English Riding vs Western Riding – What’s the Difference?

English riding vs Western riding

Another interesting question I get asked often refers to the main differences between English riding and Western riding. Obviously, for someone who’s just starting out, figuring out these differences is very important, as each riding style comes with its own set of particularities, challenges, and advantages.

When it comes to riding style, the main difference between English riding and Western riding comes down to the way we give aids (direction) to the horse. In English riding, the rider makes heavy use of the reins and always has direct contact with the horse’s mouth through them. In Western riding, the rider relies on neck-reining for the most part, but he will also use the seat and his own body weight to give aids to the horse.

Differences between English and Western riding.

When it comes to the choice of tack, English riding and Western riding are nothing alike. For English riding, the saddle is small and light, and it’s generally designed to provide improved contact with the horse’s back. One might say that the English riding saddle allows the rider to be more in tune with the horse’s natural movements. Furthermore, a lighter saddle will not impede the horse’s movement as much as a heavier one would.

On the other hand, a Western riding saddle will be larger and heavier, but it will spread its weight and that of the rider on a larger surface on the horse’s back. This makes it more comfortable in the long run for both rider and horse. To sum up: English riding is better suited for short trips, while Western is more comfortable for longer journeys.

As far as positioning is concerned, the main difference between the two riding styles is linked to the way the rider holds the reins. In English riding, the rider will hold each reign in one hand. Western riding takes on a more laid-back approach, as the rider will hold both reins in one hand while the other hand will glide casually on the side or rest on the thigh. Alternatively, the rider can use the free hand to rope in cattle.

English and Western riding styles and common practices.

When it comes to riding style, these two actually have quite a bit in common. For instance, the rider is always expected to sit upright and tall on the horse, and to keep his or her legs hanging naturally along the horse’s sides. One should never flap his elbows while riding, not to mention slumping or leaning about unnecessarily, which could cause problems for the horse’s gait and back.

Proper posture is key in both English and Western styles. In terms of looks, both riding styles are elegant and dignified in their own ways, although depending on where you live, opinions might differ.

It’s important to note that in both riding styles, the rider and the horse work in unison and give each other directions and cues. While it’s always advisable to know how to control your horse, it can also be incredibly rewarding to respond to your horse’s cues while riding. This will create harmony between you two, and a mutual understanding that makes riding enjoyable for both.

Is it easier to ride English or Western?

Asserting difficulty can be tricky when it comes to these two riding styles. After all, they represent different approaches to the same activity. For a complete beginner, however, I’d say that Western riding will be easier to cope with, mainly because it seems to be more secure.

The larger saddle in Western riding ensures a stable and secure seat. This could alleviate some of the anxieties usually associated with first-time riders. Furthermore, in Western riding horses use a relatively slow gait named “jog,” which is easier to cope with when compared to the “trot” used in English riding. A slower gait means the rider moves less in the saddle and can focus more on his balance and posture. For stability, the rider can also make use of the raised cantle and pommel of the western saddle.

Indeed, everything seems to point out to Western riding being much more beginner-friendly than English riding. Does this mean that a complete novice should start taking lessons in Western riding? I wouldn’t advise it, and here’s why:

English riding is more difficult, but it’s all you’ll ever need.

A rider well-versed in English riding will have no problems riding Western if the situation dictates it. The same cannot be said about exclusively Western riders, who will encounter many difficulties when trying to convert to English. If you’re serious about horseback riding and plan to invest considerable time learning its subtleties, I would advise you to take up English riding lessons.

While they may prove more difficult, these lessons will help you hone in precious skills such as balance, coordination, and quick-thinking. A rider accustomed to giving English aids will have no issue switching over to Western and vice versa. By learning to ride Western exclusively, you will limit yourself and your scope of knowledge. Better to challenge yourself a bit at first than to realize you only know half of what you’re supposed to know later on.

Is English riding safer than Western Riding?

As I mentioned before, Western riding might feel safer than English riding because of its larger saddle and more secure fit. However, in terms of pure safety, no riding style is inherently more dangerous than the other. What makes horse riding dangerous is using the wrong type of tack and the wrong type of equipment for a particular discipline.

For instance, if you plan to do rope cattle or barrel race, then you should use the Western-style with everything that it infers: tack, posture, aids. On the other hand, if you plan to search and run, English riding will likely be more suitable, and therefore safer.

In the end, the more you’ll trust your horse and vice-versa, the safer you’ll both be. Of course, riding experience is also a very important factor. If you’re transitioning from Western to English riding, then English is not very safe at all, at least until you get used to it. If you’re coming from English to Western, you might need a bit of an adjustment time, but you’ll already know the important parts and how to react in a tricky situation.