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English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles

English and Western Riding | Which Should You Pick?

English Riding Vs. Western RidingGetting back into the saddle but not sure which kind of saddle you should be sitting in? Download our free guide that talks about the differences between English and Western riding, including sports, tack, and more.

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MyHorse Daily Managing Editor

MyHorse Daily Managing Editor

You want to learn how to ride a horse, but you’re not sure if you want to start with English riding or western horseback riding. So what are the differences between English and Western riding?

Photo of a dressage rider.

Your saddle needs to fit both horse and rider well.

For those of you who are new, let’s back up a step or two and start with the very basics between riding English and riding Western.

MyHorse Daily editor Jayne D. Wilson explains it all in this piece about the differences between English and Western riding excerpted from Horse&Rider.

If you’re new to horseback riding, and don’t really understand the difference between Western riding and English riding, then read on. Because learning how to ride a horse can be challenging enough without trying to figure out what riding discipline you might prefer.

English or Western? What's right for you?

English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles

Would you like to know all about the different activities offered in English riding and Western riding, as well as a guide to all the saddles those disciplines use? Download our FREE guide English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles.

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English Versus Western Riding – What’s the Difference?
By Jayne D. Wilson

Many people thinking about learning to ride ask about the differences between English horseback riding and Western riding.

One question I frequently get asked in my email is: “What is the difference between English horseback riding and Western riding?” The next question is usually: “Is either English riding or Western riding easier than the other?”

There are both differences and similarities between English and Western riding. The most obvious difference is the tack the horse wears.

An explanation of the differences between Western and English saddles.

Whether you ride English or Western, the saddle is designed for comfort and security. However, Western and English saddles, while both offering these same functions, look very different from one another.

The Western saddle was designed for cowboys who spent long days riding the range, driving and working cattle. Leather Western saddles are much heavier than English saddles but the weight of both saddle and rider is spread over a larger area of the horse’s back, which makes it less tiring for the horse. The contoured cantle, the fenders and stirrups keep the rider secure and comfortable in the saddle. The most obvious feature is the horn which, contrary to many beginning riders’ belief, is not for their benefit but is used by the rider when working cattle.

Trail Saddle

Western saddles are built on either wooden trees covered in fiberglass or rawhide, or a material called ralide which is a polyethelene. Most are covered with leather, although there are now lighter weight synthetic saddles available. The seat is often covered with split leather, or suede. The lining, or underneath of the saddle can be sheepskin, wool or acrylic. Many western saddles are decorated with ornate carving in the leather and often are decorated with silver.

To the uninitiated, (and I have to admit I am one of these – but I’m learning!) all Western saddles look alike, but there are specialty saddles available for pleasure or trail, roping, reining etc. all of which have slightly different features (such as a more or less pronounced horn, different balance etc.) making them more suited to a particular activity. This is not to say that you cannot go for a trail ride in a roping saddle, just that some saddles are designed to be more practical for certain things.

Which Saddle Suits Your Style?

English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles

What is more your style? Roping calves or hunting foxes? If you're trying to decide which riding style is for you, download our FREE guide English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles.

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English saddles offer a closer contact with the horse’s back than does the Western saddle. They are considerably lighter than Western saddles and the synthetic ones are even lighter. English saddles are built on either a laminated wooden tree reinforced with steel or a synthetic tree. The saddles are covered with unadorned leather or in the case of synthetic saddles, they are covered with either a leather-look or fabric covering. Many years ago the panels of English saddles were stuffed with horse hair or kapok. Nowadays most English saddles are stuffed with either closed cell or other type of foam or a mixture of wool and acrylic fibers, depending on the style of the saddle.

Like Western saddles, there are different designs of English saddle, each suited to a different activity. The longer, straighter flaps and deep seat of the Dressage saddle place the rider in a more upright position which is desirable in dressage and place the legs close to the horse’s sides to enable the rider to give subtle aids. Close contact jumping saddles have a shallower seat and more forward flaps, allowing the rider to easily take up their jumping position and giving them security over fences. Some have added design elements to make them more stable while jumping.

For riders that like to do both dressage and jumping, the saddle of choice is the General Purpose, or All-Purpose saddle. These saddles offer a deeper seat than close contact jumping saddles, though not as deep as dressage saddles. The flaps are somewhere between those of a dressage or jumping saddle, giving comfort and security to the rider whether they are riding on the flat or if they choose to jump. These saddles are often used by lower level eventers, who compete in all three aspects of eventing, but who are not ready for the financial outlay of purchasing separate saddles for the dressage and jumping phases.

There is another style of riding which demands yet another design of saddle—Saddleseat Equitation for which the Lane Fox saddle is used. Designed with straight flaps, a flat seat and no knee rolls for the rider, the Lane Fox is designed to show off the shoulders and the action of horses shown in Saddleseat classes, such as Morgan, Tennessee Walkers and Saddlebreds.
Overall, the Western saddle is larger and heavier than the English saddle. It’s designed to spread the weight of the rider over a larger area of the horses back, making it more comfortable for long days out chasing cows.

The English saddle is smaller and lighter and designed to give the rider a closer contact with the horse’s back.

With both the English and Western saddles, different designs are available to accommodate certain styles, sports and disciplines.

As far as riding goes, the main difference between English and Western riding is that in English riding, the rider takes a direct contact with the horse’s mouth via the reins and uses the reins as part of the “aids” (along with the seat and the leg) for speed and direction.

Do you know the difference between English and Western Riding? We can help

English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles

Do you need help deciding which riding style is right for you? Download our FREE guide English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles and to decide what the best riding discipline is right for you and how to fit your saddle to your horse.

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Most Western-riding horses are ridden on little or no contact and the rider uses his seat, his weight and neck-reining to give aids to the horse.

The position of the rider is much the same in both English and Western riding. The rider should sit tall and straight, leaning neither forward nor backward. The rider’s legs should hang naturally against the horse’s sides and the arms should be relaxed and against the rider’s sides (flapping elbows are frowned up in both disciplines).

In English riding, the rider takes a rein in each hand, whereas western riders take both reins in one hand, allowing the other hand to fall naturally at their side, or lay on their thigh.

Both English and Western riding have their different activities, or disciplines. If you already know that you want to barrel race, or to jump, you’ve got a head start in knowing which way you will ride.

Being English myself, I’ve always been biased towards English riding. But as my knowledge has grown, I’ve learned that there’s more to Western riding than throwing a leg over the horse and hitting the trail.

For example, Western riders can participate in western pleasure, barrel racing, roping and cutting, reining, competitive trail classes and more.

English riders can participate in dressage, hunter or jumper, combined training and more.

Is Western riding easier than English riding?

So, which is easier? I’d have to say Western is easier than English. For one thing, the larger saddle provides a more secure seat for the novice rider. My dad, a complete novice, sat very precariously in my English saddle for about two minutes before begging to be let off, but earlier this year, happily trailed up and down a Colorado mountain-side, secure in a Western saddle!

In English riding, the rider has to learn to post to the trot, a bouncy gait in which the horse springs from one diagonal pair of legs to the other diagonal pair, with a period of suspension in between. In western riding, horses go at a slower gait called the jog, which doesn’t dislodge the rider nearly so much. In addition, the wider seat and raised cantle and pommel of the western saddle give even the most novice rider much more stability.

English riding, even for the beginner, involves the coordination of multiple factors, such as legs, reins and balance to maintain control of the horse. This can be difficult until it becomes second nature to the rider. In Western riding, as my father demonstrated, even the greenest of riders can enjoy an afternoon on horseback in relative safety.

Having said that, it is my opinion that it is actually better for someone considering learning to ride, to start out with English riding lessons. Why?

Because someone who is comfortable riding in an English saddle and giving “English” aids, will have no trouble converting to Western, if they should decide that they’d like to participate in the Western equestrian sports.

By contrast, someone who has learned to ride in a Western saddle will essentially have to learn to ride all over again if they should decide they want to participate in one of the English equestrian sports.

Now that you have a basic overview of Western riding versus English riding, how about a more detailed description of the exact different kinds of riding that each discipline offers?

Then check out our free guide that explains what’s entailed in all the styles of both English riding and Western riding, including dressage, hunter-jumper, reining, Western Pleasure and more.

Perhaps by learning about exactly what is offered in each activity, you can decide whether you would rather do barrel racing in a Western saddle or learn how to ride a horse in a dressage saddle.

In addition, you can learn about the different styles of Western saddles and English saddles, and what they’re used for.

Amy Herdy
Amy Herdy
MyHorse Daily Managing Editor

How well does your saddle fit?

English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles

Does your saddle fit you? Learn the basics of saddle sizing in our FREE guide English Riding versus Western Riding: An Overview of English and Western Riding Sports and Saddles.

Click the button below and we'll send you a download link to your copy of this FREE guide and we'll also notify you by email whenever we post new tips!

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