The Stable Secretary Blog

From Tack to Techniques: Deciphering Competitive English and Western Riding

In the expansive equine industry, a diverse range of disciplines exist, each boasting its distinctive form of competition. These varied disciplines demand a wide range of strengths from both horse and rider. Numerous avenues exist for competing with your horse, with the equestrian industry containing a broad spectrum of disciplines. The opportunities for competition are multifaceted, encompassing a spectrum of styles, from English to Western riding. It’s a world where you can explore and discover the type of riding that resonates with you the most.

What’s the Difference Between English & Western Horseback Riding?

To begin, let’s examine the commonalities and distinctions between the English and Western equestrian styles of riding. Two of the notable differences are the size of the saddle and the way the rider holds the reins. In English disciplines of riding, saddles tend to be smaller to keep the rider closer to the horse, whereas in Western disciplines of riding, saddles are larger to spread the rider’s weight over a larger surface area of the horse. Western riders also tend to hold the reins of the horse looser than English riders.

In Western riding, riders typically maintain a longer, more relaxed rein contact, whereas in English riding, riders actively seek contact with the horse through the reins. Western-broke horses are trained to respond less to rein pressure and more to cues coming from the rider’s seat and leg aids. This approach allows Western horses greater freedom in maintaining their head position, with minimal interference from the rider’s hands.

In the English riding style, the primary emphasis is on riding from the seat and legs into the hands, stressing the importance of rider balance. Achieving a harmonious connection between horse and rider requires the rider to possess gentle hands, enabling the horse to yield in the jaw to attain overall relaxation. This achievement hinges on the rider’s use of forward-driving aids, notably the leg and seat, in conjunction with maintaining a supple and responsive contact to the horse’s mouth. It often requires years of dedicated practice to master this skill, yet the ultimate outcome is both gratifying and identified by a sense of grace and refinement.

Additionally, there are some differences in the way English and Western riders compete. Each discipline will have its own set of small variations. We will now spotlight two specific disciplines within each style of riding, focusing on the competitive side of the sport.


Dressage is an English style discipline. In this particular discipline, the horse and rider execute a sequence of predetermined movements, which vary based on the specific level at which they are riding. Each level within the competition features its distinct set of movements that must be performed during the test. These movements are carried out within the confines of a 60 x 20-meter arena.


While Hunters and Jumpers are technically their own disciplines, they share similarities within the English style of riding. Modern hunter classes have been developed to assess the essential qualities and characteristics of an adept hunt horse. These classes are evaluated through subjective judging, taking into account the horse’s performance while navigating a course of fences and its quality of movement when ridden on the flat. A show hunter is expected to exhibit finesse and style when traveling the course, maintain a steady and even pace throughout, and demonstrate composed and well-mannered behavior. The objective in hunter rounds is to create an impression of seamlessness and ease for the spectator. This entails the horse and rider collaborating harmoniously to facilitate a fluid transition from one jump to the next, making the entire course appear effortless.

Unlike Hunter classes, jumper classes follow an objective scoring system that exclusively assesses the horse’s athletic power when navigating fences and is determined by time. In jumper competitions, the horse’s sole objective is to clear all the fences in the course as swiftly as possible, while avoiding any faults. Faults are sustained for each mistake made: four faults for each rail knocked down, four faults for any refusal to jump, and one fault for each second exceeding the maximum time allowed to complete the course. The winner is determined by the horse with the fewest faults and the fastest completion time.


In the Western style discipline of reining, the judging process entails a comprehensive assessment of the horse’s performance, encompassing its mastery of predefined maneuvers and its overall attitude as it is skillfully guided through one of the 15 AQHA patterns. These patterns typically require the horse to execute a series of stops, spins, rollbacks, lead changes, and loping circles. Furthermore, a crucial aspect of this evaluation centers on the horse’s willingness to be guided with minimal to no resistance, illustrating the horse’s cooperative and responsive nature.

Western Pleasure

Western Pleasure, as it seems, is a Western style discipline. Competitors participate concurrently, following the perimeter of the arena, and as directed by the judge, may be required to exhibit transition between walking, jogging, loping, and reversing the direction of their horses. The evaluation criteria primarily focus on the horses’ quality of movement while maintaining a composed and tranquil demeanor, all while traveling with a loose rein.

Whether you’re a newcomer seeking your path within the industry or a seasoned equestrian looking to explore new horizons, it’s worth dedicating time to familiarize yourself with the diverse range of disciplines available for your engagement and enjoyment. For professionals engaged in any of these disciplines, implementing StableSecretary into your daily routine can enhance efficiency and streamline your equestrian management tasks, making your life in the industry more convenient and efficiently run.

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