Picking the Right Discipline

I am now in a place in my life where I can consider getting into riding on a more serious basis. I’m certain I want to get into an English discipline, but I’m not sure how to pick one that would be the best for me. Any help I can get would be appreciated.

My experience

  • I grew up in a farming town, I’m comfortable being around all kinds of animals and the gross things that sometimes come with that.
  • I had a friend in middle school with horses, and sometimes we would ride. (trails, mostly). I can lunge/ tack up/basics no problem.
  • I took general lessons for about 4 mo before I left for college.
  • I made it onto the reserve dressage team my freshman year of college. (Hardly got any ride time and not a friendly environment for someone who couldn’t afford to lease)
  • I’ve gone on trail rides (as often as budget allows) since I was 10 and generally go on intermediate trails.

I’m interested in cross-country, hunter-jumper (though I don’t know much about it), and I’ve done a bit of dressage, but I’m not sure how to figure out what I should pursue. I love working with horses and the hard work riding takes is no problem for me.
How did you find the right one?

Take some jumper lessons and see if that works for you. If you like jumping that can lead
”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹you to show jumping, eventing, or hunters.

If you don’t like jumping or it scares you, find a flat discipline.

If you like the focus and the big trot, you can do dressage. If you want to ride a horse with smaller gaits in a more relaxed fashion then go western.

It’s just a matter of trying and eliminating

From your history it sounds like you are probably an advanced beginner at most and couldn’t possibly know your discipline yet. You just have to go out and commit to some lessons and see what works for you.

The basics of seat feel and balance are all transferable between disciplines.

”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹Don’t buy a horse until you know what you want to do.

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Do you have a lot of different barns in each discipline to choose from? If you don’t, first find a barn you are comfortable with and do that discipline. If you have plenty of choice, try different ones out. You don’t need to choose right away.

I’m interested in cross-country, hunter-jumper (though I don’t know much about it), and I’ve done a bit of dressage, but I’m not sure how to figure out what I should pursue.

Competitive Trail might be your answer as it does encompass all of those disciplines. Also the scoring is separate for the rider and the horse each is judged individually. The sport, at least for us, was very helpful as the competition was more individually focused in improvement rather than outright racing to the finish line.

We rode North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC)


At this point, I suggest you get back into the basics of riding first, and then you can branch out from there when you have a bit more of a foundation. Start by researching the barns around you that have lesson programs (many don’t). Try lessons at a couple of different barns. See how you like the instruction and general feel of the barn. Meanwhile, go and watch different H/J, Eventing, dressage competitions. Obviously you won’t necessarily be able to tell for sure whether you would like doing the discipline from watching, but you can get a better feel for the culture of the discipline, and you can scout out potential trainers for the different disciplines.

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Get back into a lesson program, choose a hunter/jumper barn that works with beginners to jumping (even though you have riding experience). Flat work is pretty much basic for H/J and dressage just different saddle and stirrup lengths obviously, but you’ll be helping yourself get fit regardless. Stay with it so you can experience jumping and see if its what you like, if not then switch to dressage.

The questions are larger than just the subsection of the sport you pick. Are you going to compete? If so, what are your ambitions (what levels)? Price tags really vary between the sports depending on competitions.

How brave are you? Do you want to learn to ride your sport well, or do you want to develop a horse from beginning to end? Do you enjoy the lesson atmospheres, or do you want to work solo most of the time? Is riding a social activity? Do you have physical limitations?

dressage just different saddle and stirrup lengths obviously,

Not obvious. Not true.


At the beginner level the basics are similar. Once you go beyond thus, seat is quite different. Many hunter riders struggle to sit the dressage canter when they switch, and dressage riders tend not to develop a bold forward canter or get out of the tack.

Find the absolute best beginner/intermediate rider program you can within reasonable driving distance and start there. The best programs will have both good instructors and several solid school horses. It makes no difference which discipline. Once you have developed solid basic skills, like an independent seat and soft hands and the ability to reliably control your horse’s speed and direction, then you can think about specializing.

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Instead of worrying too much about which discipline, find a barn who fits your life/goals the best: Location, rates, scheduling, and most importantly, culture. You will probably like any of the disciplines if you like the people and horses involved.

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Choose a discipline, buy the horse, end up doing the discipline your horse prefers;)


Honestly, as a beginner, just pick the best lesson program you can find. The basic building blocks can be the same. If it’s a good program, they should have contacts to move you on to something more advanced, or different, if you realize, say, that you’ve been taking lessons at a hunter barn but really would prefer to focus on flatwork and want to find a dressage-specific program. Speaking generally, lesson programs are often more hunter-oriented, though there are some event barns (especially ones that have a pony club) that do have lesson horses/programs. I don’t know that I’ve really seen a dressage barn that has a real lesson program, usually that’s something people move into as they realize they want to focus on it, and lease a horse, or do private lessons.

You might also consider fox hunting, if you like the idea of trail riding and cross country and aren’t as interested in competing.

“dressage just different saddle and stirrup lengths obviously,”

Thank you Janet.

The dressage considered acceptable by the H/J, and eventing world just doesn’t make it the dressage world as I found to my cost.

Dressage is a careful study of a planned gymnastizing of the horse. Doing the “tricks” is just part of a slow progression involving a lot of human mental and physical concentration.


If you like a diverse discipline take a look at Working Equitation. It looks like a lot of fun but might be a bit of a “bite of the apple” for someone my age. But for a young whippersnapper it should work!!! :slight_smile:


Find a local lesson barn with safe school horses that fits your budget. Depending on how good your basics were, it will take at least 6 months if not a year of regular lessons to get your feel back. Then you’ll be in a position to try out lessons at different barns, in different disciplines, and make an educated choice.