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HorseShowCentral > Riding Styles & Disciplines

English or Western Riding Styles and their Disciplines

The flowing, movement of horses. Horseback Riding Styles, and their Riding Disciplines are listed below.

As all who actively ride or are engaged with horses know, there are many riding disciplines, but most all of them fall into a recognized category of styles, either basically English or basically Western.

Then there are a few subsets that are neither really, but are found almost everywhere, and the tack used, or the specifics of a class in a show , determines  in which of the two main categories it is placed. 

So Riding styles are listed below in sections/categories for either English or Western, with the disciplines each encompasses. More


English Riding Disciplines
Horse RacingHorse Racing
There are many kinds of races but two are the most common. One is the running race, whether on track, grass, or steeplechasing; whether for a quarter mile or over distance. Then there is the harness racing of the trotters and pacers.
Thoroughbred RacingThoroughbred Racing
Thoroughbred races began in England and the earliest report dates from 1074! France goes back to 1370. 1837 for Italy. Germany as early as 1874. Of course the rest of the world followed suit.
Quarter Horse RacingQuarter Horse Racing
Short racing orignated in North America, usually match races, and the distance of a quarter of a mile was very popular. Today, Quarter Horse races offer some of hte richest purses in the world.
Chases owe their existence to the enclosing of British fam land in the 18th century and the Grand National at Aintree began in 1839. The first hurdle race in the US took place in New Jersey in 1844. Chases are not for the faint at heart!
Polo has a long history, from Alexander the Great, and in Persia there are polo painting dating from the 16th century. The most desirable qualities for a player are courage, coolness, and aptitude for ball games.
Australia has been a strong advocate of Polocrosse and efforts to grow the sport have succeeded. Several countries now support teams and there are competitions within countries as well as between countries.
There are various levels to achieve: Training Level; Levels One through Four; Prix St. George; Intermediate Levels I and II and Grand Prix. Competitors begin with unofficial levels and progress. Dressage is the art of harmony within and without.
Classical DressageClassical Dressage
The modern sport of dressage is far from classical, which can be described by the word baroque and leads to a suppling of the horse that makes him a better athlete, and improves his soundness and longevity.
Show JumpingShow Jumping
Show Jumping first took place in 1866 when a class was held at a Harness Show in Paris. Today such jumping is a tough, combined struggle to conquer faults and time, measured in fractions of seconds, while neither rider nor mount can lookover the walls they jump.
Eventing (Three Day Event)Eventing (Three Day Event)
This test combines, dressage, cross county and show jumping and often takes 3 days, a modern pentathlon in which mount and rider must have complete confidence in each otther to energize the last reserves of both.
Harness RacingHarness Racing
A sport with origins as far back at 1350 B.C. is now a national passtime in many countries where fans thrill to the speed of the trotters or pacers in harness pulling their sulkies, with amazing times for the mile.
Western Riding Disciplines
Cow HorseCow Horse
The term implies a horse that is used for working and herding catter, or one is specifically bred for the work, or simple as a title for one that is very good at cow work. AQHA or Paints are tops today in competitions.
Western HorsemanshipWestern Horsemanship
This is the only competition class in which the rider’s seat, position, posture, position and action of hands and legs are being judged, as well as his or her ability to effectively cue the horse with cues as invisible as possible.
Western PleasureWestern Pleasure
In this discipline, the name of the game is not, like some seem to believe, to find out who can move the slowest (or hold his head the lowest), but to find the best-moving, best-behaving, cleanest-performer of the class.
Western RidingWestern Riding
Competition classes are judged on the quality of gaits, on flying lead changes, and manners and on response to the rider’s aids.
Western Trail ClassWestern Trail Class
In showing, zero faults is not the whole story. Judges want to see a horse that displays brains and skill, and the capability to negotiate obstacles on his own!
Cutting HorseCutting Horse
The cutter has 2.5 minutes to show his stuff. He may peel off a cow from the fringes of the herd, but must show at least one so-called deep cut, bringing out the cow he wants to work, without disturbing the herd.
Finished reiners must be shown with only one hand holding the reins, with only one finger between loose reins. Plus, The reiner’s patterns also include high-speed circles and run-downs.
Reined Cow HorseReined Cow Horse
California reinsmen and vaqueros were the apex of mounted herdsmen and their way of training with the rawhide hackamore and the results they got were unique and incomparable.
Ranch Horse CompetitionRanch Horse Competition
A certain slate of classes have emerged which are collectively named versatility, and all are discussed here. However, to win the title, once must compete in all five clases.
As it is known in today’s world, roping develped in the Americas. Competition includes calf, team, single steer roping, steer stopping and breakaway.
Calf RopingCalf Roping
Because the rider needs to focus on the calf, rating (speeding up or slowing down to maintain his position behind the calf) is a primary skill of his mount.
Team RopingTeam Roping
Also called heading and heeling, in this sport the header and heelers are judged spearately during a terrific display of partnership betwen riders and their mounts, with one minute to rope!
Team PenningTeam Penning
Against the clock, three team penners cut out the three cows assigned to them, and drive them to the other end of the arena and drive them into the pen. This really takes a team effort to accomplish.
Barrel RacingBarrel Racing
Time is everything and every knock-down costs dearly. Tight turns, change leads or direction without loss or stride, moving forward at all times -- because there is a time penalty of five seconds if a barrel is knocked down.
Pole BendingPole Bending
A slalom-like course around six poles, performed at a gallop, then blasting speed heading for home! Easy and natural flying lead lead changes are a must along with sheer speed.
Halter HorsesHalter Horses
Led towards, by, and away from the judge in all classes, at the walk and the trot, then stood up squarely to be judged for conformation and eye appeal!
Showmanship at HalterShowmanship at Halter
Not the animal at all, but the ability of the exhibitor is what is judged and the judge will design and post a pattern for the exhibitor to follow.
Trail RidingTrail Riding
Taking a trail ride, alone or along with others, is one of the healthiest activities both for yourself and for your mount. It is often the best activity for your horse’s mental well-being!


Since 1100 B. C (Iron Age), various riding styles, disciplines and equine sports have been honed through games, races and other competitions, or through the work man needed his steed to do, then competitions were based on this skill. Surely there is little doubt that such sport occurred even earlier. The role of riding styles and disciplines has greatly exceeded simply entertainment; at first, it increased excellence in horsemanship that gained great rewards on the battlefield. Societies that could mount large cavalries had an enormous advantage over those less prepared. Sports and competition helped hone the skills of soldiers and generated improvements in equipment and breeding that time after time altered the outcome of history.

Of course not all riding disciplines had their origin in military training. Hunting and even competitive jumping, as disciplines within the English  category , grew from the necessity of hunting.  Rodeo with its disciplines within the Western category  began as a way of demonstrating the skills needed on ranches and farms and the necessity of moving and handling food animals.

The main styles and their disciplines come from an underlying motivation to gain a competitive edge, and have given rise to numerous improvements through the centuries. Improved tack is streamlined, more effective and better suited to varied tasks. Lighter weight vehicles stem from early chariot racing into the harness racing industry of today. Supplies, health and care of our animals have all improved and continue to do so.

Sports and riding disciplines within the overall area of of two basic riding styles, have also provided links with the past and the maintenance of skills which otherwise would have most likely declined or even disappeared. Some equestrian sports span a history of three thousand years.

However, the most notable effect of the various equine sports of the world, is the systematic development of breeds, with improvements  in refinement, intelligence, and beauty, coupled with the astounding sophistication of improvement in the communication between rider and mount -- a direct result of all forms of equestrian sports and styles, that has led to very refined riding disciplines for results, be it pleasure or competitive sport.

Styles vs Disciplines:

Riding styles have developed throughout the world and throughout time periods according to what types of task were attempted, and the actual tack used to help accomplish this task has fallen into either an English or a western category. Within each of the basic styles however, there are subsets of disciplines.

So as far as styles go, there is one that is more western, that uses western tack (saddles, bridles and other tools) yet within this comes the many, many  disciplines, from Pleasure to Cutting and Ranch and Cow work, all of which have over time acquired basic rules in competition.

Concurrently, as another of the two basic styles, there is English which uses English tack (somewhat varied, but still basically English), yet within this broad category there are many varied disciplines, from racing to dressage, to Saddle Seat to Hunt Seat, etc.

Click on English or Western Styles for their various disciplines, historical and modern day practices, plus photos.