Styles of Riding: What is Western and English Riding?



For some, horseback riding is just a recreational activity. For many others it’s a sport or a way of life. Serious equestrians look at riding as an art form, a skill that needs to be honed and developed. Therefore there are different techniques to riding, as well as how horses are trained to be ridden. In this post we’ll be addressing the two main styles of riding: western and English.


Western is basically another word for all-American. This style of riding was developed in the western U.S., on ranches and open country where cattle were kept. The style was used to drive and maintain the herds between grazing areas. Essentially it is a utilitarian style of horsemanship, simple and versatile in use.  In fact several riding sports including barrel racing and sack/cattle roping draw upon western riding. The primary feature of the western style is that it relies mostly on the horse as an independent entity. Horses are encouraged to be independent in their movements and are trained to just move naturally. Riders must still remain firm in the saddle, but western style relies primarily on just using the reins and stirrups only to give corrections or simple direction changes.


Western style is also reflected in the type of saddle used in riding. The western saddle is broad and spread over the horse’s back. This is so that the rider’s weight will be evenly distributed, allowing maximum comfort for long day working cattle. Another distinguishing feature of the western saddle is the horn that extends upward on the front. This has a dual purpose of being used in roping techniques that secure cattle or horses to your saddle, as well as another safety hold or stabilizer should you lose grasp of the reins. All of our horses at Happy On Hooves have been trained in western style riding, as have most of our staff. Our use of western style is partially why our rides are so easy and fun for guests!

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English style, as the name implies, originated in Britain. While aspects of English riding might have influenced western style, the two are very distinct. English riding focuses on the rider being in complete control of the horse’s movement. Think about it like diving cars. Western is automatic: the horse is trained to move, you just give corrections and course changes. English is more like driving stick-shift: the rider has control over all of the aspects of the ride. English riding relies on the rider applying more contact with the horse than in the western style. This is done through more control of the reins, as well as tighter motions with the legs and hips in the saddle.


As with Western style, English style riding is connected to the kind of saddle used. The English saddle is smaller than the western saddle. This allows for maximum contact with the horse’s body in order to apply the necessary contact. English saddles also lack the prominent horn that is signature to western saddles. English riding is still quite popular both in Europe and in the U.S. Sports like dressage and show jumping have also originated from the English style.  


                There are several locations you can learn these riding techniques, but another good intro to western style riding would be on one of our trail rides this summer. Check out our earlier blog, Why Trail Rides Might Be The Best Introduction To Horsemanship, to find out why. If you have any questions about riding styles or just want to share about your experience on our trail rides, feel free to leave a comment below!

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