If you’re somewhat new to the world of equestrian events, you may hear the terms ‘English’ and Western’ applied to riding styles and gear. Here’s a quick overview of the two different styles, which really aren’t that different when you get past the first look.
English: English riding is very formal and showy, with riders generally wearing high boots, fine breeches and jacket, and a hat or equestrian helmet. Riders generally keep both hands on the reins when riding. The saddle is very simple and elegant, without a saddle horn or high back. It essentially looks (and is) like a leather seat for a horse’s back, with stirrups. Some common equestrian events that are performed in the English style are Polo, Dressage, Show Hunter, and the larger English Pleasure category.
Western: When you think of cowboys on horseback, you’re thinking western. Western riding evolved from the working cowboys and ranchers, and the style reflects their working lifestyle. Riders frequently only have one hand on the saddle, and many events are a recreation of ranch life, such as cattle roping. The attire for western riding can be casual, working western wear, or showy western shirts and jeans. A western saddle has a saddle horn, a high back for comfort, options to attach equipment, and stirrups. This saddle is better-suited for utility riding than the sleek, lightweight English variety. Some common western-style events are Western Pleasure, Reining, Cutting, and Team Penning.
Despite their differences, both styles are similar in that the rider sits upright, with stirrups. Fans of one discipline will likely enjoy events in the other, but there are certainly aesthetic touches that make each style stand out.