What is English Riding?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

English riding is a style of riding which has its roots in centuries of European riding tradition. This style of riding is used all over the world, and there are a number of branches of the English tradition. The other major main style of riding is Western riding, which uses different equipment and a slightly different approach to handling horses.

Jumping is a component of English riding.
Jumping is a component of English riding.

It is common to see people heavily emphasizing the differences between English and Western riding. In fact, these two riding disciplines are very similar. A rider who has trained in the English style can usually pick up Western riding very quickly, and vice versa. Both rely fundamentally on establishing clear communication between rider and horse, and working together as a team to accomplish goals.

English riding horses tend to be very obedient.
English riding horses tend to be very obedient.

The distinguishing characteristic of English riding is the English saddle, a flat saddle design which is designed to be as lightweight as possible. The idea behind this saddle design is that it allows a horse as much freedom of movement as possible, and it maximizes contact between horse and rider. There are a number of different English saddles on the market, ranging from lightweight horse racing saddles to specialized dressage saddles.

A key part of horse training, the bridle and bit are commonly used to help control the animals.
A key part of horse training, the bridle and bit are commonly used to help control the animals.

Horses trained in the English tradition respond to pressure on the bit, to cues from the rider's legs and feet, and to signals from a crop or whip. It is not uncommon to see riders using a double set of reins for greater control, sometimes with two bits. The seat in the saddle varies, depending on the rider's discipline: jumping, dressage, polo, and eventing, for example, all require different seats. English riding tends to be more formal, with a focus on correct seat, a good posture, and well turned-out horses.

English riding is often on display at the Olympics and other international equestrian competitions, because Western riding is mostly confined to the Americas. Horses trained in the English style tend to be trained to be extremely obedient, with less of a focus on freethinking, an important trait in Western horses. However, well-trained English horses are taught intelligent refusal, which involves teaching a horse to refuse to obey dangerous commands, for the safety of both horse and rider.

Dressage, widely described as “ballet for horses” is always performed on English trained horses and with English tack. Show jumping, racing, hacking, hunting, and polo are also events in which English riding is the norm. For disciplines like equitation, eventing, and trail riding, it is common to see a mix of Western and English riding.

English riding incorporates an English saddle, which is flat and lightweight in design.
English riding incorporates an English saddle, which is flat and lightweight in design.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


English riding is just about all that I am familiar with. This is they way I grew up riding, and still ride like this all the time.

As I got older I began getting interested in dressage, and my English riding skills really helped me out.

It seems like those I have seen riding Western are really enjoying themselves, and the horse has a lot more freedom. I just don't know how comfortable I would be with this style of riding.

When I get on my horse, I know that every slight move I make is sending her a message. I have found English horseback riding to be a great discipline for myself and my horse.

We have a tight bond, and she can sense from my body movements and slight pressure from the reigns what I want her to do.


English riding is something I have always been interested in trying. We have quarter horses and go trail riding on the weekends, but I have always done Western riding.

For some reason I think it might be easier to switch from English riding to Western riding than the other way around.

With Western riding being so much less formal, it would be very easy to pick up on. I don't think I would want to do English riding all the time though.

It would be fun to put on some English riding boots and jacket and take some lessons. My vet does a lot of dressage competitions, and English riding is something he is very good at.

There is a type of elegance associated with this type of riding that you don't usually see in the Western riding.

Either way, just be able to ride a horse is therapeutic for me.


For years I went to an English riding camp every summer. The camp was in rural Connecticut and it was really beautiful out there. They had incredible facilities and some really well bread horses.

As a kid the only thing I wanted to do was ride horses and I thought that was the reason I'd been put on this planet. But somewhere in my late teens my interested faltered and I have not sat on a horse in years.

I honestly don't miss it too much. It was a great activity as a kid, but I think I like what I do now a lot more than I would working in a stable and dealing with those huge animals all the time.


I've ridden in both the English and the Western style and I have to say that I enjoy the Western style much more. The English style is very stiff and formal while the Western style is more about pushing the abilities of the horse and rider while also putting on a good show for the crowd.

I always made this comparison. The English style is like the Westminster dog show where everything is very traditional and uptight. The Western style is like one of those competitions where the dogs run through the obstacle course. You tell me, which would you rather watch?

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