English vs. Western for New Riders

Updated on September 24, 2018
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

The Great Debate: English or Western

For some, when they inquire about riding, they have done their research and they know whether they want to ride English or Western. Others don't know the difference, they just know they want to learn to ride.

Personally, as a little kid on my pony, my parents rode me around in a Western saddle, and I held onto the saddle horn while they led me around.
A few years later when I started taking lessons, they used English tack, so that is how I learned.

What Is a Western Saddle?

A western saddle is what most non-equestrians probably refer to as a "cowboy" saddle. The saddles are seen in old western movies. They are shaped differently than English and have that convenient horn on the front to hold if need be.

There are small variations in western saddles and how they are designed that make them suited for certain western disciplines such as reining, cutting or trail riding.

Western Saddle
Western Saddle

What Is an English Saddle?

When describing it to someone who does not know what it is, most of the time, saying that it is the saddle that does not have the horn to hold onto is enough for them to know what you are talking about.

English saddles are used for jumping and dressage. Among the English saddles, there are variations as well that make them more suited for certain disciplines. There are also all-purpose saddles that are made to allow a longer stirrup for flat work and a shorter stirrup for jumping.

What's "Better," Western or English?

This is a debate for the ages. There are many die-hard Western-only riders and also die-hard English-only riders. There really is no better, and it is just a matter of opinion.

If you have an idea of where you hope to go with your riding, then I would say you might as well start riding at a barn that teaches that style. Obviously, you have to learn the basics first, before you can get too specialized, but it definitely can't hurt to start in the right community of horse people, who will best know how to help you meet your goals.

Comparison Western Vs. English Saddles
Comparison Western Vs. English Saddles

A Horse Is a Horse

In my opinion as a trainer and instructor, a horse is a horse no matter what style of saddle you strap on his back.

You can learn the basic position in either saddle. Everyone's goal for beginner riding should be to learn to stay in a balanced position from shoulder to hip to heel. That is the most balanced and effective way to ride no matter what shape the saddle is that you are riding in.

Once you get past the basics and are ready to move into more specialized disciplines, that is when the differences between English and Western become more apparent.

Basic safe riding is basic safe riding whether you do it on a hunk of leather shaped as a Western saddle or a hunk of leather shaped as an English saddle.

It's All in What You Like

If you want to start lessons and think you know what you want to do, then find a good horsemanship program that offers it. See there I said horsemanship program, not just riding program. You should be learning all different aspects of the horse world . . . safety, grooming, care, all of it. That way you are well rounded and understand the nature of the horse better.

Don't Have a Preference?

If you don't know enough about specifics to know what you want to do specifically, then just do your research and try and find the best most well-rounded horsemanship program you can and sign up!

The more you are around horses and see what is out there, the more you may want to pick a different discipline, and if that is the case no problem. Since you were in a well-rounded program and learned a good basic centered position.

You should have no problem transitioning to something a little different.

To each their own!
To each their own!

I Can't Stress It Enough

A horse is a horse. It's the same animal no matter what saddle it happens to be wearing. Watch any of the well-known clinicians and you will see them working horses in both Western and English tack. That is because the language that we use to communicate with our horses is a universal one. Pressure and release, and assertive leadership. None of that has to do with the shape of the saddle.

Don't Overthink It

As a new or prospective rider, don't overthink the English vs. Western thing . . . it's just a matter of preference—to each their own. As long as you are in a well-rounded horsemanship program with a good instructor and safe lesson horses, then you will be off to a great start no matter what direction you end up going in.

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