Western and English riding have more similarities than differences, with both requiring cooperation between horse and rider. The main differences are in the tack used and the way commands are given. Western riding evolved in the American West for use on ranches, with a larger, more comfortable saddle and neck reins. English riding evolved in Europe for military horses, with a smaller, more formal saddle and separate reins. The two disciplines compete in different events, but some sports welcome horses trained in both.
Western riding and English riding are two different riding and training techniques that have more similarities than differences. Both involve controlling a horse in a variety of environments and require a high level of cooperation between horse and rider to accomplish a variety of tasks. The main differences between Western and English riding are in the type of tackle, or tack, used and in the way the horses are given commands. If a horse is trained for English riding, it may be ridden by a Western rider, with some advice from an instructor, and the same is true of Western trained horses and English riders.
The roots of Western riding can be found in the American West, when cowboys trained horses specifically for use on large ranches. They have also adapted a special tack to support their work. The western tack involves a much larger saddle, which distributes the rider’s weight across the horse’s back, making it easier for the horse to work a long day. The saddle is also built to be comfortable, as a cowboy can spend many hours in it. The stirrups of a western saddle are traditionally worn longer and the saddle has a large forward horn from which to drape a rope lariat. The western bit is also different from the eastern bit, designed to help the rider control their horse.
In western riding, the rider uses his own weight to communicate commands to the horse, in conjunction with the neck reins. Typically, the reins in western riding are held in one hand, allowing the rider to use the other hand for ranch duties such as roping cattle. Since the rider cannot pull the reins separately like an English rider, the reins are placed gently on the neck to indicate the need to move or turn. Western riders may also use spurs or quirts to help control their horses.
English riding evolved in Europe, which has a long tradition of equestrian activities, particularly in the military. Most English riding disciplines can be related to the training regimens used for military horses. In English riding the tack is smaller and much more formal. The lightweight English saddle is built to maximize contact between horse and rider, and English riders also rely on their reins much more than Western riders. In English riding, the legs are used to give directions, but so are the reins, which are held separately in each hand. Most English riders also carry a riding crop to provide additional cues to their horses and also tend to dress more formally when competing.
Due to the different end goals of Western and English training, the two disciplines compete in different events. Common western riding events include roping, barrel racing, western pleasure, and trail, while English riding competitions include dressage, jumping, eventing, and an assortment of chaser classes. Some equestrian sports, such as endurance, welcome horses trained in both disciplines.