What Is The Best Horse Riding Style For You?

Best Horse Riding Style

Are you thinking about horse riding for the first time and are a bit nervous about it? It’s natural to be nervous when riding a large animal for the first time. Most people interested in horse riding often inquire about the best horse riding style.  Horseback riding is often split between Western and English riding as the most common types of riding styles.

These two styles are influenced by their origin and are differentiated by the characteristics and equipment. In all of these styles, the rider is supposed to sit straight without leaning forward or backward.

However, the two styles differ in the sense that the saddle in Western-style is larger than that of an English saddle, which helps the rider when engaging in the jumping events. The larger saddle is crucial in horse riding to balance the rider’s weight and make it ideal and comfortable for longer trails. Western Riding Style


Western Riding Style

Western riding has evolved from day to day work on ranches into a group of competitive exercises. The riding style shows athleticism, diligence, and connection between the horse and a rider. Most of the riding types are easier for cow-herding horses and are characterized by a wider saddle and neck reins. There are several events and activities associated with the western riding that differentiates it from the English riding. The activities include barrel racing, western pleasure, reining, roping, and cutting, among others.

Western pleasure

Western Pleasure Riding

Western pleasure is an event in the Western riding style where horses compete in a group by performing several activities and awarded points by the judge. This means the horses compete against each other while judged for their appearances, movement, and style. Western pleasure finds its name from a requirement that a horseman finds pleasure riding the horse. This means the horse should be quiet, soft, and responsive to the rider’s cues during the activity. A smooth, cadenced, and balanced ride is given preference over speed.


Reining Horse Riding Style

In western riding, reining is equal to dressage of the English riding style. This event is described by a rider controlling and guiding a horse through several movements and patterns involving turns, spins, and circles. This event is different from western pleasure as it involves the crowd applauding every good move by the horse instead of being quiet. The judges determine the winner based on how well the horse submits to the rider and its accuracy in the spins.

Cutting and penning

Caddle Cutting

Cutting is an event that highlights the cow sense where a rider and his horse are supposed to prevent a single cow from rejoining its herd. The event starts by isolating a cow from a herd and steering it away from the group. The horse then has to prevent it from moving back for a certain period by anticipating where it will go and moving in that direction. As such, the horse will have to move quickly left and right to block the escape. It takes a particular horse to participate in cutting events, which means not all horses can compete.

Roping events

Calf Roping

This is a western riding style event described by a rider trying to tie a rope around a steer’s horn while riding the horse. It requires a rider to throw the lasso at a steer while riding at high speed and bring it to immediate stop without following over. The horseman then dismounts and ties three legs together in the shortest time possible. The winner of this event is the rider who stops his steer and ties its legs with a rope in the shortest amount of time than the other contestants

Barrel racing

Barrel Racing

This is another western riding style event that involves a rider and his horse entering an arena at high speed and completing a cloverleaf type pattern around 3 barrels placed along the route. The event is characterized by the horse, making tight and swiftly turns around barrels without knocking them over or cutting in too close. Penalties are awarded whenever the horse knocks a barrel, and the rider will lose points. In essence, barrel racing is judged based on the horse speed and its accuracy in avoiding the barrels.

ranch riding

Ranch riding is an event in horse riding where the horse performs optional and required maneuvers willingly and smoothly while responding to cues from the rider. The horse needs to show it can perform while outside the confines of a ring. The judges will look for the smooth execution when the horse transits between gaits to ensure it maintains the correct pace between maneuvers. The required movements are walking, jogging, and lopping in both directions. The optional maneuvers can include walking, jogging, or loping over poles.  Change of lead, side pass, or other maneuvers that a horse might perform in a working environment.

Trail riding

Trail riding is another Western event that involves horses having to separately work through obstacles and judged based on their ability to ride the trails without penalties; For example, the horses will be working through gates and several pole patterns, with the win based on their success to reverse the trail. The idea of trail riding is for the horses to successfully go through the obstacles as found on the trail. The judgment criteria for this event are based on how well the horse obeys commands and whether it is willing to complete the tasks.

Larger sanctioned shows often have strict guidelines on the types of obstacles used, the time given to complete each obstacle, and the gates used while riding.  Local shows tend to have less strict rules governing the obstacles, but can be far more imaginative in the types of obstacles required during the event.

Endurance riding

Endurance is a component of Western riding style where horses are supposed to compete with each other over a distance of 50 to 100 miles in a day. Before each ride, the horse is checked over by a veterinarian to make sure they are ready to go on the ride. The trails are marked for halts and natural obstacles found along the trail.

Each ride is divided into sections where the animal is checked over to make sure they are in good shape to continue the ride. The horse is then watered and fed before resting up to 60 minutes. After this time has elapsed they are allowed to continue.

Riders really need to know their horses’ limitations and stamina during these rides. At any time the rider can walk with the horse to lessen the burden if the horse is fatiguing. There is no penalty to do this.

The first horse that crosses the finish line and is checked over and found healthy is declared the winner of the event.


This is an event that requires a horse with agility, speed, and showing obedience to the rider. The horses are not judged on their appearance and quality, which means any horse can be trained to participate in the gymkhana. In the United States, gymkhana includes several events such as pole bending, barrel racing, and lag races.

English Riding Style

English riding style is more structured compared to the Western-style and adds more pomp to the events. The significant characteristics of English riding are jumping techniques and high stepping styles. However, the method also involves switching up arenas, obstacles, and expectations. There are several activities for the English rider that includes eventing, dressage, showjumping, polo, English pleasure Hunt Seat, and saddle seat.


English Eventing

Eventing is a competition that resembles an equine triathlon combining show jumping, cross-country jumping, and dressage. It is called combined training, where the horse is judged based on its stamina, agility, and how well it obeys the rider’s instruction. The event is often held over three days and has origins in the Olympics.  In this event, any horse can participate and is the only Olympic sport where men and women can compete against each other.

Any breed of horse can compete, but at the higher levels, Thoroughbreds are most often used at the higher level events due to their supreme stamina and athletic ability.

The horse and rider need to really be in sync with each other and the horse needs to be quiet and confident in its abilities.  Serious injuries have occurred during these events when horses became spooked or didn’t handle certain obstacles well causing the rider to be thrown, or the horse to fall and be injured.

English Pleasure

English Pleasure

English pleasure is an event where the horses perform as a group and judge on their performance, quality, and an impression of being a pleasure to ride. Horses that take part in this even should exhibit obedience, impeccable manners, and suitability to a pleasure riding. The horse should also transit from one gait to another in a smooth, quick, and effortless way. The judges also look for horses that obey a rider’s cues and one that can stand quietly and back readily in the line-up.



Dressage refers to the art of horse riding, including the theories of horse obedience and precision of movement. In English riding style, the dressage event involves horses going through shifts, circles, and lines while changing pace and direction until they win with the most points. On some occasions, the horses will be required to extend their gait or perform lateral movements in order to win. Judges will award points based on the accuracy of horses during shifts and how well they submit to the help from riders. At the same time, the horses are judged based on their straightness and correctness when going through the patterns. The audience is often required to hold their applause until the end to avoid spooking the horses.

Saddle seat

Saddle Seat

This is a style of horse riding that involves showing off the high action of horses. The goal of this event is to show off the extravagant gaits of a horse, such as a trot. Riders are expected to sit well back in the saddle while carrying their hands higher than in other disciplines. The horses have to be smooth and comfortable enough for hours of riding and the rider must make the ride appear to be effortless.

Hunt Seat

Hunt Seat

In English riding style, hunting is an event that involves a group of competing horses performing gait and direction change over fences or on a flat area. The horse is judged based on how well it obeys and submits to instructions, how well they can maintain an even head carriage, as well as a horse’s ability to race quietly. Style is essential in hunter classes, and the horse will be judged on how its form while jumping the fence.

Horses may be any breed with the requirements of having a long stride and little knee action. Being quiet with the ability to listen to the rider is key for a hunt seat horse.


Show Jumping

Showjumping is where a horse and rider work around a combination of fences of differing heights while being timed. Hitting and dropping a rail results in a time penalty. The course used in completion varies depending on the level of competition.

Cross Country

This is a horse riding endurance test that involves horses jumping over several obstacles over a long course. It is one of the longest horse riding races that require a well-built horse. In this event, riders are penalized whenever they exceed the time period or when horses fail to clear all hurdles. The winner of the event is the team that completes the course with the least amount of penalties. The lowest score is then the winner



Polo is a game played between two teams of four players each using mallets to drive wooden balls down a grass field and between goalposts. Each rider wears helmets, colored team shirts, riding boots, and white pants. For further protection, riders can attach facemask on helmets and wear gloves.

Wrapping It Up

Each riding style has plenty of options to choose from.  Pick one that best fits your personality and most importantly, the personality of your horse. You may decide to compete or just be a casual rider. No matter what riding style you choose you’ll be developing a bond between you and horse that is both fulfilling and rewarding for life.

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