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  • Writer's pictureTeam Backcountry

In the Saddle: English vs Western

Before you get on a horse, you have to choose a saddle and a way to ride.

There are two disciplines of horseback riding that people can choose from: English and Western. The most obvious difference is the saddle, but there is more to the choice. Carly Steiger, the Backcountry Wilderness Area's equine coordinator, filled us in on the big differences between these two riding styles.


Photo from Cowgirl Magazine

English saddles are much smaller and lighter than a Western saddle. The most noticeable difference is that there is no horn. Riding English gives you more contact with the horse because there is much less material separating the horse and rider. This is especially helpful when learning to jump!

If you’ve ever been on a trail ride; chances are you have ridden Western. Western saddles are bigger, heavier, and there is more material holding you in place. While a Western saddle still requires a fair amount of balance, English saddles are initially more difficult to balance in. Western saddles are great for rodeo events and ranch work.


Direct Reining: More commonly used in English disciplines (but also used in some Western disciplines), direct reining is when you hold your reins with both hands. To steer, you apply pressure to the side you want to turn; physically pointing their head in the direction you want them to go.

Neck Reining: This is common for Western riding, and is derived from ranching because you hold the reins in one hand as you may need to use your other hand to rope cattle, etc. To steer, you move your hand in the direction you want your horse to go; and they respond to the pressure on their neck.

Which Riding Style is Best?

Truthfully, while learning to ride, it is extremely helpful to try out both! As your riding skills progress, your preference may change. Once you figure out your long-term goal for horseback riding, you'll most likely focus more on one discipline or the other. Here are a few activities that differ in the two types of riding:

English: Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Endurance, Cross-Country, etc...

Western: Rodeo, Reining, Cutting, Ranching, Trail Riding, etc…

Want to try out Western or English riding ... or both? Come see us at the Backcountry Outdoor Center Horse Corrals for a riding lesson! Visit for more information.


Carly Steiger is the equine coordinator for the Backcountry Wilderness Area. Carly moved to Colorado in 2015, and is an avid animal and outdoors lover. When she’s not hiking or snowboarding, you can find her caring for her tribe of rescue animals.

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