The 3 Types of Horse Riding Styles You Should Know About

Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Allison Price

Horseback riding has been practiced for thousands of years. Although there were minor variations in the style, they all remained the same. However, modern riding styles fall into distinct categories.

There are three main styles of horse riding: English, Western and Group. It is important to have a solid understanding of each style, the tack and horses involved.

Types of Horse Riding

Horse owners usually buy horses to take part in specific equine activities, such as dressage or trail riding. The discipline will dictate the type of riding and tack. It is important to understand how your horse will be used.

What are the Different Horse Riding Styles

This section is for you if you are new to riding horses or want to improve your riding skills.

We created this guide because there is not much information on the Internet about the various riding styles. We’ll be discussing the three most important styles of horseback riding and the sub-categories that each one falls within.

This will give you a solid understanding of horse riding and allow you to choose the activity that interests you most.

Many of the most well-known horse riding events like dressage or gymkhana fall under the primary horse riding styles, English and Western.

These styles are distinguished by the origins of each class and the saddles used. There are many sub-categories within each of the primary disciplines that include riding types.

Horse riding events may require special equipment or training methods that are specific to the activity. One horse may depend primarily on their legs while another relies on reining to communicate with their horse.

The horse breed traits will determine which riding style is best for you.

Each horse breed has its own unique characteristics that determine how it functions in a horse rider’s preferred style of riding.

  • The breed’s average size
  • Personality
  • training,

We’ll be breaking down the sub-categories of the English and Western disciplines. Then we’ll discuss some group riding events.

This will help you to identify the best horse breeds for each discipline, and give you a solid understanding about the sub-categories of horse riding styles.

English horse riding style

After my grandson was interested in English riding events, I started to think about them. He was able to see the differences between the western saddle he used and the one the jockey rode.

He wanted to find out if they are used for any other purposes than racing. Although I knew of them, I decided to do some research on English riding style.

English saddles are small and flat. This style allows for closer contact between the rider and the horse. The English category has bridles and bits that are more in direct contact with horses’ mouths than Western-style bits.

The English riding style was developed in Europe. Western riding and the tack were developed in America on early cattle ranches. The English and Western horse riding styles have many subgroups, which cover many activities and often use different horse breeds.

Western horse riding style.

Western saddles have a deeper seat than English riding saddles. They are also more robust. They are also wider than the horse. In most Western disciplines, the neck reining is used to guide the horse. English riders use more leg cues.

A Western saddle provides a deeper seat which gives horses more safety when they make fast turns. This is crucial for barrel racing and other rodeo events.

Horse breeds that are quick learners are often well-suited to Western riding. This requires a lot from the horse. Horse breeds that are able to jump over and endure obstacles well are required for English riding.

All horses are not suitable for all disciplines. Different horse breeds possess unique characteristics, such as the Arabian’s endurance racing ability and Hanoverian’s showjumping abilities.

Events for groups

A group riding event involves riding horses together to accomplish a goal. Groups are common in horse riding competitions.

  • Polo
  • Horseball
  • Driving

English Riding Activities

English riding styles are different from Western riding styles. English riders tend to use more structure and pomp in competition, and often require precision that is not available in Western disciplines.

English riding styles include many and require discipline, endurance, and athletic abilities. We will be discussing the following sub-categories in English riding styles:

  1. Dressage
  2. Showjumping
  3. Eventing
  4. Saddle Seat
  5. English pleasure
  6. Hunting

1. Dressage

Dressage is a traditional style of horse riding. It requires that a rider use a horse in a rhythmic manner and follow a prescribed routine. Horses must complete a series of tests using:

  • Different gaits
  • Passage
  • Piaffe
  • Pirouettes

Horse and rider are judged on how well they use each other’s horses.

  • Composure
  • Harmony
  • Grace

Dressage is a beautiful, dance-like event between horse and rider. Dressage horses must be well-trained and willing to work in order to move in a choreographed manner.

Dressage events require horses to be able to communicate with their riders well. Competitive dressage requires specific saddles and riding gear .

These are two of the most desirable types of dressage horse breeds:

Both breeds are beautiful and capable of performing with the grace and agility required for dressage. Hanoverian horses can be ridden with ease and have graceful gaits.

Andalusians are beautiful and intelligent breeds. Andalusians are also incredibly graceful and have the ability to move in a pleasant manner, making them ideal for dressage.

2. Jumping

Showjumping is the act of riding horses over fences placed in a circular pattern. This is a timed event and requires grace and speed.

Horse and rider must learn how to quickly recover from each jump in order to be able to perform the next one smoothly. Warm-blooded horses are the most common breeds involved in show jumping.

They are usually tall and strong and can jump over high fences. Then they make a quick recovery and move on to the next obstacle. Irish Draught horses are powerful jumpers with their strong hindquarters and long legs.

Horse breeds with long backs and arch-well can also make great show jumpers. Thoroughbreds are excellent showjumping prospects because of their athletic ability and conformation.

3. Eventing

Three-tiered eventing uses three types of riding styles.

  • Cross-country
  • Showjumping
  • Dressage

Cross-country riding is part of eventing. It uses a course with:

  • High and low fences
  • obstacles.

Eventing obstacles are often designed to look like structures that horses might encounter while crossing large cross-country fields.

Eventing requires a horse that is multi-talented, athletic and trained in multiple events. Eventing horses are strong and have endurance.

Horse eventing requires horses to jump. This is a demanding task for both the horse and you. Horses need power, but they should be gentle and graceful. Hanoverians are a great breed to use for eventing.

These horses have proven that they are able to compete in eventing events. Hanoverians are not only great at dressage but also excel in show jumping.

4. Saddle Seat

Horses must be able to high-step for saddle seat events.

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  • Dramatic
  • Smooth
  • Graceful

American Saddlebreds and Morgan horses are the best horse breeds to compete in saddle seat events. Morgan horses are muscular with beautiful gaits which gives them the grace and flair needed to compete in saddle-seat events.

American Saddlebreds, on the other hand, have a weight and height that make them look regal. Their backs are slightly lowered. American Saddlebreds are known for their exaggerated movements. This gives them an advantage in saddle seat events.

5. English Pleasure

English pleasure is similar to Western pleasure where horses trot or jog. English pleasure is more showy, as horses change gaits. They are also more focused on trotting and cantering.

Horses are more animated in English pleasure than they are in Western pleasure. The Arabian is a common breed that is used for English pleasure.

Arabians are able to perform high-scoring struts that make them ideal for English pleasure events. Arabian horses are friendly and enjoy competing. They also want to do well.

6. Hunting

Hunt seat riding is also known as hunting. Hunting requires riders to use both a forward riding style and a forward saddle. While performing on flat terrain or over fences, both horse and rider score independently.

The course also contains obstacles that look like what a horse would encounter when riding outside. Hunting events are best for horse breeds that can handle fences well and have smooth gaits.

Thoroughbreds, for example, are intelligent, well-trained horses that can jump high, and have a smooth, graceful gait. Riders can quickly train Thoroughbreds so they are skilled hunters seat horses.

Western Riding Styles

The need to care for cattle and other ranch duties led to the origins of Western horse riding. Since then, Western riding styles have evolved into a new type of competition.

All styles of Western horse riding require:

  • Hard work
  • Athleticism
  • Strong bond between horse and rider

Horses bred for ranch work can easily learn to ride many of the sub-categories in Western riding styles. A larger saddle is necessary and many horses are proficient at reining neck cues, so you will need a spirited and intelligent horse.

We cover the following types of western horse riding events:

  1. Reining
  2. Western pleasure
  3. Cutting
  4. Team penning
  5. Trail riding
  6. Gymkhana
  7. Barrel racing

1. Reining

There are some similarities between Western reining and English dressage. This is a different style of English riding. Western reining is a fast-paced series of activities that involves horse and rider. Reining includes activities like:

  • Stopping Slider
  • Spins
  • Flight lead changes
  • Roll-backs

Reining activities are meant to demonstrate how agile horses can be. Reining requires skilled moves. Horses must be able to respond quickly and well to specific cues. These tasks are possible with most horse breeds that have been trained to work with cattle. These are just a few:

Reining requires horses to be athletic. Each breed is compact and has a solid conformation, which results in exceptional balance and low center of gravity.

This type of horse build is stable and steady. They respond well to the reins and shift easily. These horse breeds are powerful, athletic, intelligent.

2. Western Pleasure

Western pleasure requires horses to be able to move in a precise and measured manner. The rider asks horses to maintain a steady, smooth gait and judges pay attention for specific beats.

Horses must be alert and keep their heads slightly down when enjoying Western pleasure. Horses that can be relaxed and move in a steady and precise manner are best for Western pleasure.

Horse breeds that are used for Western pleasure use stable frames and are usually tall. These horses tend to be leaner at the hip and shoulder areas. Because Western pleasure requires horses that they keep straight angles and make deliberate, steady movements.

Horses must keep their necks straight and move with ease in order to enjoy Western pleasure. Quarter horses can be a great choice for Western pleasure. They have strong lower bodies and are capable of performing well in Western pleasure, as long as the sub-category has been taught to them.

Quarter horses are able to walk smoothly and can be quiet, making them perfect for this type of riding. An Appaloosa is another breed that’s well-suited for Western pleasure.

These horses are graceful and easy to handle.

3. Cutting

The cutting of cattle is an example of ranch work. Sometimes, one cow must be taken from the herd in order to be moved or dociled. These tasks were not easy for cowboys or their horses.

There were competitions between ranches and cowboys. Individuals and groups used these activities as a way to show off horse and rider skills. Both the horse and rider must cut one cow and steer it to a designated place.

Horse and rider work together to pull one cow from the herd, while the cow tries to rejoin its group. The rider often allows the horse to work with the cow. This discredits the horse’s natural instincts.

It can be difficult to control and steer a cow who doesn’t want its herd to separate.

To be successful, the horse needs to have excellent instincts, solid training, practice with cows and lots of experience. Most horses can anticipate the movements of cows and are able to cut them. Cutting horses should be flexible enough to move quickly and bend back to prevent the cow’s escape.

Horse breeds that are commonly involved in cutting include working cow horses, such as

  • Quarter horses
  • Crosses

Because of their small athletic bodies and sharp minds, quarter horses are the most dominant in cutting competitions.

4. Team Penning

Although team penning is more of an individual event, it still falls under the Western category. In team penning, three different handlers and their horses work together to force three specific cattle into a pen.

The pen is usually facing the opposite side. To keep their cows from getting into trouble, the riders must cooperate with one another. All cows are identified by a label. The competition begins with three cows being separated and a pen.

A team penning method of cutting involves a group and a pen. Riders must be able to ride a horse that is intelligent, agile, and can cut well. Many team penning horses are also excellent cutters.

Because Quarter horses are excellent cutting horses, you will often see them active in the event. The Morgan horse is another horse breed that is used for team penning. It has the right temperament and conformation.

5. Trail riding

Trail riding is not a timed event, unlike endurance riding. Trail riding is scored on the horses’ ability to handle obstacles and their responsiveness.

  • Opening and closing gates close to the horse.
  • Changing terrain
  • Using logs
  • Water obstacles

Trail riding is not a timed event, unlike endurance riding. Trail riding is scored on the horses’ ability to overcome obstacles and their flexibility.

Trail riding requires a lot more than just stamina and smarts. Trail riding requires a lot of walking and stops. Trail riding is best done by horses that are flexible and have good endurance.

Because of their endurance, Arabians are a common choice for trail riding competitions. Endurance riding can be tiring on horses’ feet so it is important to check the horse’s hoof health.

Arabians are known for being very confident and able to perform well at trail riding events. They look stunning while trail riding.

The Missouri Fox Trotter is another horse breed that is often used for trail riding. The Missouri Fox Trotter is a horse that brings energy and stamina along with them to trail riding events.

Missouri Fox Trotters have strong backs and sloping shoulders that allow them to easily hold riders’ weight as they navigate the course.

6. Gymkhana

Gymkhana uses several rapid games that are suitable for younger riders. This riding style is also known as mounted. In gymkhana, riders perform activities like

  • Barrel racing
  • Flag races
  • Pole bending
  • Keg races
  • Keyhole races

Gymkhana is a series of fast-paced events that involve horses. This event requires that all horse breeds used must be able to understand the objectives of each game.

Gymkhana horses must be fast and attentive to their rider. Gymkhana is often performed by younger riders. These horses are experienced and have great personalities.

Young children love riding ponies. Appaloosas, a popular breed of horse used in gymkhana events, are also a very popular choice. However, I often see most competitors riding quarter horses.

Appaloosas, however, are agile, quick, independent, creative, and well-suited to handle the demands of these events.

7. Barrel Racing

Barrel racing, a form or gymkhana is one of the most popular forms of competition. It’s often part of a rodeo or county fair.

Barrel racing requires the horse to circle three barrels laid out in a triangular pattern. Each barrel must be circled by the horse using a cloverleaf design. The horse then has to run out of the arena.

Barrel racing can be a timed event. A horse’s time is determined by how fast he can reach a barrel, circle it and blast out. Barrel racing horses are often of strong breed, with powerful hindquarters that can explode out of turns and blast to the next barrel.

Barrel racing horses must have good balance and conformation to keep their bodies in control during sharp turns. Because Quarter horses are compact and fast, they make excellent barrel racing horses.

Quarter horses of even build can run barrels at a short distance, which often results in stunning times. Click to learn more about barrel racing horses.

Group Horse Riding Styles

There are many styles of team horse riding that go beyond English riding and Western riding. We’ll be discussing the various styles of team horse riding, including English riding and Western riding.

  1. Polo
  2. Horseball
  3. Driving

1. Polo

Polo is the oldest equestrian sport that you will find anywhere. Two teams of four are required to play polo games. The horse-riding event is held on a huge grass field measuring 300 x 160 yards.

The competition is broken down into seven-and-a-half minute “chukkers.” Chukkers refer to the playing time in a polo match. There will be four to eight chukkers depending on the location of the game.

Riders can change their horses for a new horse during the chukkers. To take advantage of horse changes or chukkers, riders must bring several horses.

Polo players use mallets to strike tiny wooden balls between opposing goalposts. The goalposts are traditionally placed eighty yards apart.

A single off-court umpire is required and two mounted referees are needed to judge each game of Polo. Polo was traditionally a game reserved for the wealthy. However, it is still affordable and accessible to all if played at club level.

2. Horseball

Horseball can also be played in teams of four like polo. The game is different from polo. Horseball is a game where the players pass a ball between each other. They score points by throwing the ball in a hoop that looks like a basketball.

Horseball’s hoop is larger than basketball’s and is laid vertically. Horseball players have the option to “tackle” their opponent to force them out of the arena, or even to steal the ball.

This can only be done if the rider remains in the saddle during the move. Any player can grab the ball if it falls to the ground. The winner of horseball wins is the team that scores the most points.

3. Driving

Horse driving is a general term that describes attaching horses or equines to harnesses to pull a particular modality behind them. For:

  • Transport purposes
  • It is also a competitive discipline for horses.

4. Endurance riding

Endurance riding is a long-distance race that measures the stamina of horse and rider. These races can be very long with some going over 20 miles.

  • 100 miles
  • 50 miles
  • 25 miles

There are several sections to the races. Horse and rider must adjust their paces while completing the course in order to be successful. Riders are often faced with the following:

  • Ride up and down hills
  • Walking through woods and fields

The rider must be careful to not tire the horse or exceed the maximum heart rate allowed by the rules.

Horses must be able to pass all necessary veterinarian checks before they can ride endurance.

  • Before competing
  • In the competition
  • After competition ends

These veterinarian check make sure that the horse is performing well enough to take part in the competition. Horses must be present at the vet for a specific time.

The horse can then continue the race. An endurance riding event’s winner must be the first to cross the finish line and pass the last vet check. Endurance riding requires a horse that is fit and a rider who is.

What Are the Different Styles of Riding?

Each of these two horse riding styles has a fascinating history that has shaped the riding styles we see today. Both types serve different purposes and have different utility.

English riding style is more suitable for certain events, but not for all. For example, barrel racing or cutting competitions. Sometimes a small English saddle may not be practical.

Although horses can jump with a Western saddle it is much easier for them to use an English one. Each style has its positives and pitfalls. They are not the same.

What style of riding do you prefer, English or Western?

Horse activity determines the type of riding and gear that is used for an event. We hope you found the information you needed to help you choose the right horse and riding style for you.


Which is better for horses?

Each style has its pros and cons. While western saddles distribute riders’ weight more evenly across horses’ backs, English saddles are lighter. Horse owners and riders debate this topic often and there is no clear answer.

Which is more expensive: Western or English riding?

Although I believe Western tack is more costly, you should consider the costs of lessons, apparel, boarding, and showing. The costs of both are quite different. Both are expensive, and some event entry fees can exceed $1,000.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!