Whatʼs the difference between Western and English riding?




When it comes to horse riding, there are several different styles and disciplines, each with its own unique techniques and traditions. Two popular styles are Western riding and English riding. While both involve riding horses, there are significant differences between these two disciplines. In this article, we will explore the distinctions and characteristics of Western and English riding.

The Origins and History

Western Riding

Western riding has its roots in the working styles of cowboys in the American West. It developed as a practical method for managing cattle and working on ranches. The style is characterized by a deep-seated saddle with a horn at the front, which was used for securing ropes and lassos. Western riding focuses on comfort, stability, and control, with riders adopting a relaxed and balanced position in the saddle.

English Riding

On the other hand, English riding originated in Europe and is associated with sports such as hunting, jumping, and dressage. It is often seen in equestrian competitions such as show jumping and eventing. English riding requires a close partnership between the rider and the horse, with a focus on precision, finesse, and elegance. The saddle used in English riding is lighter and smaller, allowing for greater flexibility and freedom of movement.

The Saddles

Western Saddles

One of the most noticeable differences between Western and English riding is the saddle. Western saddles are larger and heavier, designed to distribute the rider's weight over a large surface area for comfort during long hours in the saddle. They have a prominent horn at the front, which is used for roping and as a handle for the rider. The saddle also features a high cantle and a deep seat, providing stability and security.

English Saddles

English saddles are smaller, lighter, and more minimalistic compared to their Western counterparts. They allow for closer contact with the horse, enabling the rider to communicate more effectively through subtle cues. The absence of a horn allows for greater freedom of movement, particularly when jumping or performing intricate dressage movements. English saddles have a flatter seat and a lower cantle, promoting a more upright and balanced position.

Attire and Tack

Western Attire and Tack

Western riding is often associated with the iconic cowboy attire, including cowboy hats, boots, jeans, and long-sleeved shirts. The tack used in Western riding typically includes a larger and heavier bridle with a curb bit, which provides leverage for controlling the horse. Western riders also use a lasso or lariat as a tool for herding and roping cattle.

English Attire and Tack

English riding attire is more formal and traditional, with riders often wearing helmets, tall boots, breeches, and fitted jackets. The tack used in English riding includes a smaller and lighter bridle with a snaffle bit, which offers direct communication with the horse's mouth. The focus is on maintaining a light and sensitive contact with the horse's mouth, allowing for subtle aids and precise control.

Riding Techniques

Western Riding Techniques

In Western riding, the emphasis is on relaxation, balance, and maintaining a solid seat. Riders often adopt a more relaxed and laid-back posture, with a deep seat and a relaxed leg position. The reins are typically held in one hand, allowing the other hand to be free for tasks such as roping or opening gates. Western riders use their weight and leg cues to communicate with the horse, relying on subtle shifts and pressure to guide their mount.

English Riding Techniques

English riding techniques focus on maintaining a balanced and centered position in the saddle. Riders sit more upright, with a straight back and a slightly bent knee. The reins are held in both hands, allowing for greater control and precision. English riders use their seat, legs, and hands in harmony to communicate with the horse. Subtle aids and cues are given through the rider's fingers, legs, and weight shifts.


In conclusion, Western riding and English riding are two distinct styles that have evolved from different historical backgrounds and serve different purposes. While Western riding is associated with practical ranch work and a relaxed approach, English riding emphasizes precision, elegance, and partnership with the horse. Understanding the differences between these two styles allows riders to appreciate the diversity within the equestrian world and choose the style that aligns with their goals and preferences.

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Julieth Bill

Hi, I'm Julieth Bill. Before I was a writer for the NBCpet.com blog I was known for inventive and unusual treatments of dogs, cats, bird, fish, snakes, horses, rabbit, reptiles, and guinea pigs. Julieth worked for major zoos around the world. He Also Receives Pets a Scholarship.

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