The biggest question I get from prospective students in my program is “what is the difference between Western and English riding?” since we have offered both lessons at our farm in the past. I will break down the major differences between the two disciplines to help you to be more informed in your decision.
The first thing I point out is the saddle. The Western saddle looks and feels much different than the English saddle. The Western saddle is bigger, broader, and heavier as opposed to the English saddle which is much smaller and lighter.
The Western saddle was designed to distribute the riders’ weight across the horses back, be comfortable, and functional for the longer rides that the Western saddle was made for. While the English saddle is made for more contact between horse and rider for better communication. The Western saddle also has a horn, it is traditionally used to secure the rope needed for working cattle, but this also doubles as a nice handle for the rider.
The English saddle does not have this and requires more balance in the beginning (the rider can still hold onto the English saddle, just not as readily). While riding in either saddle your position is largely similar. You will be taught how to sit in a balanced and safe position on the horse that allows you to effective communicate to them.
In the beginning the attire can be the same, all you are looking for is safety and comfort. You can wear jeans or leggings and a boot with a small heel. The jeans/leggings will protect your leg from any rubs that you may get while in the saddle and the heel on the boot will prevent your foot from going through the stirrup making it very unsafe if you were to get unseated from your horse. Helmets are required in both English and Western riding lessons.
What will you learn?
The number one thing you will learn in both styles is safety and confidence on and around the horse. Overall while riding Western you want a slower gaits than in English. The slower gait does not disturb the rider’s motion in the saddle making it easy to sit in the saddle.
Which is easier?
To be blunt (and in my opinion) Western is easier because the saddle offers more stability through a larger seat and the use of the horn. Many novice riders who find themselves seated precariously on a horse in an English saddle are very confident riders in Western saddles. With that being said riding Western is not in itself easy, both styles take years of dedication and hard work to master.
Which one is better to start?
It depends, generally speaking if you are on the fence then start English as it forces you to really grasp the basics of riding and learn how to balance and use your body effectively on the horse. English forces you to use more core strength and balance than Western simply because of how little the saddle helps you in English. If you start English you can always go to Western but if you start Western you may find it hard to switch to English.
Other points to help you choose:
I get asked if boys can ride English, and they certainly can. If you look at all the upper level English horse sports – there is an equal number of men and women at the top and it is one of the few sports that men and women compete against each other without a handicap (this includes Western sports as well). The question becomes if they want to ride English because most boys want to ride Western, we see very few boys riding English at the lower levels.
Do you want to jump? If so then English will be for you as you can’t jump very high in a Western saddle due to the horn being in the way of the proper form needed over the jump.
Do you want to work with cattle or like the idea of roping? If so then Western will be for you.
Overall it’s where you see yourself in the saddle and your end goal. We ultimately want you to be safe and happy! If you are still undecided do some research on the horse sports listed below to see if any of them strike your fancy.
English sports: dressage, evening, show jumping, hunter, saddle seat, foxhunting, polo, mounted games etc.
Western sports: trail, pleasure, mounted shooting, calf roping, pole bending, barrel racing, reining, cutting, team penning, speed games etc.
I hope this has been beneficial to you in deciding where to start with your riding lessons; we look forward to having you out at the farm!