Types Of Riding

The Basics: Western vs. English Riding

Almost every type of horseback riding falls into one of two basic riding styles: Western and English. Which one you will get to enjoy depends on which riding facility you visit. Western style is what you see in cowboy movies and is the most popular riding style in the U.S. English style includes (among other things) the types of riding you see in the Olympics.

Western riding includes (but is not limited to):

  • Trail riding
  • Reining
  • Barrel racing

English riding includes (but is not limited to):

  • Show jumping
  • Dressage
  • Eventing

U.S. Equestrian, which is the national governing body for horse-related sports (outside of rodeo and racing), recognizes 18 disciplines ranging from dressage to carriage driving to reining, including the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian disciplines. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From vaulting—sort of like gymnastics on horseback—to polo to mounted western shooting—think target shooting from the back of a galloping horse—there’s definitely something for everyone!

It All Starts With The Saddle

When you’re looking at Western vs. English riding, one easy to spot difference is the saddle riders use. A Western saddle is fairly large, covering a good portion of the horse’s back. The large horn at the front of the saddle and the large raised back (cantle) of the saddle can help a beginner rider feel more secure. They have a number of functional purposes as well. When roping cattle, for example, one end of the rope is wrapped around the horn, while the deep seat and large cantle help keep the rider in a secure position when working with livestock.

English saddles, on the other hand, are smaller and lighter than Western saddles, with a lower front profile. Sometimes called “flat” saddles, they originated in England, the land of fox hunting and steeplechases. English-style riders rise up and down in the saddle (called “posting”) when the horse performs a trotting gait, and the saddle’s lower front doesn’t interfere with that motion. It also makes it easier to rise up in the saddle to help the horse when going over jumps.

The Healing Power Of Horses

Therapeutic horsemanship is a growing movement that uses equine-assisted activities and therapies to benefit individuals with special needs. According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International website, members around the globe help more than 66,000 children and adults with physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges—including more than 6,200 veterans and active-duty military personnel—find strength and independence through the power of the horse each year.

You can find more information on this great initiative at the PATH website.