There are many types of riding styles, but in North America and many other places, western and English are most common. If you’re just learning to ride you may be curious about the differences between English and western riding styles. The basics of each are actually very similar. And one is not more difficult to learn than the other, because becoming very proficient in either takes time, dedication and practice. However, here are the primary differences for you to compare before trying lessons in a specific riding style.

Equipment

The Western riding style developed according to the needs of cowboys who worked cattle from horseback. The Western saddle is made to distribute weight more evenly over the horse’s back so horse and rider can counterbalance the weight of a roped cow. The seat of a Western saddle is comfortable for long hours of riding over rough terrain. The saddle horn anchors a lariat when roping cattle. There are different saddle styles that can be used for specific things like speed games, equitation, roping and other sports. 

English riding takes many of its traditions and equipment from European mounted military styles. The saddle is smaller and lighter. Like the western saddle, there are a few variations made for specific disciplines. A beginner just starting out might want an all-purpose saddle. All English saddles are designed to avoid interfering with the horse’s movement while providing a secure seat for the rider.

Attire

The most distinctive element of western riding is the traditional western hat. A comfortable shirt, jeans and western-style boots complete the look. Many Western riders opt to wear sporty looking helmets, even when showing.

English riders wear a traditional style hunt cap or helmet. A fitted jacket, shirt, jodhpurs or breeches and jodhpur boots or tall boots.

Activities

Here are some things that each discipline does:

Western

  • Team penning
  • Cutting
  • Reining
  • Speed Games
  • Trail Classes
  • Pleasure and Equitation Classes
  • Roping
  • Trail riding

English

  • Dressage
  • Jumping
  • Hunting
  • Mounted Games
  • Polo
  • Hunter Pace

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Is Western or English Riding Better For You?

When it comes to riding styles, the main difference is that in Western riding, you will hold the reins loosely in one hand, leaving the other hand free at your side or ready to rope in the cattle! It’s the cowboy riding style you often see. 

In English riding, the reins are held with both hands, giving more control of the horse at the bit. With this style, you will need to learn the rise and trot, or post to the trot, which involves a period of slight suspension for the rider during this bouncy gait, where the horse is moving from one pair of diagonal legs to the other. The comparative gait in Western riding, the jog, is slightly slower and doesn’t move the rider so much, thus allowing the rider to sit without posting.

There’s no right or wrong, they both have their advantages and disadvantages and are largely down to personal preference. If you don’t have any particular interest yet then there’s no reason why you couldn’t have a few lessons of both to give you an idea of which style may suit you best.