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Equestrian and Horse Riding Styles

Updated on October 9, 2011
Which horseback riding style is right for you?
Which horseback riding style is right for you?

Western style riding or English? Hunt seat or dressage? What is the best style of horse riding? Which is the most fun and the easiest? It all depends on who you ask.

English riders think they are more refined athletes than their Western counterparts. Dressage riders seem to think they are more skilled than their hunter / jumper friends. Western riders specialize in riding fast and with agility. Basically, whatever style of riding you choose will likely be the one you defend as the best. Each style take years to master, though for beginners and pleasure riders, Western riding may appear to be the easiest place to start.

English vs. Western

Andreas Helgstrand Freestyle Dressage Final

The Basic Differences in Styles:

The Western style of riding is predominant in countries where the horse is need to work cattle, such as America, Australia and New Zealand. The rider sits in a western style saddle, which is designed to be comfortable for the many long hours that the rider will be sitting. The westernrider also maintains a longer leg position than an English rider and the reins are held in one hand, leaving the other hand free to handle a rope. The rider uses his weight and seat to manage the horse as opposed to leg and hand like an English rider.

The English rider takes a different position with a bent leg and uses a saddle that is smaller and flatter. There are different styles within the English discipline, like hunter and dressage.

At the basic beginner level, Western style is easier. English riding requires the rider to post (standing up in the saddle then sitting back down with the rhythm of the horse's gait)at the trot and steer the horse with both legs and hands. A rider may also not feel as secure in an English saddle and it will take many hours of training to be proficient at the trotting level.

It takes riders years to achieve an advanced level of expertise in any of the competitive equestrian sports and they all have something to offer the horse enthusiast. It really is a matter of preference. All styles have one very important thing in common. A big, beautiful, creature with a unique personality that is perfectly suited to your taste. The horse. Sure, we may prefer one discipline of riding above another. We may also prefer a particular breed of horse that is ideal for your chosen style. Some people love the thrill of barrel racing (western) or jumping (English) while others enjoy the beauty of a perfectly executed dressage routine, but at the heart of the matter is the horse. Spending time with horses is a valuable experience for anyone, regardless of riding style.


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    • jakefranco profile image

      jakefranco 5 years ago

      my inspiration for new hub!

    • christinekv profile image

      christinekv 9 years ago from Washington

      Hi Amy Jane -

      Since you've started out riding English, I think you'd find Western to be a piece of cake. One of the reasons I prefer English is it is more challenging (and I think the rider gets a better work out with all the posting involved, as well as it being easier on the backs of many horses!). If my husband was some Montana rancher (I'm fantasizing for a moment here..) I'm sure I'd love to be out cutting cows with him!

      Maybe one day you will consider competing...just for fun. I like to challenge myself that way and I feel it's a good way to gauge how one has improved and become more accomplished as a rider. My Arab gelding really enjoys it too....he likes to show off and when it comes to up transitions, he's more "push button" in the show ring, when he's really not push button at all!

      I'm only at Level 1 dressage, and it's not hard. I think you'd find it very enjoyable and would probably say to yourself "why didn't I try this a long time ago?" I can do some lateral moves and flying lead changes (my mare understands the cues for that) but the Grand Prix level, I'm certain I'll never get there with any of my horses. If I'm not mistaken, most of the horses at that level are at least 10 years old and have trained consistently for more than a handful of years. I don't have time (nor can we afford for me) to just do horses. My horses and I learn together as trainer has worked with me to do the training on/with them which is all part of the fun.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks Christine! I am really fascinated by dressage and would like to try it at some point. I would also like to try western too, just for fun. Dressage looks hard to me! It took me so long to get good at hunt seat (and I'm really not all that good) I'm hesitant to try something new right now. I do like the idea of being more comfortable and am constantly having trouble with my knees "pinching" the saddle. I can't imagine I will ever compete. :)

    • christinekv profile image

      christinekv 9 years ago from Washington

      Another great topic to cover Amy Jane!  I love how you start out this hub with subtle but clear communication of "the discipline of choice" being defended as "the best" depending on who you ask.  As you state, it basically comes down to what it is an individual is into - us horse people can be snobby about it but you were kind not to come right out and say that! :)  I love how you end it with the bottom line being, and what's most important, is one should be about enjoying their horse!

      I totally agree with Joni's comment.  Also, in regards to Osu's comment, my neighbor took the bronze for the US Equestrian team (in 04 I think?) and she was disqualified this year in Hong Kong because her 18 yr old TB gelding had difficulty with a jump which caused her to lose her balance and fall.  Big disappointment for her and so unfortunate but thankfully, both of them are ok. 

      You may already be aware of this but in dressage (foundational in all good training), there is a lot of use of seat muscles so this isn't limited to western disciplines.  From what I've been told, reining horses are the western equivalent of dressage. 

      You should give dressage a try.  It's much more natural and comfortable than huntseat and then you'd get to learn to use more of your seat.  The hip is open rather than having the knee pegged against the saddle and the leg is longer.  I have ridden with a dressage leg in flat hunter equitation class and placed higher than much of my competition.  Then again, I'm not competing on the A show circuit.  

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Joni, that is a really great point! They are all so unique. Thanks for commenting :)

    • Joni Solis profile image

      Joni Solis 9 years ago from Kentwood, Louisiana

      It is also a good idea to be open to what riding YOUR HORSE likes the best and is the best at. Just like people they too sometimes perfer different riding styles and disciplines. And sometimes they just like a chance to take it easy and hit the trails from time to time.

      Nice hub. Thanks for posting it.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Kerry, I have never tried dressage, but I love to watch it. I am fascinated by what a horse and rider can do together! Western saddles are so comfy. I ride English(hunt seat) at the moment, but have been considering trying Western again because I just ride for fun. I could really spend all my time with horses and be very happy! :)

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 9 years ago from USA

      Very nice introduction to the basic riding styles! I did dressage for several years and absolutely loved it. So fun! I like how comfortable Western saddles are, but it's weird for me not to be able to feel the horse's mouth. :)

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi osu, thanks for reading and commenting. I don't know much about the current US Team at the moment. I am always amazed by both the horses and the riders. I love that the equestrians are usually older than all the other athletes. it just shows how long these skills take to develop!

    • profile image

      osu  9 years ago

      Good description that can get more people interested. How about the Bejing Olympics? Do you know about any of the US Team?