Horse Riding Styles: The Complete Guide

Horse riding is a vast discipline that is not only differentiated by the basic Western and English riding style but many others too. To sharpen your skills in a specific horse riding style, it’s very important to know about its details and the sort of horse that best suits it.

If you put the right horse in the right field, you can improve your riding game. In this article, we’ll completely guide you about all the horse riding styles and explain how you can master them.

Western vs English Riding Style

These are the 2 most common horse riding styles in places like the USA. If one has just started learning the basics of riding a horse, it’s very normal to be curious about the differences between the two. 

Both the styles of horse riding are quite like each other. Both of these require practice to master. However, with consistent hard work and dedication, one can do wonders in each discipline.

Before taking lessons for a particular riding style, you should know the difference between the two. We’ll tell you what these riding styles are, where they originated from and, more importantly, what are the main differentiating factors between them.

Equipment

The Western riding style was introduced by cowboys who worked cattle from horseback. Hence the Western saddle is made so that the weight on the horseback is evenly distributed for comfort.

When roping cattle, the saddle horn anchors the lariat. Various types of gears that are used often by cowboys are tied up to the saddle strings. At present, saddles have been developed for various other uses like roping, equitation and other sports. 

The English riding style has evolved from that of the European military. The saddle is somewhat smaller and lighter as compared to the Western saddle. Beginners often want saddles designed to do almost everything and avoid any interference with the horse’s movement. In this regard, the English saddle can offer more benefits. 

Type of Horses

Western horses provide a steady trip with the ability to chase stray cattle if and when required. On the other hand, English riding horses are taller with their legs having more diameter and, of course, muscle. This aids them in covering long distances in a rather short time and jumping over obstacles easily.

Some breeds have exceptional talents. In a dressage ring, a stocky Quarter Horse can surprise you sometimes while a Thoroughbred might have a very good sense of cow. In riding sports, there are suitable and specific horses for related games. We will further discuss all the games and the horses that you can benefit from in this article.

Gaits

The gaits of a horse are labeled differently by Western and English horse riders. A Western horse travels low and consistently whereas an English horse is expected to have speed variation. The latter also has a lot more stamina for riding. 

The differences in each gait are as follows:

  • Walk: both types of horses have a similar-looking walk.
  • Jog: A jog is useful when chasing stray cattle. In the Western riding style, the horse trots faster.
  • Canter/lope: A canter or lope is faster than a trot. The Western lope is very relaxed and slow while the English canter is extended or elevated with variations in speed.

Attire

A Western hat is the most distinctive element of the Western riding style. A complete Western look consists of a hat, shirt, jeans and riding boots. Though, some Western riders wear sporty-looking helmets as well.

On the contrary, English riders tend to wear a hunting cap or a helmet. They may also wear a fitted jacket, shirt and boots.

What are the Different Horse Riding Styles?

Now that we’ve covered the two major types, here’s a list of some of the other horse riding styles.

1. Dressage

Dressage can be considered as a choreographed dance that nurtures restraint and willingness in the horse. The tests include multiple gaits and passages and the riders and horses are scored on composure and elegance. 

Andalusian and Hanoverian horse breeds are best suited for dressage. They closely obey their rider and demonstrate a well-defined choreographed dance. In addition, Hanoverians can be trained well. They have a light gait and if necessary, they can run fast. Andalusians have a great lift for dressage dance.

2. Eventing

It is a multi-event consisting of dressage, showjumping and cross country. The horses that are all-rounders are useful in this field and to go with that, they also need to have good enough stamina for exercises like jumping need a lot of strength and stamina along with elegance. Hanoverians in this field are the first choice too. They can cross all hurdles and perform dressage elegantly.

3. Showjumping

Showjumping is a horse riding style where the riders showcase their talent by jumping over a series of fences in a ring. This task should be done within a specific time and if an error occurs, the recovery should be very fast to complete the task.

Appaloosas are the optimal breeds for jumping obstacles. They have narrow but high legs which allow them to push themselves for a greater and efficient jump. Appaloosas have an appealing and graceful arch at the back. Other than appaloosas, thoroughbreds have a high jump and they can also leap over fences stylishly.

4. Western Pleasure

In Western pleasure, a steady gait is judged at different paces. In this category, horses ride through measured movements. The rider and the horse correspond to show the judges accurate beats at precise paces. The horse should always remain alert for any abrupt changes in pace and should provide a steady flow with an uninterrupted cadence.

Quarter horses have tough lower forelimbs and so, are good for Western pleasure especially if they are trained at a young age for this category. Tennessee horses are also favoured in this competition.

5. Reining

Western reining is a rapid series of movements as compared to English guided dressage. In this category, a horse demonstrates circles, spins, stops and roll-backs. The transitions are very sharp which makes it quite a tough task. Reining requires skilful manoeuvring. The horses that are used to work with cattle are the rider’s first choice for reining because they have high dexterity.

The leading reining horses are appaloosas and paints. Paints have a good central gravity that helps them keep their composure while making abrupt transitions. Likewise, appaloosas have a good strength to perform such rapid activities.

6. Cutting

In this style of horse riding, a cow is separated from the herd by the horse. Although the cow wants to join the group again, the horse and handler hinder the cow’s attempt. A frightened cow is very difficult to steer so the horse must be chosen wisely to handle the cow. Your horse should be flexible to cut successfully. 

Quarter horses and Morgan horses are very versatile and their agility in the field helps them gain control over the mad cow. The balance of a Quarter horse is quite remarkable and can be very handy for cutting.

7. Barrel racing

In a barrel race, barrels are put in a triangular layout and the horse and rider have to swing around them. Before exiting, they have to swing around barrels in a specific design called cloverleaf. The total time depends a lot when giving scores but controlled movements play a vital role too. 

Powerful horses that can pick up speed abruptly and balance their footings around corners need to have a swift reaction. A Quarter horse with a good build proves to be just the right one.

8. Endurance

Endurance competitions stretch over long distances (on average 50 miles), hence the name endurance. Vet checks are done at short intervals to determine whether the horse can go on further or not. It is a very physically demanding competition. Some horses preserve their power in such circumstances.

The Arabian horses are the best suited in this race because of the harsh climate they live in. They have a history to survive and endure so it is like an everyday work for them. They release a wholesome amount of energy in between the race with their pronounced hips, muscle haunches and powerful shoulders. 

9. GymKhana

Gymkhana is a style of horse riding that consists of a collection of games requiring speed, including:

  • Keg races
  • Barrel racing 
  • Keyhole races 
  • Flag races 
  • Pole bending

The rider’s guidance is very crucial in these games and the horse should obey his rider when to climb to high speeds and when to slow down. A consistently natured horse is always preferred for young riders. Ponies for the young and appaloosas are preferred for the experienced ones because both are independent and trustworthy. 

10. Saddleseat

High-stepping abilities of horses are showcased in this contest. It has some resemblance to dressage and aims to exhibit exquisite moves to catch the eyes of judges. 

American Saddlebreds and Morgan horses are favourable options to go within this competition. Morgan horses have a long good-looking neck with a different gait than other horses which gives them an edge in a saddle seat. American saddlebreds, on the other hand, have a back that dips gently, have long steps which is praised in saddle seat competitions. 

11. Racing

Horse racing is a speed contest in which horses are ridden by jockeys over a defined distance. This riding style involves no fancy moves… just pure speed. It is one of the most well-known and ancient sports of all time to determine which of the running horses is the fastest one. 

Horse racing varies in its format in different areas and countries. Many countries have a great tradition in racing. Some countries restrict this contest to certain breeds only while others make them run over obstacles and different tracks. Some even make horses run in different gaits as well. 

The Thoroughbred is best used in horse racing. 

Horse Riding Styles FAQ

The questions that commonly arise in the minds of young riders are as follows: 

What are professional horse riders called? 

A professional horse rider is called a jockey. They are asked by the owners of the horse and their trainers to ride their horse in a race for a fee. They also get a reward for winning the race. When a jockey is young, he rides horses for trainers just to keep the horse fit and moving, but not in races. A jockey needs to ride a trial of 20 barriers before appearing in races. The average weight of a jockey is 108-118 lbs and he/she controls a horse weighing 1200-1400 lbs. Quarter horses can run at a pace of 55 miles per hour while a Thoroughbred can keep a pace of 40 miles per hour.

Every jockey specializes in a specific type of race. Jockeys are physically fit because they need such fitness to control a horse weighing 10 times their weight and running at 50 miles an hour. 

At what age should a horse stop being ridden?

The age at which you should stop riding a horse depends on each individual horse, but may vary between 17-25 years. Genetics plays an important role and so do injuries in the horse’s lifetime. Common things like malnourishment or being overweight also have negative impacts on their performance. Some horses can not be ridden after they turn 17, while others can still go on even when they are above 25. Halflings are known to be physically fit for a long time. Racehorses, on the other hand, retire much early like 20-25 years. 

If a horse can’t go on further, it becomes grumpy and does not enjoy a rider on its back anymore. This is a very important factor in determining whether the horse can be ridden any longer or not.

How many times a week should you ride a horse?

If you want to maintain their fitness, then you should ride 3 times a week at least. A horse can remain physically fit by riding for at least 30 minutes every time it is ridden. Trotting helps to build horse muscle. For the cardiovascular sufficiency of the horse, cantering can be beneficial. If you want your horse to be fit, make it run 6 times a week with 1 day off after a hectic routine. Other factors like the following should also be kept in mind:

  • Age of your horse
  • Its training regimen
  • The temperament of your horse
  • Your fitness

Is Western riding safer than English riding?

Western riding is safer than the English riding style because a larger saddle provides more protection and safety to the rider. In English riding, the rider has to post to the trot with a very bouncy gait, whereas in Western riding, the gait is much slower and is more easily controlled. Other than that, the Western saddle is much wider with a cantle that is raised which provides more stability.

English horse riding style involves several factors to control the horse. It proves to be quite a difficult task for a beginner. Hence, the Western riding style is somewhat easier and safer.

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