The two most common saddle types are the Western saddle and the English saddle. If you’re new to riding, you might be wondering about the differences between the two or if it is easier to learn to ride on one than the other.
Generally speaking, with enough practice and dedication, you can manage both saddles in short order. However, there are some differences that you’ll find out in this article.
Western Saddle Style
Cowboys who work on their ranch all day would use a Western saddle. These saddles are large and heavy but spread the rider’s weight evenly. That said, the design of these saddles makes it less tiring for the horse. A feature that’s unique to Western saddles is the horn located at the front.
Contrary to popular belief, the horn doesn’t help the rider keep the balance. It’s there’s so that the rider can wrap the rope around it and be ready to lasso a cow, if applicable.
Generally speaking, Western saddles are genuine or synthetic leather. If properly made, both types can last for a long time. Western saddles often sport handcrafted tooling and an interesting pattern. Also, silver conchs usually decorate these saddles.
However, while all Western saddles may look similar to the untrained eye, there are different types. Some specialty saddles are designed mainly for trail riding, roping, etc. The main difference is usually in the balance, horn, etc.
English Saddle Style
English saddles are lighter and smaller than Western saddles. They’re also more traditional than Western saddles. Riders often use them for showjumping and dressage because they allow for closer contact with the horse.
These lighter leather saddles improve the mobility of the rider and the horse. These saddles are without the horn since they’re not used for herding.
Like Western saddles, there are a couple of variations, each suitable for a specific discipline. For example, a dressage English saddle keeps the rider upright and enables more leg contact with the horse. On the other hand, jumping English saddles keep the rider in the forward position.
No matter the type, all English saddles are manufactured not to restrict the horse’s movement and offer the rider enough support and comfort.
Western Riding vs. English Riding
To a non-expert, you might think that Western and English saddles are used interchangeably. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The design of these saddles will suit a particular discipline. Whether that’s dressage, jumping, or trail riding, sitting on the wrong type of saddle can compromise safety.
Sure, you can use a Western saddle for jumping, but it will be more challenging as the design isn’t suited to this discipline.
Besides the saddle, the main difference between Western riding and English riding is in the rest of the horse tack. In English riding, the rider directly contacts the horse through the reins. These help the rider to guide their precious animal. While English riders use a double set of reins, Western cowboys use split reins.
Most riders who prefer the English style hold the reins with each hand, providing better contact with the horse. In contrast, cowboys like to keep the reins in just one hand. The other can sit comfortably on the jeans or rope a bull.
The disciplines also vary significantly. As mentioned above, the English saddle is suitable for horse jumping, dressage, but it’s also used in hunting and polo. In some events, riders may participate in a combination of disciplines designed to demonstrate their skills.
Western disciplines usually involve roping, reining, trail riding, etc. For example, during the calving season, it’s crucial to rope the cattle as quickly as possible.
The comfortable Western saddle with a horn allows the rider to do just that. Finally, trail riding is an outdoor event that can last for a whole day or more. Most riders do it for pleasure and taking in the sights.
Western Attire vs. English Attire
Another significant difference between the Western and English riding styles is in the attire. What comes to mind when you imagine horse riding? If it’s cowboys on a ranch, then you’re thinking Western attire. On the other hand, if you imagine an elegant equestrian with a riding helmet, you’re thinking of a standard English riding outfit.
Since English saddles are often used for competition purposes, proper attire is a must. It involves a pair of breeches (riding pants), a fitted jacket, a riding helmet, and riding boots.
There are also Western riding events where riders wear jeans or show pants and a belt adorned with a buckle. They should also put on a shirt and decorate it with a bolo tie or a scarf. Finally, a Western-style hat ties the whole outfit together.
Choose the Proper Saddle
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, having the proper saddle for the horse is crucial. The discipline and the riding style affect the choice of saddle. Riders who need a saddle for ranch work should go with a Western saddle. On the other hand, equestrians participating in dressage and show jumping will benefit much more from an English saddle.