English Riding Versus Western Riding - Differences Explained

Published on December 10, 2020

Horse riding, a royal sport, is a good combo of adventure and exercise. The more you go for a ride, the more addicted you become to it, because of the adventure in it and its closeness to nature. Imagine riding in the misty morning on the seashell-white mountain; the greenish grass is wet and lush; birds are chanting, and your soul gets inspired by the musical beauty in god’s creation.

You must be wondering to get up and go for a ride, aren’t you?

As a dose of logical reasoning, it is good to be aware of the types of horse riding.

There are mainly two main types of Horse riding - Western and English Riding.

In the lines below, we will discuss some of the contrasting properties of the two so that you will have a clearer picture of the two.


Western Saddle

On the outlook to an untrained eye, they both may look similar. It was designed and developed to help ranchers and herders to spend long spans of time on horsebacks without minimal trouble. But a western saddle has the following characteristics that make it distinguishable from the English one:

• A deeper seat for comfort especially to the legs.

• A horn to hold on to on sharp turns. Also, it can be used to rope cattle.

• Even weight distribution throughout the horse’s back. This results in more stability and maneuverability.

It may vary in size and purpose but a general western saddle has all the attributes listed in the above lines.

English Saddle

When compared to its western counterpart, it is much lighter and conventional with a stripped-down design. It is interesting to note that the original English saddle was much similar to the western one which is still used by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Still, today’s English Saddle’s history is not tricky and can be traced back to the 1800s.

During that time, hunts were very popular among the riders – the notorious fox hunts. It was wildly pursued in England and Ireland which meant that riders needed a lighter and comfortable while speeding and fencing. Riders would lean back when they jumped over the fences which required the saddle to have a depressed cantle. The time was ripe to give both the riders and horse an edge against the work they needed to do.


There is not much difference between the bridles used in both schools of riding. The one minor discrepancy is that;

• In Western-style riding, a curb or leverage is employed by the riders.

• In the same fashion, a snaffle is employed by the riders in English riding style.

Other than that, the bridles are the same in both riding schools.

Related: Unique And Funny Gifts For People Who Loves English Riding


Again, this is one of the aspects in both schools of riding where you will find both closed and split reins. On average, western riders use more split reins. In a comparison with closed reigns, there are two advantages when you use split reins.

• They are longer and offer more versatility.

• There are almost no chances that your horse will get tangled in the reins.

• You do not have to get the reigns over the head of the horse.

There are ways through which you can make split reigns into a closed one, using a buckle.

Reins are more on the side of personal preference and choice. There are riders in both Western and English schools who would prefer one over the other. Both offer control and stability to the riders so there is not much divergence here.


Clothing and apparel are important on a competitive level. For the everyday ride, you can always wear whatever you want, as long it is suitable for horse riding. When you reach the competitive level, there are differences between Western riding and English riding clothing that you need to follow.

In this day and age, shows and competitions have their own rules and guidelines which contestants will have to follow. Following are some general rules of both Western school and English school.

Western School

• In a conventional Western riding competition, you need to wear a Western hat, or you can opt for a riding helmet for enhanced safety and comfort. The choice is mostly yours.

• Over the shirt, women can wear a scarf or a necklace. Bolo ties are worn by men during Western competitions mostly.

• Riders wear show pants or jeans with belts and buckles which can be plain or jeweled depending on personal taste or directions by the committee.

• Western boots are a must if you need to compete in a Western riding competition.

• Spurs are not allowed and wearing them could result in the immediate elimination of a contestant.

English School

• During English riding competitions, the contestants will have to wear a riding helmet or hunt cap. Both should be regulated by the competent riding authorities. Not to mention that they should be properly fastened to best serve their purpose.

• Other items that are included in the clothing are a fitted jacket, a white shirt with a tie or a scarf, and a pin. For trousers, both Jodhpurs and breeches will do.

• Tall riding boots are mandatory for English riding shows.


For some amateurs and professionals in the field of horse riding, it is all about the gait!

At the cost of oversimplification, it makes sense. The riding is about getting up at the horse’s back, holding the reins, and gallop away. Since we are dealing with formal details in this article, it is not possible to share such opinions.

When we compare the two main schools of riding over the gait of the horses, there are stark differences. For instance, in Western riding, horses are expected and bred to go smooth and consistent with their movements and speed. They tend to travel low and stable.

Contrary to this, English riding believes in long flowing movements. You will also notice stark changes in speed and the discipline in which several horses are trained.

It is worth noticing that there are horse breeds that are bred and raised for their characteristic gait, canter, gallop. There are examples where they have at least one extra walk and it is all-natural.

Here is the rundown of some of the gaits that are usually performed by horses in shows and competitions.


Walk means the natural movement of a horse under no influence. This goes the same for both Western and English riding schools. There is no difference at all.

Jog & Trot

Contrary to what we have seen in the walk, there is a difference between the two when it comes to horse riding. For instance, in a jog, the ride is smooth and relaxed and much faster than a walk. This is used mostly in Western riding and considered to be helpful in herding the cattle.

On the other side, the trot is fast and bouncy. The rider can sit or post through it depending on personal choice and convenience.

Lope & Canter

Canters vary in numbers and styles. It includes forms such as elevated, extended, collected, and so on. There are online videos that will help you in distinguishing between the two and will help you in mastering one.

Lope is slower than the canter. Generally, there are no major types or forms of lope in both Western and English riding schools.


Along the lines of the walk, there is no difference between a gallop of English riding and that of Western riding!

If you think about the riding styles, you will find that the English style was formed because of the pleasures both amateurs and professionals found in the art. On the other side, Western-style was evolved because of the ranchers. They used to herd cattle and needed to spend the whole day in the saddle.


There is a lot of debate about the nature and nurture of horses when it comes to the differences between the two major schools of riding. The argument, that any horse is perfectly capable of doing anything a horse is supposed to do with proper training and care, holds water for all the logical reasons. But there is no denying that there are some horse breeds that do certain things more seamlessly when compared to that of their counterparts. A striking example is a thoroughbred. One can certainly smash through the barriers on a race track but it cannot do much on a plowing field!

So, we will discuss some important characters that riders of a particular school need in their horses.

As a general rule of thumb, Western riders love stockier and more compact horses as compared to that English riders. The main reason is maybe the utility because, at the end of a long day of galloping around and herding, they may still have some energy to bolt and chase stray cattle.

On the other side of the fence are English horses. They are more likely to have longer legs and taller in height. This helps them in covering large distances as well as jumping over the fences.

Of course, this is more nitpicking than actual science about the riding style and horse breeds or their physique. If you already have a horse and want to change the way you ride it, there is no way you should stop because of the horse you own, especially if you are planning to remain amateurs.


In this regard, both schools have their own disciplines which we will go through one by one.

Western Riding Disciplines

You will find a lot of disciplines in this riding style. Most of the competitions emphasize more on the work-life on the ranch and base the work on it like herding the cattle and the association between the animal and the rider.

Some of the popular disciplines are as follows:

• Roping – this discipline is all about roping a calf while on the back of the horse and then dismount and tie its leg as fast as you could. There is even a national association of ropers that you will find online.

• Pleasure – these events are organized to judge different gaits in a horse and its ability to pull them out with pleasure! They also judge the rider’s ability to back the horse quietly.

• Reining – this involves a regimen that a power rider could face during his work. It includes flying changes, spinning turns, rollbacks, sliding tops, and many more. It is also known as high-speed dressage and has its own association too.

• Barrel Racing – this makes the rider do a complete cloverleaf pattern around three barrels and the quickest one will take the trophy. This is organized for a sole rider or two that compete at the same time but in different playing fields.

• Team Penning – this is a rancher’s dream. In this discipline, a team of riders has to isolate a specific cow from the herd and move it in a pen and keep it there, without dismounting from the horse. It is getting popular in recent times.

• Cutting – this is the version of team penning but this time there is only one rider who needs to do all the work.

English Riding Disciplines

When it comes to riding disciplines, English is not short of them by any stretch of the imagination. It is just that they are specific and centric to their own culture.

• Jumping – as evidenced by the name, it requires the rider to make several jumps over the fences. You will find the clock and the number of fences in different competitions. Also, the height of the fences is usually dependent on the level a rider is competing.

• Dressage – derived from French for “training”, it is rigorous work for both the horse and the rider. It shows the skills, control, and training of the horse through different sets of maneuvers such as showjumping and others.

• Eventing – this is the amalgamation of three disciplines into one – dressage, cross-country (hunting), and jumping. This could take three days or one-day events that are designed to test the horse’s agility and endurance.

• Hunting – this is a centuries’ old tradition that requires riders to ride cross-country hunting foxes with dogs. Now, the foxes are replaced by the drags. It involves laying down scent for the dogs to follow.

• Polo – from some estimates, it is more than two thousand years old and still going strong. There is not much to be said about this extremely popular and disciplined game.


In the modern world, there are so many hurdles that are stopping us from connecting with nature. If you are planning to get on the back of the horse for fun or competition, there is no healthier and courage-inducing sport than this. No matter, the style of riding you choose, it will take good care of your horse, training, and personal discipline before you can master the art!  

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