Which Is Better: English Or Western Riding?

If you are planning to learn to ride horses, you may wonder whether you should choose English or Western riding. There are pros and cons associated with both styles, and a great deal depends on what you want to do as a rider. In this article, we will explore the differences between English and Western style riding and provide sound advice to help you become the best rider you can be. Read on to learn more.

Western Riding

western riding

Western saddles are larger than English saddles. In the old days, before fiberglass trees (frames), they were also quite a bit heavier. Today’s modern western saddles are lighter and easier to handle than old-fashioned western tack built on a wooden tree.

If you are planning to purchase a western saddle, you are actually better off going with a new model than looking for a classic older saddle.

The purpose of the larger saddle is to distribute your weight more evenly over your horse’s back. The larger saddle is also quite comfortable and secure for you.

This makes it the perfect choice for working cattle, barrel racing, trail riding and other challenging and/or all-day activities.

There are different styles of western saddles especially designed for each of these pursuits. Western saddles use a cinch to prevent the saddle from slipping.

English Riding

english riding

English saddles are small and light, easy to girth up and give you close contact with your horse. There are different styles of English saddles for hacking (everyday riding), hunting, jumping, polo and so on.

Riding English takes quite a bit more skill than riding western because you must depend on the strength of your seat to stay in the saddle. English riding is also a bit more complex than western riding in terms of the details and protocols you must learn and follow to do it correctly.

What’s The Difference When Riding?

english or western saddle

A horse trained for western riding is typically trained to neck-rein. This means you hold your reins in your left hand and guide your horse using light touch of the reins on the side of the neck along with shifting your weight and using your legs and heels to provide cues or aids.

With western riding you would be more likely to use a bitless bridle or hackamore and have no contact with the horse’s mouth at all.

In English riding, you typically use direct reining. This means you hold a rein in each hand and maintain steady contact with the horse’s mouth using a snaffle or Pelham bit.

When you ride English, it is very important that you have light hands and a strong seat so that you do not hurt your horse’s mouth by using the reins for support and balance.

To be a very skilled English rider, you must also have an effective seat and the ability to use your weight and legs to cue your horse.

No matter which style you choose, if you want to be a skilled rider you must maintain a strong seat and good posture. Sit up straight, move subtly with your horse, hold your legs comfortably, don’t grip with your heels, keep your elbows close to your sides and maintain quiet hands.

English Vs. Western


Which Riding Style Is Easier?

For an absolute novice, western riding is easier because the saddle is more secure and has more to hang onto; however, if you are an experienced rider, you should not hang onto the saddle and you should be able to ride either style with ease.

English riding is a bit more complex because it can involve aspects such as using double reins and posting the trot, but if you are a secure and confident rider you should be able to take to it easily with practice.

How Do You Become A Secure And Confident Rider?

The best way to become a secure and confident rider is to start out learning to ride bareback. When you ride bareback you are in very close contact with your horse. You learn to sense and anticipate his next move, and he learns the same about you.

Bareback riding helps you develop a strong, effective, natural seat and excellent balance. Once you have learned to ride bareback successfully, you can easily learn to use a Western Saddle, an English Saddle, an Aussie Saddle or even a side-saddle.

Ditch Your Saddle To Be A Better Rider

Which Riding Style Should You Choose?

Ideally, both you and your horse should be comfortable with any sort of tack you choose to use so that you can participate in a wide variety of activities. English events, activities and tasks are different from those you would undertake when riding with a western saddle.

If you want to hunt and jump, you need to know how to ride English. If you want to barrel race or rope cattle, you need to know how to ride western. If you want to trail ride, you may choose one or the other or decide to use an Australian saddle or a treeless saddle.

The riding style that makes you and your horse most comfortable and suits your purpose is the style that is best for you, but you don’t have to choose.

Your goal as a rider should be to be fully comfortable on your mount and have your mount be fully comfortable with you, no matter what tack you choose to use. It is best to have the flexibility and skill to ride well with any properly fitted tack.

Learning How To Ride Side-Saddle

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should I start with English or Western riding?

While many people (even those who should know better) say a Western saddle is better for starting than an English saddle because “you have something to hold onto”. It’s important to understand that clinging to the saddle with your hands is the mark of a poor rider. A truly skilled rider stays in the saddle through the strength of his or her legs and seat.

If you start riding with an English saddle, you run the risk of clinging to the reins in order to stay in the saddle. Heavy-handedness is also a mark of a poor rider and is very hard on your horse.

In this writer’s personal opinion, you should begin riding bareback. Bareback riding allows you to learn to really read your horse. You will be able to feel what your horse is thinking and feeling in “real time”.

Riding bareback also supports you in building a strong seat so that you can sit securely in any saddle. Once you have mastered bareback riding, it’s time to choose a discipline.

2. Is English or Western riding more comfortable?

Again, in my own opinion, bareback riding (on a properly cared for horse) is most comfortable and provides the most communication between horse and rider. Having said that, there are some very cushy Western saddles that can be quite comfortable. Riding English, with a very well made, soft leather saddle, or one especially designed for endurance riding is also quite comfortable.

It is really an individual choice. You must try a variety of saddles to see what feels best for you and your horse. It’s also smart to have more than one saddle, as well as a bareback pad so that you will be ready for all sorts of riding.

3. Can an English trained horse ride western?

Of course. Horses are smart. A well trained horse can easily be trained to work under Western and English tack, as well as learning to pull a buggy or other conveyance. The key to training your horse to do anything lies in building a good partnership. When you have done that, your horse will be eager to learn to do whatever you propose.

4. Is English riding more popular than Western?

This depends on where you are. In the United States, Western riding is more common and more popular. In fact, many riders in the US are quite haughty about it and will have nothing to do with English riding.

On the other hand, in Europe, English riding is far more common and popular and Western riding is considered a novelty.

In Australia, they split the difference by combining the two disciplines with a saddle that boasts the best of both.

5. Can you trail ride in an English saddle?

Again, this is really a matter of personal preference. If you and your horse are comfortable with your English saddle, you can certainly use it for trail rides if you want. You may also wish to choose an English endurance saddle that is designed for trail riding. These lightweight saddles distribute your weight more evenly over your horse’s back and provide a bit more cushioning and support for you. Additionally, endurance tack is made of lightweight, easy-clean biothane which is another plus.

5 thoughts on “Which Is Better: English Or Western Riding?”

  1. You can’t say english is harder, and that’s that! you obviously just like english better so you want to say it’s harder, that’s what most people do!

    • It is totally harder to have you balance in an english saddle compared to a western saddle. This is not to say that you don’t need skill for both; however, I used to ride western in the AQHA circuit then switched to the hunter jumper world and let me tell you it separates the men from the boys. A rider who is coming from a jumping background would have a much easier time adjusting to western saddles/riding than a western rider deciding to start jumping.

      • I agree that riding in an english saddle is harder to balance but riding in a western saddle is also challenging! It really does matter what you are doing whether it’s jumping or reining both saddles have their difficulties.

  2. English riding requires more balance and coordination. Most people feel more secure in a western saddle because it has a bigger cantle. The western saddle also provides a horn which makes the riders feel more safe. English riding requires a lot of knowledge, and practice! It depends on the rider if they prefer western or english.

  3. Both take lots of skill. And yes you have to be very talented to ride English. But, you do for western too! There are lots of things to critique. And if you barrel race, rope, or do any rodeo sport you are going at extremely fast speeds that require a very talented rider. The question “is English or western better” will never be answered correctly because there is no correct answer because different people like different things.


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