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?

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.

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Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


... to learn 7 mistakes I made (that YOU can avoid) when I started with horses

2 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.


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