English Vs. Western Riding-What’s the Difference?

You may be interested in learning how to horseback ride. And then you do some research and realize there are different styles of horseback riding. The two primary styles of horseback riding are English and Western. 

The overall difference between English vs Western riding is the purpose. English Riding has minimal equipment to maximize the rider’s contact with their horse. Western Riding equipment is designed for comfort and long hours in the saddle. Some other differences between English vs Western Riding include

  • Tack
  • Saddle
  • Way of sitting on the horse

Because the overall purpose of English vs. Western riding is different, their equipment and way of handling the horse will reflect that distinction. There is more information in the guide below. 

What’s the Difference Between English Vs. Western Riding?

The main difference between English vs. Western Riding is in their purpose. Each style evolved from different origins and the equipment a rider uses reflects that origin. 

What is English Horseback Riding?

The modern style of English Equestrian riding emerged during the early 1800s to have the rider’s body be more in contact with the horse.  

English Horseback riding originated in Europe during the Middle Ages when the need for mounted cavalry became more important during battle. Over the centuries, the English style of horseback riding evolved to feature a more minimalistic approach to their equipment and saddles.

English riding focuses on training the horse to respond to quiet commands given through body signals and vocal direction. 

English Saddles are smaller and lighter than Western saddles. They don’t have a saddle horn.  They are mainly used for activities such as 

  • Jumping
  • Hunting
  • Polo
  • Dressage

When a person is riding English, they sit nice and tall, keeping their body lined up so that there is a straight line between the

  • Shoulders
  • Hips 
  • Heels

English riders grip the reins with both hands and use their thighs to stabilize them during faster gaits. 

This is a much more formal way of riding and requires more coordination and control in body movements. 

What is Western Horseback Riding?

Western Horseback riding is geared for comfort and long hours in the saddle. American cowboys needed a saddle that let them spend hours in the saddle while they herded cattle. In addition, they needed a way of guiding the horse with one hand, so they could have the other free. 

Western Horseback Riding emerged in America during the 1500s when Spanish ranchers hired Mexican cowboys to herd their cattle. In the early 1800s, when the American West began to open up for settlement, the more laid-back style of western style horseback riding became popular. 

Western riding allows for less contact between horse and rider, allowing the horse to be more independent. 

The Western saddle is broader and heavier than the English Saddle and is designed to cover a larger portion of the horse to evenly distribute the rider’s weight. 

They are mainly used for activities such as 

  • Pleasure riding
  • Reining
  • Cutting
  • Roping
  • Gymkhana 
  • Team Penning
  • Rodeo

When a person is riding western style, they should be sitting straight and comfortably. Cowboys had an intuitive relationship with their horse, at times trusting their steed with their very lives. 

The western style of guiding a horse relies heavily on the horse being attuned to the rider’s movements. To guide their horse, western riders use: 

  • A neck rein that only needs one hand to steer the horse
  • Their weight by shifting in the saddle
  • Their seat, in how they stand in the stirrups or lean in the saddle. 

Western riding is more relaxed and informal than English riding.

How Does the Tack Differ in English Vs. Western Riding?

In English vs Western Riding, there are differences in the tack. It’s designed to accommodate the various needs and riding styles within English and Western Riding. For English riding, the tack is designed to help the rider have close contact with the horse and uses two reins for steering. 

In Western riding, the tack is designed to handle heavy tasks like roping and cutting and uses one rein for neck reining. 

The tack includes

  • Bridle
  • Rein
  • Headstalls
  • Bits
  • Leather accoutrements

There are bits of tack common to both English and Western Riding. These include 

  • Halters  -This is an important piece no matter what style of horseback riding you choose. Halters are made out of stiff webbing and are headgear designed to lead or tie up horses.
  • Lead Rope – The lead rope is usually made out of nylon, similar to a leash, and lets you lead the horse. It attaches to the ring at the bottom of the halter, beneath the horse’s chin. 
  • Cross-ties -These are usually made out of webbing and used to help tie a horse up while grooming or saddling. Two pieces of webbing secure to the D rings on the halter on either side of the horse’s head and then to the barn or stall walls. 
  • Hackamore bridles – This is a bitless bridle used in training and in some types of riding. If used carefully, it can be helpful for certain situations. But if you are going to use it, be gentle because this can pull on a horse’s sensitive face and cause more harm than good. 

What Does the Tack Look Like in English Riding?

English riding tack helps the rider be in closer contact with the horse and allow for a greater ease of movement for the horse. 

English tack includes

  • Bridles – this equipment is what directs the horse and goes over its head. The English Bridle is different from the Western in that it has a nose band, which is a piece of leather that crosses over the horse’s nose and attaches to either side of the headstall. English bridles can either be single, used with beginning riders, or double. Double bridles have two sets of reins and a two-level bit. 
  • Headstall -this is the top part of the bridle and consists of a series of leather straps that goes around the horse’s nose, up the sides of its cheeks and wraps around it’s ears. 
  • Bits -this is usually made of metal and goes in the horse’s mouth. It will have a large D-ring attached to either side. Some of the most common types of English bits are the snaffle bit and the shank. The snaffle bit is two pieces of metal that link together in the middle and used for training or general purpose. The shank bit is a single bar but curved in the middle to accommodate the horse’s mouth and used for general purpose riding and schooling riders. Curb bits are for unruly horses.
  • Reins -In English riding, there will be one loop of reins attached to the metal D rings on the bit and buckled together in the middle, creating a loop the rider holds with both hands.
  • Girths -similar to Western Riding, this is usually a piece of leather or well-constructed nylon and fleece that crosses under the horse belly to hold the saddle in place. 
  • Stirrups -These are thin metal D-shaped rings that have rubber pads at the bottom to hold your boots in place. 

Overall, English Riding tack is elegant and clean, and matches with the understated and refined look of English Riding.

What Does the Tack Look Like in Western Riding?

Tack in Western Riding tends to be more decorative and flashier than in the understated English riding look. Similar to English Tack, it consists of: 

  • Bridles -Western bridles don’t have a nose band and usually don’t have a browband, which goes in front of their ears. These types of bridles can be flashy with tooled leather and decorative metal circles. 
  • Headstalls -This is the headgear of the bridle in which the bit and reins attach. 
  • Bits -Made out of metal, this is used to guide the horse by slipping into their mouth. Common Western Riding bits are Pelham bits. Which are snaffle bits with a curb bit attached, a long piece of metal that runs parallel to the horse’s head and has a D-ring to attach the reins to. 
  • Reins -Western Riding split reins are made up of two pieces of leather or sturdy material and loop around the horse’s neck, attaching to the d-ring on either side of the horse’s neck. The rider holds them in one hand and lays the reins across the horse’s neck to indicate which direction they want to go. The split reins are so that when the rider dismounts and ground-ties their horse, the animal won’t trip on the reins.
  • Cinch – The cinch in Western riding serves the same purpose as the girth in English riding. It can be made from nylon or leather but is most often made up of several soft cotton strands. It loops under the horse and holds the saddle in place.
  • Stirrups -Western riding stirrups are traditionally heavier than English stirrups. Thick leather or metal D shaped loops with thick rubber or leather pads on the bottom. They are made for stability and weight distribution. These might be heavily decorated with metal or tooled leather for a flashy look. 

Western Riding Tack is designed for hard work and is often decorated with tooled leather and metal disks called conchos. 

How Does the Saddle Differ in English Vs. Western Riding?

The saddle differs in English vs Western Riding in not only its shape, but also its purpose. The English saddle is minimalistic compared to the heavier Western riding saddle. Both saddles have some things in common, such as 

  • A seat – both have a place for the rider to sit
  • Pommels – this is the front of the saddle that curves up and rests on the horse’s withers
  • Stirrup Leather – This is where the stirrups attach. They usually come with leather straps and buckles so you can adjust the length to fit your legs. 
  • Saddle Pads and blankets – These are usually made of soft fleece or other soft material and go under the saddle. This is to pad the underside of the saddle and it pulls sweat and heat away from the horse’s back. It makes the overall fit more comfortable for the horse. Saddle pads and blankets are shaped like the saddle, depending on the style you need. You can also add extra padding if needed. 

What Does the Saddle Look Like in English Riding?

English Riding Saddles are minimalistic in nature compared to the Western saddles. Their overall purpose and design is to help the rider be close to the horse. As well as look elegant and understated. Starting from the top, the parts of the English saddle are the

  • Seat -This is where the rider sits on the saddle
  • Skirt -This is the edge of the seat where the rider rests
  • Cantle -This is the back of the seat that curves up gently as a rump rest. 
  • Panel -This is the padded section of the seat that is underneath the cantle. 
  • Knee Pad -This is a large leather section that has a bit of padding where the knee rests. But it also goes under the stirrup leathers and attaches seamlessly to the Saddle Flap. 
  • Stirrup leather -This is a long, single, adjustable leather strap that holds the stirrup. 
  • Saddle Flap -The saddle flap attaches to the knee pad and curves down the horse’s side, protecting it from the leather stirrup straps.
  • Stirrup Leather Keeper -This is a small leather band that holds the extra stirrup leather in place.
  • Gullet Channel -this is hidden under the saddle flap and allows the horse to move more freely under the saddle.
  • Pommel -This is the front of the saddle where the seat ends. It has nothing attached to it and completes the minimal look of the English Saddle. 

What Does the Saddle Look Like in Western Riding?

Western Riding Saddles are much larger than English saddles. They are designed to distribute the rider’s weight over a larger area of the horse’s back and be comfortable for long hours in the saddle. Show saddles are usually heavily decorated with tooled leather and conchos, which are metal disks. 

Starting from the top, the parts of the Western saddle are the

  • Seat –Unlike the English saddle, the western saddle has several parts to its seat. First, the seat is not as scooped and is more padded. 
  • Cantle –This is the rear part of the seat and sits at a 45-degree angle from the seat. It also has more support for the rump. 
  • Cheyenne Roll –This is the flat section that spans the top of the cantle. It can act as a handle when mounting or as a wedge when securing a bedroll behind the saddle. 
  • Seat Rise – this is positioned at the front of the seat and adds an extra bit of rise and support to the seat. 
  • Horn –positioned on the pommel, it’s a thin flat disk on top of a sturdy slanted post. The horn makes a great handle for wrapping your lasso around. It is the main difference in the Western saddle, because the English saddle doesn’t have one. 
  • Pommel or Swell –This is much more prominent in the Western saddle and provides the structure for the horn. It’s what allows the cowboys to wrap their lassos around the horn and supports the opposing force of the cattle. 
  • Gullet – this is the V-shaped section under the saddle that rests on the withers. Like the pommel, it’s much more pronounced in the Western Saddle and lets the horse operate independently. 
  • Seat Jockey –attaches to the seat and provides a nice wide base of support for the inner thighs, allowing for longer rides. 
  • Front Jockey –This is beneath the pommel and wraps around to join with the skirt of the saddle. It forms the base of the saddle and provides support for the seat. 
  • Skirt –this part wraps under the seat jockey and the fender, then around the back under the cantle. Together with the front jockey, it forms the solid base of the western saddle. 
  • Latigo holders – this is a piece of leather attached to the saddle that excess latigo or cinch leather is run through to keep it from flapping around and bothering the horse. 
  • Saddle Strings –these are long strips of leather hanging off the back sides of the saddle used to hold rain gear and lariats or other various items. 
  • Fender –this is a wide piece of leather that tucks under the seat jockey and over the skirt. It’s where the rest of the rider’s leg rests and holds the stirrup leather. It’s designed to help protect the rider’s legs from rubbing against the horse’s side.
  • Stirrup Leathers –these are straps of leather that the stirrup attaches to. 
  • Hobble Straps –a band of leather holds the stirrup leathers together. 

The Western saddle is designed for maximum comfort during long hours of riding. 

How Does Riding Differ in English Vs. Western Riding?

There is a great deal of difference in English vs Western Riding. In general, English riding keeps you sitting straight with a properly aligned posture and bent knees. Whereas, Western riding is sitting straight, but with a relaxed posture and straight legs. 

There are some similarities in how you sit on a horse with both styles of riding. These include

  • Sitting straight –riding a horse requires active interaction between horse and rider. Having an erect posture is key to a successful ride. 
  • Heels down in the stirrups –It’s important that when you put your feet in the stirrups, that you keep just the ball of your boot resting on the rubber pad and your heels pulled down. This is so if you need to pull your foot out of the stirrup suddenly, it doesn’t get stuck and you can roll free of the horse or make adjustments as necessary. It also helps you maintain balance. 
  • Elbows tucked in –Not only does it look better to have your elbows tucked in when you’re riding, but it helps you have better control over the horse.

English and Western riding have different sub styles of riding within each category, as well as different terminology to describe a horse’s gait. 

  • Walking -This is the same in both English and Western riding. 
  • Trotting/jogging -A slow jog in Western riding is useful for herding cattle and a little faster than a walk. In English riding, riders post during a trot which is faster than a jog. Western Riders don’t post during a jog. 
  • Cantering/Loping –This is faster than a trot. Loping is a slow canter in Western Riding. In English Riding, the canter speed can vary depending on the horse and the type of riding you’re doing. A canter is a very slow gallop.

How Do You Ride a Horse in English Riding?

When you ride a horse in English Riding, you’ll be using two reins held in either hand to direct the horse. And depending upon the activity you’re doing in English riding; you’ll have slightly different saddles and tack for that sport. 

Styles of English Riding include 

  • JumpingThis is an obstacle course set up with poles at various heights where the rider and horse have to jump cleanly over each set of jumps. 
  • HuntingA traditional English sport where teams of riders take their hounds and track down a fox or other wild animal. In modern times, it’s more of a fun ride through the country. 
  • PoloThis ancient game pits two teams of four players each who try to hit a ball with their long polo mallet between two posts. The goal is to knock their ball between the posts more times than the other team. 
  • Dressage – This is a highly skilled form of English riding that shows off their horse’s flexibility and obedience. The horses may throw their front legs out in a beautiful, rhythmic dance. 

There are some key differences in English Riding that include 

  • How you hold the reinsIn English Riding, the rider holds each rein separately in each hand. Hold your hands in an upright fist at waist level, with your thumb pointed toward the horse’s head. The reins should come from the horse’s mouth and through the pinkie and ring finger. Then up through the hand with the thumb pressing down on the reins. 
  • How to steer the horse – You should be holding the reins straight from the elbow to the horse’s mouth, with your elbows tucked in. You use a half halt, or just the fingers, to gently tug on the reins. To stop, pull back gently on both sides. To turn to the right or left, gently tug on that side. To go straight, let the reins hang loose with little pressure. 
  • How you sit in the saddlesit nice and straight in the saddle, but not stiffly. You should be able to draw an imaginary straight line from your shoulders to your hips and down to your heels. In English riding, the horse responds to how you sit in the saddle. Sit light and let your pelvis roll with the gait of the horse. You can nudge the horse with a slight tap of your heel in the horse’s rib cage. 
  • Learning how to postWhen your horse starts to trot, you don’t want to bounce in the saddle. This hurts the horse and you. Instead, feel the rhythm of the horse. Push up in the stirrups to an almost standing position with your legs, then sit down as if you had eggs underneath you. 

How Do You Ride a Horse in Western Riding?

When you ride a horse in Western riding, you hold the reins in one hand and neck rein to guide the horse. Depending on the activity in Western riding, you’ll have slightly different saddles and tack. 

Styles of Western Riding include

  • Pleasure riding –Most horseback riding done for pleasure is done with Western riding equipment. This is because it’s meant for comfortable riding.
  • ReiningRiders guide their horses through a complicated form of circles, loops, spins and stops. It’s similar to dressage and meant to show off how responsive the horse is to his rider.  
  • CuttingThis is a competition where a rider and his horse will attempt to separate a cow from a herd and keep it separated. 
  • RopingThis is a timed event where a rider will lasso a calf from his horse’s back and jump off, then tie the calf’s feet together. 
  • GymkhanaThis is a competition that focuses on speed and pattern racing. It usually includes barrel racing, pole bending and key holes.
  • Team PenningThis is where a team of two horses and riders separate out cattle from a herd and pen them in a separate corral. 
  • RodeoThis is an all encompassing competition where riders do their best to stay on top of bucking horses and bulls or participate in timed events like barrel racing and team roping. 

There are some key differences in Western riding that include

  • How you hold your reinsIf you are right-handed, hold the reins in your right hand. If you are left-handed, hold the reins in your left hand. Make sure both reins are even. Place your index finger in between both reins. Hold the right rein with your other three fingers and the left rein between your thumb and forefinger. The bottom of the reins should come out of the bottom of your hand. Let the excess slack hang down on the side that you’re holding the reins. 
  • How you steer the horseHold the reins loose, but not slack. If you want to go left, you lay the right rein over the right side of the horse’s neck. If you want to go right, you lay the left rein over the left side of the horse’s neck. To back up, give a nice steady pull back with both reins. To stop, give a quick tug back with both reins. To move forward, urge the horse with your hips and tap lightly with your heels. 
  • How you sit in the saddle -Keep your shoulders aligned with your elbows and hips in a nice straight line all the way to your heel. Sit nice and tall, but relaxed. Keep your calf separate from the horse because that’s how you communicate with the horse. Sit deep, like you are pushing a drawer in front of you with your hips. 

The Differences Between English Vs. Western Riding

The differences between English Vs. Western Riding are mainly in the 

  • How it originated. 
  • Shape of the saddle 
  • How you hold the reins and steer the horse

But regardless of which style of horseback riding you choose; it is a rewarding and fulfilling hobby to have.