the wealth of training knowledge ahead. The following chapters cover such basics as developing a natural seat, applying consistent rein cues, selecting and properly using tack, executing bending and suppling exercises, and performing common manuevers.

In the last chapter, Blazer's daughter, world champion trainer and H&R contributor Cathy Hanson, shares her strategies for mastering such trail-course obstacles as lope-overs, the L-backthrough, the L-sidepass, and the gate. Hanson also gives you two practice courses to test your skills.

Although the book is geared for novices, it's also an excellent refresher course for advanced riders. Key concepts are in bold-faced type, which makes information easily accessible when referring to the book while riding in the practice pen.
-Jennifer J. Denison
Horse and Rider
April 2002


"The new edition of Natural Western Riding is a must read for any rider," says Cecile Dunn, provost at Austin Education Center in Weirsdale, Fl.

Dunn has been one of the nationís leading equine educators, having developed and directed equine science programs at three colleges, including Stevens College and Salem International. In addition to directing educational programs, Dunn continues as an active horse show judge on a national scale.

"For over 25 years I have utilized the techniques found in this book for instructing the western seat of riding in my lesson programs at three major universities." she said.

The newest edition of Natural Western Riding by internationally known trainer/author Don Blazer includes a special section, Master Trail Obstacles, written by world class trainer Cathy Hanson. Blazer wrote the original book in 1978 and it quickly became the standard for western riding. The book details every weight shift, leg and rein cue for every western exercise.

Expanded text with more than 40 demonstration photos, the new book is a paperback of 157 pages. Excerpts from the book can be seen on the Internet at

"Following the guidelines found in this book will achieve the greatest degree of comfort for both the rider and the horse," Dunn proclaims.

The book is currently in use by colleges as the text for riding courses.

From the Book
Good western riding is dependent on cues which are not harsh, severe or surprising. But too often with the novice rider, gentleness is forgotten and the power play begins. The novice rider attempts to jerk the horse to a stop by pulling back on the reins. Similarly, when the novice rider wants to back her horse, she invariably pulls straight back on the reins, applying constant painful pressure.

A direct rein of opposition is used only to reframe, slow or collect the horse. A bit barrier is always released immediately upon a response by the horse.

In stopping and backing, a shift of weight and leg pressure are the principal cues. Reining cues tell the horse what to do with his body and the desired direction of travel. Such reining cues are always subordinate to weight and leg cues.

The western rider must learn the timing and proper feel of a good stop. It takes practice, practice and more practice because a number of cues must be employed and in the correct sequence.

The horseís anatomy is designed for speed and running long distances, not for repeated quick, hard stops. Of course, the horse is capable of making such stops, but even at play he does so infrequently. When he is carrying a rider, hard stops are often made with a great deal of reluctance.

The horseís rear legs are principally driving units rather than well-engineered stopping devices. The rear foot is small and more elongated than round. Its design is for a digging-in type of traction rather than for sliding on top of the ground surface. The fetlocks are strong and flexible, but are not of the best design to lock and hold the weight of both horse and rider for relatively long periods of time. The fetlocks work best in spring-like fashion. The hocks are susceptible to injury from strain and are under severe stress during a hard, sliding stop.

The horse which has a short hind cannon bone and a low set stifle joint will usually have an advantage in making hard, sliding stops. Measure from the point of the elbow to the ground and from the midpoint of the stifle joint to the ground. If the stifle joint to ground is the shorter distance, then the horse usually tends to be a natural stopper.

Generally, the western horse with equal distance measurements from elbow to ground and midpoint stifle joint to ground makes the best all-around athlete.

Regardless of the horseís conformation, we expect the western horse to stop quickly, and sometimes to slide a long distance. (The long sliding stop should be reserved for the competition reining horse, bred for such action and shod with "sliders" which help keep the foot on the surface of the ground. Reining horses should both practice and show on ground specially prepared for sliding stops.)

In stopping, the expectation is that the western horse will plant both hind feet, stop quickly and slide at least a short distance. To accomplish such action, it is incumbent upon the rider to give cues correctly so the stopping exercise remains as safe and easy for the horse as possible. There is always the danger of possible injury with any hard, fast exercise. However, if the rider avoids any attempt to overpower the horse and force compliance, the danger will be lessened, since the horse can work to his own natural ability.

Since slide stops cause tremendous stress on the horse, reining and stock horses have a tendency to "burn out" quickly. It is the wise rider who saves the slides for the show ring, and practices form and position from the walk, jog and slow lope. Once the horse knows how to stop, he will slide-stop. There is no reason to break the horse down by continually asking for unnecessary stresses. A rider with faith in her knowledge and ability will also have faith in her partnerís willingness to respond to her requests.

Any well-school horse with ground manners will know what the verbal command, "Ho!" means. The foal should have been taught the command by the time he was a month old. All during his early training, the horse should have been taught to stop, stand and not move once the command, "Ho!", has been given. If the horse did not respond immediately to the verbal cue, he should have been schooled with a physical cue--jerk and release on the lead or longe line.

It is completely logical, both for horse and rider, that the first cue in stopping a horse when riding is the verbal command, "Ho!" The command accomplishes two things at the same time. First, it informs the horse more cues are coming, be prepared, and second, it tells the horse what he is expected to do. It is a reinforcement of his early schooling, and it eliminates the possibility the horse will be painfully surprised by a request he was not prepared for.

The rider must employ the introductory cue--the verbal command--then wait until she feels the horse react. It takes a fraction of a second for the horse to receive the message, digest it, send the correct instructions to the muscles, and then have the muscles react correctly to produce the requested action. When the horse understands the "Ho" cue, heíll begin to react, and the horseís reaction will be reinforced positively by the riderís further cues.

The second cue by the rider will be a tightening of her stomach muscles, dropping the pelvis back and down and locking her seat in the saddle. This muscle tightening should also cause the riderís upper body to incline slightly forward. This is the most desirable position for a rider during a slide stop. The rider should never throw herself back in the saddle to stop. Such action puts her out of position and invariably results in a jerk on the reins. Leaning back to force a hard stop may seem a natural tendency, but it is the action of a rider thinking of overpowering her horse and forcing compliance instead of simply asking.

If the rider maintains tight stomach muscles, she will not fall forward or lean backward. To do either is impossible if the stomach muscles remain contracted.

At the same time the rider is tightening her stomach muscles and locking her seat in the saddle, she should be removing any leg pressure from the horseís sides. She stops riding.

It is helpful to both the horse and the rider if the rider will push her feet slightly forward and brace herself for the stop.

Finally, the rider takes the slack from the reins, establishing a bit barrier to hold the horse within the frame desired.

The rider does not pull back hard on the reins; to do so applies painful bit pressure to the horseís mouth.

The slack, and nothing more, is taken from the reins. The horse stays behind the bit barrier because he has been told to stop and because the rider has stopped riding the horse forward.

About the Book
Revised and updated, Natural Western Riding, the book which details every weight shift, leg and reining cue for every western maneuver, is now available.

The new edition contains a special section, Mastering Trail Courses, which explains how cadence and strides make the difference between an average effort and winning championships.

With expanded text and 40 new demonstration photos, the book is in tack and book stores now. Written by Don Blazer, the original Natural Western Riding was used for years as the text book for college equine programs.

Out of print for the past three years, Blazer recently secured the rights for the book he wrote in 1978. After being published by Houghton-Mifflin in 1979, the book became the standard by which western riding was measured. The editor of Horse and Horseman magazine declared it, "A classic; the authority on western riding."

"There were descriptions of exercises and cues which I wanted to expand and clarify," Blazer said. "And I wanted to report to all horsemen that western riding has surpassed all disciplines in creating a true and equal partnership between horse and rider."

"No other form of riding allows the horse complete freedom. No other rider asks for a performance, then relinquishes control, allowing the horse to respond with all his brilliance and grace," Blazer said.

How it is done is explained in Natural Western Riding.

Cathy Hanson, trainer of AQHA champions in western pleasure, western riding and trail, has written the special section, Mastering Trail Courses.

"There has been such a demand for training tips and information on trail classes, we felt it appropriate to detail everything from the equipment you need to train a trail horse, to how to show the horse to the judges," Blazer said.

Readers will find an explanation of "cadence," a requirement of todayís trail class, as well as distances and strides required for walkovers, trotovers and lopeovers. Hanson not only explains how to work every obstacle, she gives training tips on how to take a horse to world class levels.

In addition to training western champions, she has also trained AQHA champions in showmanship, hunter under saddle, hunt seat equitation, hunter hack and working hunters. She studied in England and has a B.H.S.A.I. certificate. She has been a director of the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association since 1992 and is chairman of the show committee. As a clinician, she has presented programs throughout the US and in England.

Blazer, author of how-to training articles and books, is also the author of the nationally syndicated column, A Horse, Of Course, which is must reading for thousands of fans. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at Scottsdale Community College where he teaches five courses known as the Horse Sense Series.

Cathy Hanson, trainer of AQHA champions in western pleasure, western riding and trail, lends her talents to the rewriting of Natural Western Riding, a book which has been a classic for more than 20 years. Hanson is authoring a new section of the book entitled, Mastering Trail Courses.

Natural Western Riding, which has been used as the text for western courses in nearly a dozen equine college programs, was originally authored by Don Blazer and published in 1979. The book was the first to detail every rider aid and cue for every western exercise. In addition to explaining what the rider must do, the book tells each of the horse's footfall sequences for every western exercise.

"Even though the book continued to sell, the publishers declined to update the text and photographs," Blazer reports. "I was able to secure the publishing rights, so we went to work on revisions and expanding the subject matter."

The new edition of the book will be available in tack and book stores by October.

"Of course, having my daughter, Cathy Hanson, working on the project again, has been the most fun. In the original version, Cathy, just a teenager, did most of the riding. Today she is one of the premier AQHA trainers of trail class horses, so in addition to doing all the demonstration riding, she shares her tips and tricks for mastering courses," Blazer said.

Hanson spent most of her youngest years riding western horses, but as a teenager she went to England to study dressage and jumping. Having tested before the British Horse Society she earned her B.H.S.A.I. certificate and returned to the US to open a training stable. In addition to training western champions, she has also trained AQHA champions in showmanship, hunter under saddle, hunt seat equitation, hunter hack and working hunters. As a clinician she has presented programs thoughout the US as well as England. She was a member of clinic team for the Youth World Cup competition.

Featured in many how-to training articles, she did a 13-month series for Horse and Rider magazine in which she started a weanling AQHA filly named Obviously Confused a.k.a. Margaret. Margaret learned her lessons well, placing in the Top 10 at the AQHA World Championships in Junior Trail. Hanson has been a director of the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association since 1992. She was chairman of the amateur committee, is presently chairman of the show committee and serves on the executive committee.

Click here to learn more about Don Blazer

Click here to learn more about Cathy Hanson

Click to ORDER NOW


For more information please contact

Copyright © 2003 by
Don Blazer
Success Is Easy, 7119 East Shea Blvd. Suite 109-271, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

This site is created and maintained by
Vanndal Web Designs