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Different types of horse disciplines

Updated on August 28, 2011


Hanna & Bianca
Hanna & Bianca

I never knew there were so many...

When most people think of horseback riding, they typically have a picture of a cowboy riding his rugged horse down a dirt path herding cattle in the great mountains of Colorodo... but there's many different types of riding or "disciplines" as we horse folk like to call them. Here are some more popular disciplines with some short descriptions.

Two main categories

The different disciplines can be subdivided into two different categories: western or English. What's the main difference you ask? Well it's the type of saddle that the horse is ridden in. A western saddle is typically a larger saddle with a prominent horn and large skirts. An English saddle has no horn, no skirts, and a low cantle.

Western disciplines:

1. Western pleasure - the horse is ridden "on the rail" at varying gaits consisting of a walk, jog, and lope which are judged on the horse's cadence and collected manner. The horses are very smooth and must look like a "pleasure" to ride. The gaits are usually slow and very collected which requires extensive training and athletic ability to perform.

2. Barrel racing - a timed event which requires that the rider follow a clover leaf pattern around 3 barrels.

3. Team roping - also known as heading and healing is also a timed event which includes two riders and steer. The first rider (header) ropes the steer around the horns (or neck) and the second rider (heeler) ropes the steer's back leg or both legs.

4. Horsemanship - also known as western equitation, is judged on how well the rider and horse work together to complete a pattern.

5. Reining - the horse must complete a pattern which consists of circles, spins, sliding stops, and flying lead changes at a lope and gallop.

6. Cutting - a timed event where a rider must "cut" out a cow/steer out of a small herd of cattle and then the horse must use its "cow sense" to prevent the cow from returning back to the herd.

7. Team penning/ranch sorting - another timed event where a team of 3 riders must select and cut a certain number of cows from a small herd and corral them into a pen.

8. Trail - not a timed event, but the ability to complete a course that can range from simple to complicated. The horse is judged on its ability to complete the course with as little error as possible.

9. Halter/showmanship - although not a discipline where a horse is ridden, halter and showmanship are normally thought of as "western" events anyway. Halter is an in-hand class where a horse is judged on its conformation and movement. Showmanship is also an in-hand class where a horse/handler is judged on a pattern and the ability of the handler to control and handle the horse while performing the pattern.


Me & Elvis practicing polo
Me & Elvis practicing polo

English disciplines

1. Dressage - the term dressage also means "training" and is both referred to a type of training and a type of competition. The emphasis is on natural training to them perform quietly and calmly with complete obedience.

2. Jumping - a competition that is based on the time it takes to complete a set course of various sized jumps and penalities added to your time score if there are any jumps knocked down.

3. Hunt Seat - a general term that encompasses any type of forward seat riding which inludes on the flat or with jumping involved. Hunters: a competition over fences where the horse is judged on its style and form on the flat as well over fences. Hunter under saddle: no jumping is involved, but the horse is judged based on its movement at all gaits on the rail. Hunter Hack: a pleasure class consisting of a pattern, possibly a few jumps, as well as a hand gallop. Equitation: the rider's ability to control, handle, and ride the horse is judged.

4. Polo - a team sport where the objective is to score goals against the opposing team. Riders score a goal by using their mallets to try to hit a small wooden or plastic ball.

5. Polocrosse - another team sport that is similar to polo but takes some elements from lacrosse. A cane stick with a raquet head and a net is used instead of a mallet (one that is similar to a lacrosse stick) and a sponge rubber ball is used instead. The goal is also to score against the opposing team.

6. Racing - Besides the traditional Thoroughbred racing, other breeds also participate in competitive racing which inlcude 1/4 mile racing for quarter horses and long distance racing for Arabians.

7. Saddle seat - a style of riding that shows off the extravagent movement of certain breeds of horses, particularly at a trot. All saddle seat riding is done on the flat and the breeds most widely shown in this type of discipline are: the American Saddlebred, National Show Horse, Tennessee Walker, Racking horses, Spotted saddle horses, Morgans, and Arabians. Some other breeds that are also shown saddle seat can include: Friesians, Andalusians, Hackneys, Missouri Foxtrotters, RockyMountain horses, and Paso Finos.

8. Eventing - a three-day competition that combines dressage, cross-country jumping, and show jumping.

9. Endurance - although riders can use whatever tack they wish, most competitive endurance riders use some form of an English saddle, or a modified version of one, due to the weight involved in a western saddle. This is a distance riding event that can include natural "trail obstacles" along the way. This can include steep hills, water, logs, etc...

What if I'm not interested in competing?

Many horse owners don't regularly compete or show their horses. Some people chose not to participate or categorize themselves into any particular discipline and just have "backyard" companions. Many people chose to "trail ride" which is a loosely based term for any type of riding typically done off of the property where the horse is kept or out of an arena environment. This could include actual trails that are heavily wooded that you must trailer your horse to get to, or just taking a walk down the street in your neighborhood. You can "trail ride" in whatever tack you wish and wear whatever you are comfortable in.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Trail riding at Sane Felasco in Alachua, FL Trail riding is a fun way to relax and socializeMoriah & Napolean riding a dressage test at Wickham Park in Melbourne, FLMe & Risky competing in western pleasure in New Smyrna Beach, FL Me & Risky retrieving our blue ribbon!
Trail riding at Sane Felasco in Alachua, FL
Trail riding at Sane Felasco in Alachua, FL
Trail riding is a fun way to relax and socialize
Trail riding is a fun way to relax and socialize
Moriah & Napolean riding a dressage test at Wickham Park in Melbourne, FL
Moriah & Napolean riding a dressage test at Wickham Park in Melbourne, FL
Me & Risky competing in western pleasure in New Smyrna Beach, FL
Me & Risky competing in western pleasure in New Smyrna Beach, FL
Me & Risky retrieving our blue ribbon!
Me & Risky retrieving our blue ribbon!


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      5 years ago

      I just want to clear things up and say that dressage is not a synonym for training, but rather the French word for training.


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      6 years ago

      i think you could of added more disciplines of riding of both western and english. But other wise i say it was awesome.

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      6 years ago

      This kind of game gives a real experience of building a farm and planting gdeegbdecdfe

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      7 years ago


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hey, there I like your website but could you please add one more disicipline in there under other or something VAULTING it is where vaulters do gymnastic and dance moves while on the horses back while the horse is moving


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