English vs. Western Riding – The DIFFERENCE

Have you ever thought about English vs. Western riding? An expert horse rider should know the differences between the English riding styles and the Western riding styles.

If you are a beginner horse rider, knowing the difference between the two riding styles spices up your horse riding experience. So, let us explore what you need to know about the said riding styles.

Girl riding horse

The Different Types of Horseback Riding

Horseback riding styles are either English or Western. However, there are some styles that you can find in both categories. The following are popular riding styles:

English Horse Riding Styles

  • Dressage: In French, dressage means to train. When riding in this style, the rider aims at showcasing their trained horse. A horse goes through several tests under the guidance of the rider. So, effective communication between the horse and the rider is a necessity. Both have to complete the tests effortlessly with grace and elegance.
  • Jumping: The jumping riding style calls for a horse to jump a series of fences with different heights. The judges penalize a rider when a horse refuses to jump or knocks a fence off. You can participate in a timed obstacle course or an elimination course. In the latter event, the judges raise the height of the obstacles to identify the best jumping horse.  
  • Eventing: This style tests the versatility and flexibility of a horse and its rider. It combines dressage, jumping, and cross-country riding styles. It takes up to three days to complete it. After completing the ride, judges tally the scores of each participating rider to get the winner.
  • Endurance riding: This is a distance-riding competition. It is a recognized Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) game.
  • Horseball: This event is similar to horseback rugby. Two four-person teams play against each other. Their respective members pass a ball to each other to score through a vertical loop.  
  • Polo: This is also a team sport. Horse riders hit a hard, small ball using a wooden mallet to get it through the opponent’s goalposts. The riders have to use English-style riding equipment.
  • Tent pegging: This is a combat sport. A rider in a full gallop tries to use a sword or lance to hit an array of targets. It is also an FEI-recognized game.

Western Horse Riding Styles

  • Roping: During the roping event, a Western rider throws a lasso (a loop on a rope) in an attempt to get it around the neck of a calf. If successful, the rider dismounts their horse to restrain the calf. A rider that ties the calf more quickly than the rest wins. 
  • Reining: The West refers to dressage as reining. However, reining is like figure skating. During a reining event, a horse rider should walk their horse through challenging patterns, including circles, spins, stops, and turns. 
  • Barrel racing: Barrel racing is an event that requires a rider to maneuver three barrels at a high horse speed. It is a timed event. The rider with the shortest time wins. 

What is English Riding?

English riding is a type of horse riding that employs a flat English saddle. It has several variations. It seeks to give horses the flexibility to perform any given task optimally. This horse riding type also uses unique horse bridles, rider’s attire, and an English horse.

A rider has to hold the reins of a horse with two hands when English riding. Often, a rider has to rise and sit with every trot of their horse during this type of riding. However, they can opt to do a sitting trot when the rules of an event allow.  

What is Western Riding?

Western riding style evolved from the Spanish welfare and ranching traditions. Riders had to control their horse using one hand and harness cattle using their other hand. To control the horse, the cowboys used a procedure called neck-rein. The method applied light pressure on the neck of the horse.

During western riding, horses have the freedom to use their instincts. For example, the horses can follow cows until their riders change the direction of the horses using the reins. So, the saddle that the riders use does little to control the movement of a horse.

English vs. Western Riding – the Difference?


The contact between the horse and its rider is one of the main differences between English and Western horse riding. Regarding the English style, a rider has direct contact with their horse. The rider uses their legs, the horse’s mouth reins, and the seat to control the direction and speed of their horse.

During a Western ride, the rider has little or no contact with the horse. Instead, the riders, weight, seat, and neck reins control the horse.

Sitting Position

There is no difference between the rider’s sitting positions in the two types of horse riding. In both cases, a rider has to sit straight and tall. They should never lean forward or backward. Also, their legs should hand freely against the sides of their horse. Their hands should relax on their sides without flapping elbows.


The Western and English horses have similarities and differences in their gaits. An English horse uses a long and flowing motion. However, its speed, collection, and cadence make its activity varied. On the other hand, a Western horse has a low, smooth, and consistent motion.

When walking, the two types of hoses use a similar manner. Regarding jogging, a rider does not post the horse’s jog during Western horse riding. However, they can post faster trots or ride at a two-point position. On the other hand, an English rider has to post every trot unless the rules allow them to sit. Posting is rising from a saddle seat to counter a trot.

The next difference in gait is the lope or canter. Western riding employs a slow and relaxed lope. On the other hand, the English riding features an extended, elevated, and collected lope. Also, the English riding lope has several variations in line with the specific riding style of the rider.


Western riders wear a traditional western hat or sporty-looking helmets. They also wear comfortable jeans, a shirt, and pair of boots.

English riders prefer a traditional-style hunt helmet or cap. They also wear a fitted jacket, breeches or Jodhpurs, shirt, and tall or Jodhpur boots.

Person Riding A Horse

Western Saddles vs. English Saddles – is There a Difference?

The Western cowboys spent much of their time mounted on their horses. Their horse saddle had to distribute their weight evenly on the back of their horse. The strategy provided the counterbalance that the cowboys required when roping cattle. The cowboys also wanted a comfortable saddle because of the rugged terrain and long hours of riding.

The Western saddle has a horn to anchor the lasso. It also has strings to tie various equipment that cowboys want while on the move. Currently, the Western saddle features several designs to support speed games, roping, equitation, and other events.

The several accessories to a Western saddle make it heavy and large. It also has a deep seat to support the rider’s upright position.

English riding evolved from mounted European military styles. So, the saddle is smaller and lighter than the Western saddle. Also, it seeks to give freedom to a horse and provide seat security to a rider.

The English saddle is also associated with eighteenth-century fox hunting sprees. During that time, this saddle did not slow a horse down. Also, the saddle was accommodative to the jumping of a horse over obstacles. So, the saddle made the horse and its rider the same in terms of their motion. 

What is a Western Horse?

Western horses are compact. They have the potential to travel steadily all day long and occasionally chase the cattle.

What is an English Horse?

English horses are tall and sometimes leggy. Their features help them travel long distances at varying speeds. The features also enable these horses to jump obstacles.

Between English and Western Riding, Which is Easier?

Often, horse riding beginners find the Western saddle more comfortable and secure than the English one. However, the latter saddle requires more balance and coordination of the rider’s legs and reins than the earlier saddle.

However, both riding styles require a lot of practice to master. Therefore, your overall riding objective determines the kind you will pick. For example, if you love trail riding, go for Western riding. Otherwise, horse jumping enthusiasts should opt for the English riding style. Regardless of the type you choose, a competent instructor should be able to take you through it.

English riding in a training horse barn

Key Highlights

Now you can tell the difference between the Western and English horse riding styles. The saddle, attire, gait, type of horse, and activities that the riders can engage in make the difference between the two riding styles.

Regardless of the riding style, you have to train well to master it. Getting a professional horse riding instructor is always every rider’s starting point. After getting the drift, practice the following tips, among others, to maintain safety at all times:

  • Always be in protective gear when riding a horse. For example, the heels of your boots should secure your feet on the stirrups.
  • Control your horse and fasten the saddle on the back of your horse securely. Remember, horses get nervous because of strange noises and objects.
  • Ride within enclosed places until you become familiar with your horse.
  • Speak quietly to a frightened horse. Also, steady it up and allow it to overcome the fear.
  • Allow a horse to walk at its own pace on slippery or rugged grounds.
  • Never goof around your horse. It is a dangerous animal.
  • Avoid hard surfaces or paved grounds when riding your horse.
  • Never ride fast past riders moving at a slower gait. It can startle the other horses and cause an accident.