Western Vs. English Riding

Western vs. English riding: what is the difference? It’s one of the questions usually asked by aspiring riders and horse enthusiasts. Both English and Western riding style are influenced by origin, unique characteristics, and equipment. In this article, we will discuss the differences between the two.

What are English and Western riding?

English horseback riding includes many variations.  Despite how many types there are, all English riding uses a flat English saddle.  English riding most often requires the rider to have both hands on the reins but with expertise, many other forms will come.  The dress for an English rider tends to be more traditional with items including a jacket, breeches, hat and shirt and tie. Western riding, on the other hand, uses an entirely different saddle.  Similar to English riding, there are many forms of Western riding.

The best way to distinguish Western riding is the same as English; by the saddle.  The Western saddle is deeper with a saddle horn in the front.  Most Western riders use one hand on the reins compared to the English using two hands.  The Western rider dresses very differently than that of the English going more with a “cowboy” look.  That includes the western hat, boots, jeans, and a shirt.

Type of Horse

A Western horse is more compact, capable of constant travel and small bursts of speed. These qualities are perfect for chasing stray cattle. The American Quarter Horse, (or simply Quarter Horse) is an American horse breed which excels at sprinting short distances. It got its name from its ability to outdistance other horses in quarter-mile races. Some Quarter horses have been clocked at speeds of up to 55 mph (88.5 km/h). Today, the American Quarter Horse is the most popular horse breed in the US.

Quarter Horses are versatile. They are popular as a racehorse, participate in horse shows and rodeos, and are used as a working ranch horse. Their compact body is well-suited for the maneuvers required in reining, cutting, barrel racing, calf roping, and other Western riding events. The Quarter Horse is also used in English disciplines and other equestrian activities.

On the other hand, English style horses are leggy and are usually taller, ideal for traveling over long distances and jumping over a variety of obstacles. But in every rule, there’s an exception. You can still achieve success in any discipline no matter what type of horse you have.

English riders and Western riders label the gaits of horses differently. English horses usually have a long, flowing way of moving, with variations in speed and cadence, while Western horses tend to travel low, smoothly, and consistently. Let’s compare the gait of each horse.

  • Walk: similar for both English and Western.
  • Trot: In English riding, the trot is posted, although a sitting trot may be required in the show ring. This is a significant difference in the riding style of English riders when compared to Western riders. When riding Western, a faster trot is posted or ridden at two-point.
  • Canter: The Western slope is characterized by a slow, relaxed canter. On the other hand, the English horse riding style tends to have cancer that is elevated or extended with variations in speed, depending on the discipline.

Riding Style: Western vs English Riding

The riding style varies between English horse riding and Western horse riding. In English horse riding, the rider keeps both hands on the rein and instructs the horse through the mouth. It requires skill and coordination. In Western horse riding, a rider uses just one hand to hold the reins and uses the neck rein to control the horse.

Western vs English Riding Events

If you’re interested in equestrian events, there are similarities and differences between the two riding styles. Events limited to English horse riding include dressage, hunter, jumper, and combined training. Meanwhile, Western horse riding events include barrel racing, roping, and Western pleasure riding. Events in which you could ride any of the two riding styles include trail riding, endurance racing, and competitive mounted orienteering.

Types of English and Western Riding

There are many events in English and Western riding.  So many that we will not cover them all here.  English and Western variations continue to grow and are reinvented.  There are also other categories of riding that continue to create new events such as Vaulting.  Vaulting is the use of Gymnastics whiles riding.  Here is a quick fun video below:

English Riding

Both English and Western riding, as mentioned before, have many variations.  English riding consists of Dressage, eventing, horse racing, Polo, show jumping, and more.

Dressage (right) is when you train the horse so they will develop obedience, flexibility, and balance.  There are also other forms of dressage that we won’t get into.

Eventing (left) is a favorite among many due to what it includes.  Eventing combines cross-country jumping, show jumping, and dressage all in one competition.  Most often these events are held over three days.

Horse racing (right) is self-explanatory but the event, in a broad statement, normally uses extremely lightweight saddles.

Polo (left) is a team sport with the objective to hit a ball into the opposing teams’ goal with a long mallet.

Lastly, Showjumping (right) is when the horse and rider jump fences.  Scoring is based on the time taken to run the course and how many rails were cleared without error.

Western Riding

There are many events in Western riding.  Not only does it include similar events as English riding but it also consists of the working practices of the west like roping and cattle calls.  Western riding consists of the following events and more: Reining, Cutting, Barrel racing, P bending, and roping.

The most popular event is Reining.  Reining is similar to dressage in that the goal is to train the horses to be responsive to the rider and precise in their movements.  It is the only western riding discipline that is F.E.I. recognized.  It includes riding in precise circle patterns, spinning, and stops.

Cutting is also one of the most popular events.  If it was F.E.I recognized it would easily surpass Reining.  Cutting also happens to be the best prize payout if you do not include flat racing.  Cutting is when the rider is judged on their ability to get a cow out of the herd and keep it away for a short amount of time.

Barrel racing is again one of the most popular Western events.  The object is to run in a clover pattern around three barrels.  Barrel races are normally timed with penalties being awarded for knocking down a barrel.

Pole bending is also popular but tends to be too demanding to gain more riders.  Pole bending is a timed event where the horse and rider must go through a slalom type course.

All roping events are timed.  Roping includes the skill of the riders use of a rope.  Some events within roping are team roping, calf roping, and single steer roping.

Differences in Tack

One major difference between Western vs English riding is tack. Tack is a piece of accessory or equipment placed on horses and other riding animals. Saddle, bridle, stirrups, halters, reins, bit, harnesses, and breastplates are all forms of tack.

The tack used for each type is different. An English saddle is smaller and lighter, allowing a rider to get close to the horse and feel every movement. On the other hand, a Western-style saddle is larger and heavier, providing stability and comfort. Western saddles usually have utility items like the horn, designed to hold a cowboy’s ropes.

Bits and reins can also vary. In English horse riding, the Pelham bit or Weymouth bridle is used. The bridle includes a curb bit and snaffle bit with headstall for each. Western horse riding may use curb bits, snaffle bits, and hackamores. In English riding, there’s a double set of reins. With Western riding style, the reins are split.

English and Western Saddles

The right saddle is critical when riding English and Western events.  With the wrong saddle, you put yourself and your horse at risk of danger and make it very difficult to perform the maneuvers that will be attempted.  With an English saddle in a barrel race, you will most likely slide off.  Using a Western saddle on a horse race is too heavy and will slow down the horse.


Stirrups: Western saddles cannot detach the stirrups in emergencies but have a wider base.  This allows the rider to not get stuck in the stirrups if he or she falls.

Girthing- English girths are connected via buckles whereas the western girth (cinch) is attached via a flat sliver of leather similar to a belt.

Seat – more comfortable and sturdy on the Western saddles than English for long periods of time.

English Riding Saddle

Contact saddles, also known as “forward seat” saddles (right), make you have a bent knee, create shorter stirrups, and puts the rider in a two-point position.  This gives the rider stability and balance during their many maneuvers such as jumping.  This saddle is often used for events such as show jumping and fox-hunting.

All Purpose Saddles or Eventing saddles (left) were created so riders could use one saddle for both over fences and on flat.  These can be less expensive saddles and you will often see them with less experienced and beginner riders.

Dressage Saddles have a straight cut flap that makes the long leg position of dressage riders fit well to the saddle.  Because of that design, this saddle is not made for any jumping.  The saddle is also deeper than that of a jumper saddle allowing for a more comfortable seat and union with a horse. Western Riding Saddle

Western Riding Saddles

Reining saddles (left)are a type of close contact saddles as mentioned in the English riding saddle section.  Reining saddles have a lower horn so it won’t interfere with the reins and precise handling.  This saddle also has a flat seat which allows for more hip movement in the turns.

Cutting saddles (right)have deeper seats which allow for the rider to be secured during sharp turns.  This saddle has a higher horn for more grip in the tight turns.

Barrel racing saddles (left) tend to be more lightweight with a deep seat which holds the rider firmly.  This saddle also has a high horn for extra grip during the tight turns around the barrels.

Roping saddles (right) have a thicker horn for tying a rope to.  The saddle is also lower which gives the rider a quicker dismount for tying up the cattle.

English and Western Riding Apparel

Another point of comparison between Western vs English riding is attire. Western horse riding is characterized by a distinctive attire. It usually consists of a comfortable shirt, jeans, Western-style boots, and a hat. Most Western riders choose to wear sporty looking helmets.

Meanwhile, English riders wear a traditional style helmet or hunt cap. A fitted jacket, shirt, jodhpurs/breeches and jodhpur boots/tall boots complete the attire of English riders.

English riding apparel is different from Western riding apparel in just about every aspect.  It makes perfect sense too!  In the west, ranchers and cowboys were working hard in the fields or roughing it through the mountains.  If you wear thin pants through the mountains they would probably rip easily.  On the opposite side, if you wear Jeans with chaps to an eventing competition you will probably be weighing down the horse with extra weight or you will look tacky.

English Riding Clothes

To be more specific, we will be going off of what one would wear in the jumper ring.

Starting from the head down…

English riding helmet/English riding hat:  If you compete for jumping you must have an ASTM/STI certified helmet.  Two popular helmets for jumping are the Speed air evolution and the AYR8.  If you are riding in other competitions without jumping a type of top hat is required.

Jackets: The USEF websites indicates the following about jackets, “Black, blue, green, grey, scarlet or similar coats are permitted.”  There are many jacket colors to choose from so make sure you choose a color that flatters you and brings out your horse.  Scarlet coats are normally saved for well-recognized riders or major events where American riders are competing nationally.

Shirts and Tie:  Riders must wear a White or light-colored shirt.  Your shirts must have a White collar and White cuffs.  For men, we would suggest wearing a tie compared to the women where we would suggest wearing a choker.  In the event of inclement weather, riders may wear rain jackets and windbreakers.

Gloves: There is no rule on glove color; however, most riders wear black gloves.  There are many styles of gloves for different events.  Be sure to look at each kind before you buy.

English riding pants (English riding breeches):  Breeches must be white or faun.  Wear a belt with your breeches.

English riding boots:  Most non-equine people know English riding by the boots.  Women’s English riding boots and Men’s English riding boots are not different other than size.  Tall English riding boots are commonly known by most and are the most used in English riding.  Riders should use Black boots and shine them so they shine.  If you choose to wear spurs also make sure you shine them.

Western Riding Clothes

Since there are not many western events that are F.E.I. recognized there is not set rules regarding clothing.

Helmet/hat:  Most riders will wear a helmet or a classic western cowboy hat.

 Jackets: Not normally worn

Shirts:  Riders need to wear long-sleeved work shirts that are durable.

Pants/chaps: Riders must wear jeans and may wear chaps if they would like.  Chaps often protect the rider more but also helps the rider stick to the seat.

Gloves: optional

Boots:  Riders must wear Cowboy boots.

There are many styles of English riding gear and western riding gear.  If you want you can also go online and find plenty of used riding gear.  Buying a full English riding outfit will make a big difference in your competitions.  The more professional you look the better you come across to your judges.

Final Thoughts on Western vs English Riding

While Western vs English riding share a few similarities, there are also qualities that make these styles unique. Not only did these two riding styles develop for different purposes, but they also use different tack and techniques. People who have tried only one style of riding may be surprised to discover that there are new and enjoyable equestrian experiences that they can try.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *