Natural vs normal, European vs Western. It's all the same really!

Here at the Bruin stud we believe these disciplines are closer to each other than people think. It is our goal to help you understand the similarities between these methods and to teach you some principles which will unlock your horses true potential.

To help you understand this further we have provided some history of both classical European dressage and western riding influenced by the vaqueros from Spain who travelled to California.

To provide further help, please follow our blog. Here you will find regular articles regarding our own horse's training.

The stallions Mojo, Hubble and Skeeter are going to be our guinea pigs. Mojo will follow classical European methods, and Hubble and Skeeter will be trained using traditional Californian Vaquero methods. However there will be a twist along the way. To prove that everything eventually goes back to dressage the horses will swap disciplines. The western horses will do dressage and the European horse will do western. We will put video clips on the website at regular intervals.

This is a long term project, and you will be seeing them from the beginning. We will use traditional vaquero and classical training methods along with natural horsemanship techniques, so there should be something of use for everyone.

Two Styles, One Path

Both styles follow very similar paths, demanding patience, discipline and utmost respect for the horse's ability to learn, allowing him all the time he needed to develop through each phase of training without the use of force. Through the master horsemen of both these training methods, modern day natural horsemanship was born.

There appears to be three very distinct phases in both the European and vaquero training styles of horsemanship.

In the European method we have the snaffle bit, the double bridle and then the horse graduated in to the curb. In the Vaquero style there is the hackamore, the two rein and the coveted spade bit. The horse didn't move to the next phase until he was absolutely confident at the stage he was at. Time didn't come in to it.


The vaquero horsemanship as we know it today stems from medieval Spain, Studies of knights and European war horses show references of maneuvers that we would today call spins, turn on the forehand and slide stops.

In the 1700's the Spanish conquistadors began to invade and colonize America especially California and with it they brought their horsemanship, Because California has a uniquely mild climate the Vaquero could spend a lot of time in the saddle refining his horsemanship skills while working his cattle. California was the land of many "mananas" (many tomorrows) so the vaquero took as long as it took to get the job done and if that meant it wasn't done until manana then that was no problem, taking eight or more years to train a horse was not uncommon. As a result of that the californian bridle horse was born, and it was trained to a point where a top vaquero could ride his horse with a light piece of string attaching his reins to his bit.

The vaqueros took great pride in their horses and their gear, adorning their bridles with silver bits, fancy conchos and braided romal reins. To the vaquero it was never just about getting the job done, but doing a job with style and grace. The vaqueros prided themselves on working their horses with great finesse and this style of horsemanship is starting to see a resurgence again today.

European Horsemanship

Classical European horsemanship also stems from medieval horsemanship. Today in modern day classical dressage, we have maneuvers such as passage, piaffe, pirouettes, courbette, capripole ("Airs above ground") These movements were at one time war manoeuvres.

Today's Classical horsemanship brings the historical art of riding back to life, training the horse's mind and body through gymnastic exercises according to his abilities, again respect for the horse was and still is of utmost importance. Training the horse through gymnastic exercises helped to keep the horse healthy and therefore it lived longer. The classical masters all had one thing in common and that was later usage of the horse, they studied which parts of their training were most effective and beneficial to the horse, always taking their time.

Classical riding was not just riding, it was an art form, like the vaquero training based on a solid foundation, striving to make the horse more athletic, stronger and therefore more beautiful but never using force. Both styles of training took years to develop their horses through each stage of their training. Classical riding had a structure just like the vaquero style, snaffle bit, double bridle, and eventually the curb bit, where the horse should eventually be able to do all movements including lead changes, sideways manoeuvres and eventually collection all to be done one handed.

Natural horsemanship came about by studying how the horse thinks and also what motivates him. Again without using contraptions which force the horse into an unnatural physical frame which will affect him mentally, a training system evolved which worked not only with his mind but also used gymnastic exercises to supple his body. Training the horse through body language, with respect for his learning ability and with a structure of ground work, riding in a halter/hackamore and them in to the bridle, a system is running parallel with both the classical and the vaquero principles.

Sadly however we seem to come across people from time to time who are getting stuck in natural horsemanship, with where to go with it, how to progress. They seem to spend far too much time on the groundwork, and get a little lost with the riding aspect. Hopefully on our website you will find things to inspire you in to moving forward with your horse.

There will be more articles coming soon about the two styles of training, their methods of building and creating a bridle horse and their use of bits and bridles and the similarities in their tack. keep checking back!