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English vs. Western Horseback Riding

There are two primary styles of horseback riding in the United States: English and Western. Though they have similarities, it’s important to remember that each discipline has a very unique background and defining characteristics.

No matter which riding style you choose, wearing the correct equestrian apparel can help you stand out at a competition and ride more comfortably.

English Riding Attire

English horseback riding originated with mounted military. It is known for its rigid appearance and classic styles and colors. English riders use a small saddle without a horn that sits atop a crisp white saddle pad.

Equestrians riding English are encouraged to wear khaki pants called breeches. Breeches have a slight stretch and straight legs, allowing a pair of knee-high brown or black boots to easily slide over them. At an English horse show, you’ll see plenty of dark-colored jackets to complete the look. Although these jackets are commonly navy or black, you may also see red or hunter green jackets at a competition today.

A finishing touch on the English riding look is the black velvet helmet. If a rider has long hair, he or she should pull it back into a ponytail that sits at the base of the neck.

Western Riding Attire

Western riding has its origins in the cowboy wild west. The Western saddle features a signature horn which was used by cowboys to rope cattle. The horn provides a better distribution of weight and allowed ranchers to rope a cow without throwing the horse off balance.

Western riders today often wear flowy shirts, jeans and chaps. Tack for the horses is usually colorful and uniqueness in attire is celebrated. Instead of the small black helmet seen in English riding, Western riders will don a cowboy hat as a finishing touch.

English Riding Style

If you ride English, you’ll likely have training in jumping, polo or dressage. English horses are often taller and leaner than Western horses, allowing them to soar over jumps. A rider is encouraged to sit up straight and follow all rules and instructions carefully.

Western Riding Style

Western riders usually practice barrel racing, roping or trail riding. Western horses are sturdy, muscular and slightly shorter than English horses. They need to be fast and agile when roping or barrel racing, but also calm and relaxed for long rides across trails. 

No matter which style of riding you choose, you may eventually find yourself at a competitive horse show where you compete against other riders and are judged on technique. For either discipline, it’s important to wear the appropriate clothing to achieve a good score at the event.