Easterners, Do You Ride Western? Why?

I started riding western several years ago when I started getting older and felt that western stirrups and fenders gave me more support and security than English stirrups and leathers. I’ve had back-pain issues for ages and my central nervous system is out of whack so I like all the comfort and security I can get!

So that’s why I ride western now.

But when I started riding, as a child, I rode English. I grew up in the South, in a city, so although 3/4 of my ancestors had been farmers, they were not ranchers, and – if they owned any horses at all – I figure they rode in some sort of plantation or English saddle.

So I have a question. And I’m not being critical, I’m just being curious.
Why do so many people who live in America, east of the Mississippi, and not on ranches or even working farms, ride western?
I read one horsemanship book that said western riding is the “American” way to ride. But actually it is traditionally Mexican and Spanish. And historically, most of the Eastern US is not a Hispanic culture. The city folk, the fox hunters, the farmers, did not ride in western saddles. They had no need to. They did not rope cattle, or wild horses. Those who hunted, and steeplechased, jumped – so had an obvious need to not have a horn, and to have stirrups that easily detached from the saddle in case of a fall or a rear that went over backwards.

Where I live now, the majority of horsemen and women ride western, in the Southeastern US. They are not ranchers. They are not Hispanic. So why do they ride western, and have rodeos and barrel races, instead of hunter shows and dressage-combined training shows, the type of riding many more of their ancestors would have done rather than the type of riding traditionally done by the cowboys of the west?

And why do almost all American trail-riding barns offer only western saddles? The idea that they are more “secure” makes no sense in light of the fact that stables in the UK and Europe and Iceland do hacking and trekking in saddles that don’t have horns and bridles that don’t have long-shanked curb bits

I really am just curious. Like I said, I ride western now because I do feel more secure. But when I was younger, and in better shape, I felt more secure in an English saddle, especially when out riding the trails.

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I started riding Western part of the time after an accident where I broke my ankle and my knee. The longer leg is just more comfortable. I still ride English, too, but when I’m hacking out, my preference is Western.


The idea that they are more “secure” makes no sense in light of the fact that stables in the UK and Europe and Iceland do hacking and trekking in saddles that don’t have horns and bridles that don’t have long-shanked curb bits

In both cases, I think they are using what people EXPECT versus what is most practical. I find western better for newbies on a trail because if things go to pieces, they can (I tell them) ignore the reins and hold on with the horn. More than one visiting friend has cantered on their first ride and loved it. And those first rides are done on the trail, not an arena.

I’m in the west, but if I moved east I’d still use curb bits. I believe they are gentler on my horse’s mouth when used “western”, with slack in the reins except to give a specific cue. They signal the horse on what you want before applying pressure in the mouth which is gentler than going bitless.


well, I have a question too. Why do horse owners East of the Mississippi think their horses need a ramp to get into a trailer?


I’m not sure why a person’s location should dictate their riding style?

I used to do the hunters and equitation. I was always fearful over fences, but that’s what my horse was good at, so that’s what I did. But, once I got the chance to ride some very well trained horsemanship and reining horses in college, I vowed that I’d switch to western after he passed. And I did.

Now I do the ranch/stock horse classes. And you know what? They’re WAY more fun, more welcoming, and more affordable than the hunters ever were. By a long shot.


I rarely ride Western, but I think the discipline you end up with is sometimes chance or coincidence rather than choice. As a teen I knew that I liked horses and wanted to ride, but didn’t really know a lot about the different disciplines. I first started riding for several summers at a camp which only taught English, so that’s what I ended up with. Had they taught Western, my riding life might have been totally different.

The rare occasion that I ride Western is when trail riding on vacation or borrowing a horse, although I will often use my English tack on a friend’s horse that typically goes Western if they will let me and the fit is ok. (We’re mostly talking trail types here, not highly trained show horses.) I actually feel less secure in Western tack, I think mainly because there is so much leather there and to me I have less feel of the horse.

I think a lot of the more casual riders end up with Western tack because it’s seen as more secure, easier, more comfortable, and less ‘fancy’, whether that is actually the case or not.


I ride English for competition and ride western when I am not competing or practicing jumping. Two reasons: my English tack includes a breast collar, and a girth that has to be buckled on both sides. My western tack is simply a saddle with a girth. Since I ride on my own property 99% of the time, I suit myself. It is quicker to put on the western saddle than it is the English saddle. Secondly, my attire for English, even at home is breeches and half chaps over boots. Wester --well, whatever I wore to the barn to feed, I ride in that. Last reason is my horse is a former cutting/sorting/roping horse —he’s quick as a cat. Since I ride alone on my farm, I feel a little more secure with that horn to grab if he does a quick move. But I fox hunt and shoot my bow (mounted archery) using my hunt saddle and equipment.

FWIW I would say there’s an actual discipline of western riding that is more than simply riding in a western saddle.

Are we talking about western riding or simply riding in a western saddle?


Ours didn’t. Barns I’ve known have more step-in-out trailers than trailers with ramps. I remember one UK trailer site that showed one ad for a trailer with a convertible door. There was a ramp that could be converted to a door “for people who ride western.” I thought that was odd as I’ve known more dressage horses and eventers than western-discipline horses and easily 2/3 of those Eastern horses rode in step-off trailers.

I agree. And where I live I’d say it’s about 70-30 people who actually ride western disciplines to people who just ride in western saddles. There is a drill team, and a barrel-racing club, both using western tack and clothes; there are also some trail-riding barns that use only western saddles. There are, like I said, no working ranches, and so far I’ve heard of no western shows – breed, western pleasure, ranch horse, etc.
I just wonder why barrel racing and “rodeoing” is so popular in this area instead of hunter/jumper and eventing, as far as competitions go. I figure it’s partly the negative image some people have of “English” riding, but I can’t figure out why it has that image since the heritage in this area is much more British - Northern Europe than Hispanic-Latino.
People’s roots are not in the Old West here, and there are no cowboys.

I just don’t get why so many easterners think the “real” American riding style is western. I get the appeal of the Old West and the “cowboy way” and John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe there hasn’t been the same “romance” around “English” riding in the US. But how did it get to have a “snobby” “upper-class” image?
And why would so many people prefer hauling around a 20-30-lb saddle with two cinches they throw over their poor horses’ backs to a small, lighter English saddle they can set down gently, and doesn’t have a horn in the way?

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I hear you on that. :slight_smile: The people here have been so friendly and welcoming at their shows compared to people I’ve seen at hunter shows and combined-trained shows until I got to be part of “the in-crowd.”
And when I used to watch dressage-vs-reining videos on YouTube I found myself liking the western pair the best. :slight_smile:

I also believe that, in the hands of a good rider.

When I started riding we were taught to grab the mane, not the saddle, “because the mane can’t come off,” the trainers said.

But one reason I loved my western saddle – after I switched because of the fenders and stirrups – was that horn! When my friends and I would hack out together, guess who was able to bring along the water bottles! :smiley:


If someone has to ride for long drives, mostly just wandering around picking up cattle here and there, the occasional wild jump around to stay with one that wants to turn back, your horse’s back will appreciate a larger area as in a western saddle to distribute the rider’s weight.
Of course if there is any roping to do, the horn helps and, again the larger tree helps the horse pull.

For shorter trail type rides, for just moving on down the way to cover miles, to ride colts, a light seat and English saddle is fine.
There are also “stripped down” western saddles to use for that, with minimal tree and skirts, closer to the light English saddles, less bulky:



IMHO, I have never thought of Western riding as anything other than an art form of it’s own.

I ride the discipline that suits my purpose, geography never entered my mind. I enjoy the precision of a properly ridden set of western trail obstacles equally to a well ridden hunter/jumper round.

Western saddles are used for public trail rides because the bigger saddle with horn looks safer to the newer rider. Uninformed men are worried that english saddles will become too “friendly” and have John Wayne dreams to fulfill. Take 10 people who have never been within 10 feet of a horse. Put a Western and English saddle out. Ask them to choose…

As for it being the “American” style of riding. To the rest of the world, cowboy movies were a novel style of riding, seen first in the movies of the american west. No matter it’s genesis, it is the american cowboy movie that captured the world’s imagination. Only through the information age has other types of riding become more mainstream. In the opposite of Pizza and English muffins( who are american inventions) Western Riding is our style because we are the country that capitalized on it, even though we did not invent it.


The Belgians invented “French fries”


I took lessons at a H/J barn at age 9. Got a backyard horse at 10. Rode bareback for a couple of years, pasture boarding. saved my pennies and bought a little western saddle because that’s what the feed store had. Moved to a boarding barn, they happened to ride and train QHs and Apps for al around type events so I did that. Eventually for interested in training via John Lyons and Bright Zip and such so I did that for a while. For curious about dressage so I tinkered with that for a while. DHs QH became anhydrotic so we got him a gaited horse. Now we’re both on TWHs and there are 3 western saddles, 2 dressage, and two trailers without ramps.

All of this time I’ve been living in Alabama and have never owned a trailer with a ramp, lol. And if I’m going to be true to my culture (cough cough) i should have been on gaited horses from the start and a M&W trooper saddle.


We wanted our kids to ride saddle seat. We back east to Kentucky to find a good saddle seat horse for our kids. We looked at hundreds of horses, ended up buying a very nice long yearling who came from long, proven lines of successful saddle seat horses. Left her in training there since they knew saddle seat.

Here is our Eastern Horse we bought to be a saddle seat horse

we had to lease an English horse for kids to learn saddle seat… our youngest who was four took to it like a duck to water… she showed saddle seat

OUR horse that we had bought specifically for saddle seat never ever worn a cutback saddle,


We don’t. Grew up with step ups. Current trailer has a ramp but ramp or not has never been a decision point when deciding to buy a trailer for me or my family.


So I grew up in central PA. It was almost entirely western in my area. The local 4H had english classes and a few riders but they were outnumbered 3 - 1. Most of the horses in my area were also traditional “western” horses, quarter horses, appies and paints.

All my childhood horses went western and it wasn’t until I joined my collegiate team that I learned english, how to post or the “proper” way to get over a fence. Didn’t take long for me to make the switch and since I couldn’t afford to have a horse at college, riding with the team was the only horse time I could get. If that took learning english, well, it was worth it.

While I mainly ride dressage now, I still love to hop on a nice western trained horse and enjoy the ride.

Although, I have never nearly hung myself by snagging my bra on the saddle during a dismount with an english saddle - just saying