When it comes to horse riding, there are two main styles: Western and English. Many who are new to horsing riding may be confused as to why two different styles exist and what differentiates the two. These styles affect everything involved with riding, from the equipment to the dress, and even the style of riding itself.
When looking at these styles, it is important to know where they originated from. The Western style was brought to North America by the Spanish Conquistadors. As Spain advanced to the West, they sensed a need for quick land travel and brought their horses. Until the Spanish landed in North America, the Native Americans had never seen horses, so you can imagine their surprise at seeing people ride them. The Spanish instilled fear in the Native Americans by telling them that horses were “magical beasts.” Soon, however, Native Americans had their own horses and trained them to work the land, as the Conquistadors did on farms in Spain.
In contrast, the English style of riding was, of course, founded in England. English riding was a more refined sport, in which the equipment and dress had to do more with fashion than function. The English style of riding does not focus on necessity the way the Western style does.
So, what are the differences between the two? Western style is attributed to the cowboys of the Wild West. The saddle has a horn, and the rider uses the reins lightly on the horse’s neck, most of the time with only one hand. The rider has a great deal of confidence in the horse, and how it was trained. These horses are raised on ranches and trained to do ranch work, such as moving cattle and checking the fence. Western style is also used in barrel racing and pole bending.
A Western saddle is much different than the one used in the English style. It is bigger and heavier, as opposed to flat and lighter. It is believed that the first Western saddle was invented by the Sarmations in 365 AD, and they were brought to Europe by the Huns. The metal stirrups provided stable mounting and increased balance. These warriors found that they could easily wield their weapons while using this saddle.
While the English used horses in warfare, they also held them in higher regard. This is where we see the English style. It originated in Britain and there are many disciplines, such as dressage, English pleasure, and fox hunting. They required the rider to have more control over the horse, with feet in the stirrups and both hands holding the bridle. The English style is seen at more formal horse shows and competitions.
The Western style of horse riding is more commonly used, especially in the western United States, where ranches are still plentiful. On the other hand, you can find English-style riders in the eastern US, where the English influence was more present. Although I personally prefer to ride Western-style, the method you choose depends entirely on your interests.