The Difference Between English and Western Riding

A western lone rider.
A western rider. Image Credit:Yuri_Arcurs / Getty Images

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. The saddle strings were used to tie up various types of gear used by a working cowboy.  Today, 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.

Type of Horse

Western horses tend to be compact and capable of steady travel all day with small bursts of speed to chase stray cattle.

 

English style horses tend to be taller and many are leggy, aiding their ability to travel over long distances at a variety of speeds as well as jump over a variety of obstacles.

However, some individuals have surprising talents, and a stocky Quarter Horse may surprise you in the dressage ring, while a Thoroughbred might have unexpected "cow sense." There are always exceptions to every rule. Chances are you can find some success in any discipline or riding style no matter what your horse's type or breeding.

Gaits

Western and English riders label the gaits of a horse differently. Generally, an English horse is expected to have a long flowing way of going, with variations of speed, cadence, and collection, while a western horse is expected to travel low, smoothly and very consistently. Here are the differences in each gait.

  • Walk: Very similar for both English and Western.
  • Trot/Jog: A jog is very smooth, relaxed, and slightly faster than a walk. The jog is useful for following herds of cattle. Riders sit a jog and do not post. In English riding, the trot is posted unless a sitting trot is required in the show ring. This is one of the largest differences in who English riders ride compared to western riders. A faster trot is, however, posted or ridden at two -point when riding western.
  • Canter/Lope: The Western lope is a slow relaxed canter. English riders will learn that the canter can be very elevated, extended, or collected with many variations in speed depending on the specific discipline or style.

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 complete the English rider's habit.

The Basics of What You’ll Need to Know

Western riders will learn how to neck rein. English riders will ride with a rein in each hand and post the trot. There are many different skills you will need to learn if you plan to compete.

You'll need to learn to braid or band a mane, pull a tail, and other grooming details depending on what you are competing in.

English and Western Riding Disciplines

After learning the basics of either style, there are many sports you can try. These are just a few:

Western

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

English

  • Dressage
  • English or English Country Pleasure
  • Jumping
  • Hunting
  • Mounted Games
  • Polo
  • Hunter Pace

Sports In Which You Could Ride Either Or English or Western Style

Some sports allow for either style of riding.