In the world of horseback riding, there are various styles, but western and English are the most popular in North America and many other regions. If you’re a novice rider, you may wonder about the differences between these two styles. The fundamentals of both styles are quite similar, and neither one is inherently more challenging to master than the other. Becoming proficient in either style requires commitment, practice, and time. However, it’s useful to know the primary differences between the two styles before embarking on lessons in a specific style.
The Western riding style was developed to suit the needs of cowboys who herded cattle from horseback. To counterbalance the weight of a roped cow, the Western saddle is designed to distribute weight more evenly over the horse’s back. The saddle’s seat is comfortable for extended periods of riding over rough terrain, and the saddle horn serves to anchor a lariat when roping cattle. The saddle strings are used to tie up various types of gear required by a working cowboy. Today, different saddle styles are available for various activities, such as speed games, equitation, roping, and other sports.
In contrast, English riding takes much of its traditions and equipment from European-mounted military styles. The English saddle is smaller and lighter than the Western saddle, with a few variations designed for specific disciplines. For beginners, an all-purpose saddle is typically recommended. All English saddles are designed to allow the horse to move freely while providing a secure seat for the rider.
Type of Horse
While there are general characteristics associated with Western and English-style horses, such as compactness and legginess, respectively, there are always exceptions to these traits. A Quarter Horse, known for its stocky build and steady gait, may still excel in the precise movements of dressage, and a Thoroughbred, often tall and leggy, may demonstrate unexpected talent in working with cattle. Ultimately, a horse’s success in any riding style depends on a combination of its individual abilities and characteristics, as well as the rider’s skill and dedication.
English and Western riders have different terminology for describing horse gaits. English riding emphasizes long and flowing movements with variations in speed, cadence, and collection, while Western riding focuses on low, smooth, and consistent travel. Here are the differences between each gait:
Walk: Similar for both English and Western riding styles.
Trot/Jog: The jog is relaxed, smooth, and slightly faster than a walk, which is useful for following herds of cattle. Riders sit a jog in Western riding and typically do not post, while in English riding, the trot is posted unless a sitting trot is required in the show ring. This is one of the primary differences between the two styles. A faster trot can be posted or ridden at two-point when riding Western.
Canter/Lope: The Western lope is a slow and relaxed canter. In English riding, the canter can be very elevated, extended, or collected, with many variations in speed depending on the specific discipline or style.
One of the hallmark features of western riding is the iconic western hat, which is typically paired with a comfortable shirt, jeans, and boots in the western style. Some western riders may choose to wear helmets, particularly when competing.
In contrast, English riders typically wear a traditional hunt cap or helmet, along with a fitted jacket, shirt, jodhpurs or breeches, and either jodhpur boots or tall boots. This ensemble is commonly referred to as an English rider’s habit.
The Foundational Knowledge You’ll Need
Once you’ve mastered the basics of either riding style, there are numerous sports and activities you can pursue regardless of which style you prefer. Here are some examples:
Western, English, or both
Trail riding Endurance riding Mounted shooting Horse camping Horse shows that include both English and Western classes
English or Western
Barrel racing Gymkhana Trail classes Pleasure and equitation classes Roping Team penning Cutting Reining Dressage Hunter/jumper shows Cross-country jumping Fox hunting
Ultimately, the sport or activity you choose to pursue will depend on your interests and the goals you want to achieve with your horse.