Western vs English Riding: What’s the Difference?

If you’re not familiar with horses or an equestrian expert, you may be wondering what the differences are between English and Western riding. Well, here are some facts you didn’t know.

Horses were first domesticated around 4000 years ago. Cave carvings of horse-pulled chariots can be traced back to the Bronze Age. Egyptians started using horses as early as 1600 BC. They used horses in warfare as well as transportation. The Brahmins from India are thought to be the first horse riders.

From the 5th to the 15th century, horses were classified by how they were used instead of their breed. Carthorses were used for pulling carts while chargers were used on the battlefield. To understand Western vs. English riding, we must understand that the culture of horse riding is where these horse riding styles are derived from. Western and English riding styles both have some similarities and a few differences that we shall discuss below.

What is the Western Riding Style?

Western riding style originated from cattle ranching in the southwestern United States and New Mexico in the mid-1600s.

Cattle ranching involves horseback riding at high speeds and so the rider needs to be secure. For this purpose, quick maneuvers are needed while riding. The horse riding equipment used for western-style riding is such that it distributes weight quite evenly over the back of the horse so that the rider and his horse can counterbalance the weight of a roped cow.

The Western deep-seated saddle is designed for comfort for riding over rough terrain for long periods of time. The saddle horn is equipped with a lasso for roping cattle. Cowboys used the saddle strings to tether different types of gear together. The evolution of Western saddle styles led to their use in roping, equitation, high-speed games and several other sports.

When it comes to Western riding attire, the rider usually wears long-sleeved shirts, boots and a hat for protection while tending and roping cattle.

What is the English Riding Style?

The English riding style originated from Europe and was later introduced in the United States. Horses were used for work purposes around the world but the English style horse riding integrated the discipline and training that was common in the military.

The saddle is relatively small and weighs less. It incorporates the conventional riding style where there is frequent communication between the horse and the rider. The saddle seat used in this style of riding is flat though there are variations designed for specific regiments. An amateur rider will benefit from an all-purpose saddle.

The saddles used in the English riding style are intended as such to avoid hindrance with the movement of the horse. It also serves as a secure seat for the rider. The reins are held with both hands which allow better control of the horse. In this horse riding style, it is essential to learn to trot and rise or post to the trot so that a slight suspension is created for the rider to balance the stride.

Difference Between Western and English Riding Styles

When you first pick up horse riding, you must choose between both these riding styles. It’s a tough choice since both have some major differences.

You can try out both the horse riding styles and find your preference. Many riders find a style, stick to it and improve upon it while others enjoy riding in both the styles. Like all skills, it takes time, dedication and practice to learn these horseback riding styles.

The choice between English vs. Western riding disciplines doesn’t depend much on the rider’s ability but actually his personal preference.


Horse riding equipment is one of the major differences in English vs. Western riding. While comparing saddles, it is quite apparent that the western saddle is larger and heavier than the English saddle. The purpose of such a design is that the weight of the rider is equally distributed all over the larger area of the horse’s back.

This makes the ride very comfortable and is appreciable in longer days spent on chasing and tending to cattle. On the other hand, the English saddle is much lighter and smaller in size to facilitate a closer contact with the horse. With both of these saddle styles, there are certain variations available that are suited to specific disciplines and sports.

The position of the rider in either saddle is similar and should ideally be a balanced and safe position so that effective communication with the horse is possible. The rider should be seated straight and tall, neither leaning backwards nor forwards. The arms should be relaxed along the rider’s side and the legs must hang against the horse’s side.

One of the more appreciable differences between both riding styles is that in English riding, the reins help the rider be in direct contact with the horse’s mouth. The reins work along with the saddle seat and the leg to direct the horse and control speed. Western riding style does not allow the rider as much contact and control over the horse. The aids, in this case, are the rider’s weight, his seat and the neck reining.

In English riding, the rider has a rein in each hand as compared to the Western riding style where both the reins are in one hand and the other hand rests on the side or on the rider’s thigh.

Types of Horse

Western horses are smaller and can travel steadily all-day and have intermittent speed bursts to chase cattle. English horses are taller and lave longer legs which help them cover longer distances with a variety of speeds and enable them to jump over obstacles as well.

Some breeds have an edge over the other while others are mutually superior. The Quarter Horse will perform well in the dressage ring while a Thoroughbred has superior cattle chasing ability.


Western and English riders have different perceptions of gait. An English horse usually rides in sleek strides with variations in speed, collection and cadence. While a western horse travels consistently and smoothly.

The walk is identical in both styles of riding. A jog is much smoother and faster-paced than a walk and used to follow herds. Riders do not post and they sit on a jog. In the English jog, the trot is posted unless otherwise like in the case of show rings.

A faster trot is ridden and posted in western riding. The lope is slack in Western riding and in English riding, it is extended, elevated or collected whichever is required with speed variations according to discipline.


Western riding is well represented by the western hat, accompanied by a comfortable shirt, western riding boots and jeans. The helmets are often sporty. English hats are traditional hunt caps or helmets. The dress includes a shirt, well-fitted jacket, breeches or jodhpurs and tall boots.


Now that you’re acquainted with both styles of horse riding, you might have some questions in mind. Here are a few questions that most riders think of when they want to pick a discipline:

Is English riding better than Western?

It is a popular opinion that if you can ride English, you will be easily able to transition to the Western riding style. This is generally because English riding involves the kind of coordination and balance of the legs and reins that makes the rider feel a bit insecure in the saddle. Whereas in the Western riding style, the rider tends to feel comfortable and relatively more secure.

Both of these styles require a lot of practice. Your choice of riding style will be based on your accessibility and your discipline. English riding involves dressage, jumping, hunter and equitation and Western style riding comprises of pole bending, barrel racing, trail riding, reining and hunting.

Is Western riding more dangerous or Eastern?

However, English riding is often considered dangerous as it involves jumping and other high paced activity with the horse. Even the English horses are more energetic and high strung. Western horses, on the other hand, are slower and not as high paced and so transitioning from Western to English riding is much difficult since the saddle offers very little help in English riding. When learning Western horse riding, the saddle styles are of much help since you have a wide variety to choose one that makes you feel the safest.

The level of safety of the riding style mostly depends on the person’s experience and riding skills. It also depends on the health and the temperament of the horse. 

Is English or Western riding more expensive?

Riding price ranges can vary from place to place but generally when showing is involved, Western riding tends to be more expensive. This entails the cost of the horse, lessons, apparel, tack, boarding and showing.

Now that you’re educated on the Western and English styles of horseback riding, hopefully, it would be easier for you to pick up a discipline. Happy riding!

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