Pictured above: Me riding Avery a couple weeks ago.
There are two main types of riding in the equestrian world; English and Western (four if you count saddle-seat and Australian stock types). Some people seem to think one style is better than the other and it seems to divide our community. Others attempt to shelter the peace by keeping their opinions to themselves.
I ride English and my best friend rides Western. We don’t argue about it. We simply accept the differences of our riding disciplines and continue to learn more about the opposite style through conversation. I’m training in dressage and she is leaning more towards barrel racing…two completely different disciplines.
The first difference (and most obvious) in the two styles is the tack we use. A Western saddle is heavier and bulkier than an English saddle and is more comfortable than English. Cowboys used and continue to use Western saddles on ranches because spending a long, hot day in an English saddle wouldn’t be that fun.
English is a much harder and more of a strict style of riding than Western. In dressage tests (those are competitions in which we compete for a blue ribbon, money and other prizes) you cannot have any color in your riding attire or your tack besides black, brown and white. Meanwhile, in Western, it’s carefree and there are rarely any attire codes set in place at competitions.
Western is more laid back than English is. You don’t necessarily need to learn to post the trot (that’s where riders rise up out of the saddle in rhythm with the horse’s two-beat gait) or to use your legs to steer the horse more than your reins. You have a lot less to think about in Western than English, but there are more similarities than differences, quite honestly.
The horses in English are usually more high-strung than ones that are trained in Western. Unless, of course, you have a young and green horse or perhaps a barrel, reining or roping horse. There are some breeds that are better than others in different disciplines.
Quarter horses, paint horses and appaloosas usually catch the average Western rider’s eye. The beautiful markings of paints and appaloosas freckle the horse’s coats elegantly. The quarter horse’s stocky build is desirable for cutting (the Western sport of “cutting” two cows away at a time from the herd). Paints and appaloosas catch the eyes of judges in the Western pleasure arena. Western pleasure is much like dressage in some ways.
Arabians, morgans and warmbloods are typically seen in the English arena. I own a Morgan cross pony named Avery. These horses are built more for the ease of English riding than Western. You don’t typically see an Arabian or a Morgan in a Western show.
We do have our similarities as well. We both use kind, loving and patient horses. We ride with bits and with our heels hanging below the stirrups. Our eyes look forward through the horse’s ears and not at the ground, or that’ll be where you end up at.
We have one game that we can all play, whether our saddle has a horn or not. Equestrians call this game “gymkhana” which is a series of games played on horseback, some that can be quite dangerous if not practiced the right way.
We ride the same gaits, we just call them differently. Walk is, well, a walk for both disciplines. A trot is sometimes called a jog in Western. And cantering is called “loping” in Western. My older cousin and I argued whether or not it should be called canter or lope last year while discussing about our horses.
Our show riding attire is different though. English riders typically wear breeches, polos, hunt coats and tall boots while Western riders wear Western show shirts, jeans and cowboy boots.
Both have an incredible love for their horses. We wake up early in the morning just to head outside and feed our horses, muck out their stalls and give them the usual morning carrot. We spend our Christmas money on a new saddle pad or feed. And I even feel bad when I have a gift card for Amazon and don’t get my horses anything from it.
No matter what discipline, we communicate with our horses through simple movements in the saddle, light taps with your heels and leg pressure. We simply squeeze the reins softly and the horse stops dead in its tracks. We have to keep our shoulders back and our backs even taller.
Even in the different styles of riding, their disciplines can be totally different from each other. For instance, even though we both use an English saddle, jumping and dressage is totally different. We understand it, but the way it’s judged and even the attire can be completely opposite. In western, reining is completely different than barrel racing. It’s just a matter of whether or not you use the same saddle.
Personally, I prefer English over Western. I have a love for Western riding, but English can be just as much fun as Western, especially if you have a trainer like mine.
You see famous horses and riders from both styles of riding. You have Charlotte Dujardin, a British dressage rider who competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games in dressage with her very lovely stallion by the name of Valegro. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have Fallon Taylor, an NFR barrel racing world champion of 2014 and her Quarter horse mare, Babyflo.
While we might have our differences, we both mount our horses from the same side, don’t we? We still love our horses the same, right? We keep our horses well fed and happy. We wake up early just to see the bright brown eyes of our friends.
The Great Equestrian Debate: Western and English go hoof and hoof.
Vote for your favorite discipline below!