Types of English Horseback Riding

Have you ever wondered how many different types of English horseback riding there are? It turns out there are numerous styles of English riding, all with their own unique characteristics.

So, what are the different types of English horseback riding? English riding includes the following disciplines:

  • Eventing
  • Hunt Seat
  • Dressage
  • English Pleasure
  • Saddle Seat

As you can see, there’s a lot to know when it comes to English riding styles. Especially if you’re trying to determine which riding discipline you would like to pursue. We’ve done some research to help make the process a little easier for you.

English Horseback Riding Disciplines


English Horseback Riding Disciplines

Eventing is the most versatile of the English riding disciplines. Many refer to it as an equestrian triathlon. Those who pursue eventing must be proficient in dressage, cross country, as well as show jumping. Eventing isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a great riding discipline to pursue if you like a good amount variation in your riding routine.

Eventing initially began as a cavalry test to help ensure that riders were thoroughly prepared for any challenge they might face on the battlefield. Eventing became an official Olympic sport in 1912 at the Stockholm Games, although it has continued to evolve since then.

Today, the goal of eventing is to demonstrate that your horse is obedient by means of dressage, is well-conditioned and brave by means of cross country, and can operate with focus and precision by means of show jumping.

Some of the most popular breeds that are used for eventing include:

  • American Quarter Horse
  • Thoroughbreds
  • Swiss Warmblood
  • Hanoverian
  • Irish Sport Horse
  • Holsteiner
  • Dutch Warmblood
  • Belgian Warmblood
  • Anglo Arabian
  • Selle Français


Hunt Seat

Types of English Horseback Riding | Equine Helper

Hunt seat is a forward seat riding style that has become very popular in the US. It involves both jumping as well as flat work. Forward seat riding is when a rider’s weight is centered over a horse’s withers, forcing the rider to move forward in the saddle to maintain their position. The jumps in hunt seat competitions are usually made out of wood and are painted darker and more natural looking colors. The jumps normally have some type of flora and fauna around the base to help replicate a natural hunting setting.

Historically, hunt seat has its origins from the tradition of fox hunting. A sport originating in England that started to gain popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. In fox hunting, a group of mounted riders would chase after foxes with a pack of hounds. The natural terrain required their horses to be well prepared for any obstacle that might be in their way.

The goal in hunt seat competitions is to demonstrate proper and stylish riding technique for every gait, as well as over jumps. Judges look for routines that are smooth and natural.

Popular breeds for hunt seat:

  • American Quarter Horse
  • Thoroughbreds
  • Westphalians
  • Hanoverian
  • Warmbloods
  • Draft X



Dressage English Horseback Riding

The word dressage comes from the French word that means training. Dressage is one of the most technical disciplines to pursue, as it requires riders to train their horses to be incredibly sensitive to even the smallest of physical cues. In order to be a successful dressage rider, you must be very patient, and be willing to put in countless hours training your horse for success.

Because dressage is one of the disciplines that comprise eventing, it has a very similar history. Cavalry riders have used dressage for years to train their horses to perform at the highest possible level.

Today, dressage is one of the fastest growing Olympic equestrian sports. The primary goal of dressage is to get your horse to seamlessly perform a series of set movements, all triggered by incredibly subtle cues to the horse. Each movement is scored on a scale of zero to ten, with ten being the best.

Some particular horse breeds that excel at dressage are:

  • Hanoverian
  • Andalusian
  • Oldenburg
  • Danish Warmblood
  • Lusitano


English Pleasure 

Different Types of English Horseback Riding | Equine Helper

The main purpose of this discipline is to demonstrate that your horse is a pleasure to ride. While some disciplines focus more on equitation, this discipline is mainly about the performance of the horse. There are several specific areas you can pursue within English pleasure, like saddle seat and hunt seat.

The roots of English pleasure riding go back to the days when horseback riding was the primary method of transportation. Just like now, people back then took pride in having the nicest ride in town, so they worked hard training their horses to have smooth gaits and to move with class.

When competing in English pleasure riding today, the general focus is on how smoothly your horse operates in each gait, how evenly they move, and how willing they are to cooperate with your instructions.

Popular horse breeds you’ll find in the pleasure ring:

  • American Quarter Horses


Saddle Seat

Different Types of English Horseback Riding

Saddle seat, not to be confused with hunt seat, is a riding discipline that is focused on showing off a horse’s various gaits while the rider rests further back in the saddle than in most other riding disciplines. A unique trait of saddle seat riding is that horses must utilize very high stepping gaits that are a thrill to watch for spectators. While saddle seat is technically an English riding style, it is done primarily in America.

Saddle seat riding is all about high energy and very animated movements performed smoothly and gracefully by the horse.

Some of the most popular horses for saddle seat include:

  • Morgan Horses
  • Arabians
  • American Saddlebred Horses


Related Questions

What Do English Riders Wear?

In the world of English riding, presentation is very important. You can even lose points with the judges when competing for not being dressed properly. That said, it’s important that you research the specific guidelines for the competition you’re entering.

For every discipline, you will need an approved riding helmet. In outdoor disciplines like the cross-country portion of eventing, riders can get away wearing polo shirts, matching breeches, and riding boots, but are required to wear a protective riding vest. Other events might require that you have a nice riding coat and riding gloves.

How Can I Find English Riding Lessons?

The best way to find English riding lessons is to call local stables in your area and ask if they know of anyone that is providing lessons. You can also look for riding groups on Facebook in your area and ask the local riding community if they know of anyone that is offering lessons. If you have friends that are already riding, you can ask them for recommendations.

What’s the Difference Between English and Western Riding?

Western Horseback Riding | Equine Helper

One of the major differences between English and Western riding is the type of saddle used. English saddles tend to be small and lightweight, without much to hold onto. While Western saddles tend to be bulkier, but can provide much better weight distribution for horses.

Because of these design differences, English saddles are better suited for disciplines that require close contact with the horse, while Western saddles are better for disciplines that originated for the working horse.

Should I Learn Western or English Riding?

While both riding styles pose certain challenges, it’s generally agreed that Western riding is usually the safer route to take for beginners. If you’re not comfortable on a horse quite yet, Western riding may be the way to go. This is in part due to the larger and more comfortable saddles, the simpler methods of communicating with the horse, and the smoother gaits.

This said it is much easier to learn English riding and then transition to Western riding than to start with Western riding and try to transition to English riding. If you like a challenge, both riding styles have disciplines that can thrill the adrenaline junkie. Likewise, if you’re more into enjoying your horse and relaxing, both styles offer that as well.

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My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

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