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Since the dawn of time, humans and horses have maintained a close, personal bond. From the prairies to the mountains, cowboys and cowgirls have spent countless hours on trail rides under the stars. However, not everyone rides exactly the same way. Depending on where in the world you wander, you’ll encounter a vast range of different riding styles. On the surface, this might seem confusing—how many different ways can there really be to ride a horse? But aficionados of certain riding styles swear by their preferred method, and you’ll likely find people who are incredibly proficient in one while indifferent to another.
If you learned how to ride in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, you’re probably familiar with either Western or English riding styles—or, if you’re lucky, you’ve tried both at some point or another. On the other hand, if you’re a beginner who’s just starting to learn how to ride, or you’re preparing to introduce one of your children to riding, you might have some questions about the different styles. Like most skills in life, learning to ride takes a combination of initiative, natural talent, and dedication. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to purchase some accessories and hit the trails.
The Western Riding Style
Like the name suggests, this style was developed in the rugged American West by cowboys who required a sturdy, durable, and comfortable saddle that would help them do their job. While today the Western style is used by ropers, competitive show jumpers, jockeys, and more, there was a time when it was a crucial part of the cattle driving profession. The cowboys who popularized the Western saddle were primarily cattle drivers who did their job on horseback.
The Western style sought to solve common problems that cattle wranglers faced while performing their difficult job. For instance, they designed the Western saddle, which allowed them to distribute weight more evenly over their horses’ backs. Riding for long hours across difficult, unsteady terrain was a difficult job, but the Western saddle provided a comfortable and practical solution.
Similarly, Western cattle drivers began to see a need for horses that were capable of chasing stray cattle without tiring easily. They bred Western horses to be compact, strong, and intelligent, with a love of short-distance running and long-distance trotting. If cows managed to escape, cowboys could simply spur their horses onward and encourage them to chase after the cattle in short bursts of speed. Today, Western horses are preferred by trail riders, since they are small and short—not ideal for show jumping or long-distance running, but preferable on long rides.
The English Riding Style
Unlike the Western style, the English style developed in Europe, and many of its key elements are derived from European military traditions. For example, the English saddle is small, light, and compact, making it a perfect choice for soldiers who spent hours on horseback. Today, these saddles tend to be designed and manufactured for very specific purposes, so if you are interested in learning a certain sport, such as show jumping, you might be able to find an English saddle that has been specifically made for your needs.
On that note, most English style horses are perfect for show jumping, due to their tall, leggy appearances, and strong-willed, determined personalities. These horses are capable of keeping up with the most athletic, motivated rider. If you like to travel over long distances, and enjoy running over trotting, you’ll find an English horse to be a perfect match for you. These horses have been specifically bred for their height and speed, so whether you’re into dressage or jumping, you’ll be satisfied with an English style horse.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. You might unexpectedly tap into your horse’s hidden talents and discover that your stocky quarter horse is great in the ring, or notice that your tall, elegant English thoroughbred is a skilled herder. If you are prepared to put in the time and effort necessary to strengthen the bond with your horse, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised by the relationship that develops over time. In addition, if you do your research on the best equipment to use, you’ll make the right choice and become comfortable in the saddle in no time.