Which Riding Style is Right for You?

Aug 22, 2022


For beginner horseback riders, a common question is, “What is the difference between English and Western style riding?” The style that you choose comes down to preference, but there are a few key differences that may help you make your decision.
 
Tack
            The biggest difference between English and Western riding is the design of the saddle. Western saddles are much larger and heavier, with a deeper seat meant to make long hours in the saddle more comfortable and to give the rider more security. Due to the saddle’s size and shape, it can be used to carry equipment and anchor a rope to the saddle’s horn for securing cattle. English saddles are much smaller and lighter compared to their Western counterparts. Because of the minimalistic design, a rider can feel more of the horse’s movements beneath them, called “close-contact” riding. English saddles give the rider more freedom of movement for disciplines such as jumping and foxhunting and prevent the horse from bearing extra weight during strenuous exercise.
 
Control
            The way in which riders control their mounts differs between English and Western styles. English riders grip the reins in both hands and control the speed and direction of their horse through direct contact with the horse’s mouth. This form of control is called “direct reining.” Western riders use a single hand to loosely hold the reins, while the other hand rests on their thigh or hangs by their side. To control the horse’s movements, the rider uses a combination of neck reining and weight shifting, which is called “indirect reining.”
 
Disciplines
As your skill level becomes more advanced, you may wish to compete or focus your training on a specific discipline. While some disciplines are applicable to both styles of riding, many are specific to either Western or English. Popular disciplines for English-style riding include show jumping, hunt seat, dressage, eventing, polo, and saddle seat. Common Western disciplines include roping, reining, Western pleasure, trail, barrel racing, and other speed events. 
 
Attire
            You can tell the style of riding that an equestrian participates in by the clothes that they wear. English is very formal, with riders wearing fitted jackets, collared shirts, jodhpurs or breeches, and tall or paddock boots in most disciplines. A traditional style hunt cap or helmet is required during most competitions, and neutral colors are preferred. Western attire reflects cowboys’ and ranchers’ working lifestyle and may be casual, working western wear, or showy, button-down shirts and jeans. The most distinctive element of Western riding is the traditional cowboy hat, which is often worn in place of a helmet, while other common elements of Western attire include cowboy boots and chaps.
 
Remember, no matter which style of riding you choose to participate in, there is no right or wrong decision. Neither style can be considered better than the other; as mentioned earlier, it all comes down to preference. So, whether you need a pair of splint boots for your jumper or a saddle blanket for your reiner, your local Co-op has the tack and supplies needed to help your horse perform at their best.
 
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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