Another choice you have to make is between the two primary riding styles, English and Western. Neither is easier nor harder than the other, and English, though associated with competitions, isn’t limited to those who want to compete. There are also competitive training styles that you might want to work your way up to. Observe equestrian events in person, on TV, and in pictures, and select the style that you find most appealing. Some barns may suggest that you start with English to develop your balance first.
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English or Western?
Both English and Western riding require balance, physical fitness, and stamina. Beginning riders often gravitate to the larger, deeper, and safer-looking Western saddle, which has a horn (a large, protruding piece at the front of the saddle). These saddles weigh more than their English counterparts, which are shallower and have no horn. Don’t let the lack of a horn steer you away from English riding—you can always grab the horse’s mane, if need be.
English riders maintain a stronger contact (or tension) with the horse’s mouth. In English riding, the horse responds to signals given to the mouth. English riders may post, or rise out of their saddle, in rhythm with the horse’s movement. They may also progress to jumping.
Western riders use a style of reining called neck reining, in which the horse turns in response to pressure gently applied to the sides of its neck via the reins. Riders can post, but often they sit to the trot (or in Western lingo, the jog). Western riders rarely jump, but they may race around barrels as an agility test.
Advanced Types of Riding
You’ll need lots of experience on a horse before trying one of these more advanced riding styles.
Dressage, French for “training,” is a variety of English riding in which the rider and horse perform specific routines for judges. It is designed to develop discipline and natural abilities in the horse and rider. For more, see the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) at www.usdf.org.
One of the oldest team sports, polo is a game with a ball and mallets that is played on horseback. For more, see the United States Polo Association (USPA) at www.us-polo.org.
A type of Western riding, reining is designed to show a ranch horse’s athletic abilities through the performance of one of nine patterns in an arena. For more, see the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) at www.nrha.com.
Rodeo is a competitive Western style of riding designed to test the ranching abilities of horses and riders with events such as calf roping, steer riding, and barrel racing. For more, see the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) at www.prorodeo.com.
This specialized discipline involves using horses to help people with physical, psychological, or learning disabilities. For more, see the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association at www.narha.org.