Although there are similarities between the English and Western riding styles, there are differences as well. Some of the differences between English and Western riding styles reflect aspects of where each of these styles originated.

English vs Western Riding

The saddles:

  • The Western saddle is much heavier than the English saddle. The heavier, larger saddle is necessary to ensure the rider’s weight is equally distributed across the horse’s back. This saddle is also designed to add an element of comfort to the ride, which is extremely helpful for new riders. 
  • The English saddle is lighter and much smaller than the Western saddle. The English saddle’s reduced size makes it easier for the rider to connect with the horse.
  • The all-purpose saddle an amateur rider usually uses the all-purpose saddle.

Saddle Variations Are Available for Both Types of Horse Riding Styles

Each saddle style has variations available. Many of these saddle variations are designed for use while participating in sports and specific disciplines.

Positioning the Rider

Despite the riding style, to ensure the rider and horse can communicate effectively, the rider must be sitting up straight (neither leaning forward nor back). Before riding begins, the rider’s arms need to be relaxed and along his or her side, with the legs hanging against the side of the horse.

The Role of the Reins in English and Western Riding Styles

The role of the reins in the English riding style is to keep the rider and the horse directly connected, via the horse’s mouth. The rider’s leg, the saddle seat and the reins all work together to control the horse’s speed and direction. The English rider holds on to both of the reins (one in each hand).

A Western rider has much less control over the horse, which is why there is little contact between the two. The neck reining, weight of the rider and the saddle all aid the Western rider. The Western rider holds both reins in one hand. The free hand either rests on the side or remains on the rider’s thigh.

The English Riding Style

Although horses were an integral part of the workforce around the world, the English riding technique is unique in that it integrates training and discipline reminiscent of the military into its style.

The English riding style originated in Europe. Aspects of the conventional riding style used in English riding include frequent communication between the rider and the horse. The seat of the saddle is flat. The seat is designed this way to keep the rider from being hindered as the horse moves.

English Riding Attire

These riders wear the traditional fitted hunt coat and hunt cap. In addition, riders wear gloves, breeches and tall boots.

The Origin of the Western Riding Style

It is believed that this riding style came about in the mid-1600s, originating in New Mexico and the Southwestern region of the United States. The Western riding style mimics the moves of cattle ranchers. These ranchers must ride at high speeds, making quick maneuvers whenever needed. Due to the speed and agility that this style of riding requires, riders must be securely seated in their saddles.

Western Riding Attire

A Western rider usually wears a long-sleeved shirt, a hat and boots.

How to Choose the Style for You

Once you decide to learn the art of horseback riding, you need to decide which style you would like to learn. This can be a difficult choice because each offers the rider unique experiences. For this reason, many riding students choose to try both styles.

Consider the horse:

  • The Western horse is smaller and travels steadily with intermittent bursts of speed when the need to chase cattle arises.
  • English riding horses have longer legs, which help them travel further and at varying speeds. In addition, English riding horses can jump over obstacles.

Which Disciplines Interest You?

You should consider basing the first riding style you learn on the disciplines that you think you would enjoy the most.

English riding disciplines include:

  • Jumping.
  • Dressage.
  • Equitation.
  • Hunter.

Western riding disciplines include:

  • Barrel racing.
  • Pole bending.
  • Hunting.
  • Reining.
  • Trail riding.

It has been said that if you ride English you can easily transition to Western. This opinion is popular because the English riding style requires that the rider have the coordination and balance of the reins, and legs. However, the need to coordinate and balance with only a small saddle beneath you can cause a sense of insecurity. Due to the large, heavy saddle used in the Western riding style, this style is usually characterized as comfortable, typically offering the rider a more secure feeling.

To learn more about the horseback riding lessons available at 101 Polo Club, please click here to fill out the online contact form or call us today at 602-679-8431.


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