Whether you’ve been honing your skills in a particular riding style for years or you’ve recently taken up riding, it’s crucial to understand the best horse types for each riding discipline. A good match can transform your experience and advance you to new levels.
Not every horse performs the same. Some horses have exceptional longevity for endurance riding, while others can reach great heights for show jumping. The size, breeding, temperament and training can all contribute to how they function during the ins and outs of your preferred riding style.
If you are wondering, “What type of horse do I need?” the following guide will help you review the array of riding disciplines and inform you about the most fitting horses for common riding styles.
Table of Contents
- The Primary Factors: English and Western Riding Styles
- Types of Western Riding Styles and Suitable Horse Breeds
- Types of English Riding Styles and Suitable Horse Breeds
The Primary Factors: English and Western Riding Styles
Popular riding styles like barrel racing or dressage fall under two main disciplines: Western and English. The general origins, saddle design, direction and positioning separate these forms, but they also split off into additional subsections.
The equipment and interaction between the rider and horse is a major distinction. In English style, riders use a slight, flat saddle that offers them tighter proximity to the horse. It also gives direct guidance from a mouth rein, so the horse responds to the redirection of its face. Western style, on the other hand, provides a substantial, deep surface that spreads over the horse, and a neck rein nudges the horse along the right route.
Both types of riding styles have rich histories that influenced these layouts. English riding started in Europe but wasn’t restricted to Britain, and it had ties to the military, creating the proper form we now know. Western riding and tack stemmed from cattle-related purposes in America, and the ranching background still shines through today.
However, English and Western riding subgroups branch out into a wide variety of applications that require unique horse breeds. For instance, intelligent breeds that rapidly pick up instruction are ideal for Western riding, which demands tremendous perception.
Let’s dive into these styles and the go-to horses for them.
Types of Western Riding Styles and Suitable Horse Breeds
While the Western-style did start out for day-to-day work on ranches, Western riding has evolved into a group of competitive exercises. They all show athleticism, diligence and a connection between horse and rider. Most of these eight riding types are easiest for cow-herding horses, and with the wider saddle and neck reins, they require bright and agile breeds.
1. Western Pleasure
This competition category displays horses that are agreeable to ride through measured movements. The rider executes a steady gait for the judges with a variety of precise beats and corresponding paces. The horse remains alert with an upright head, and its easygoing disposition accompanies a flowing and uninterrupted cadence.
A proper breed for Western pleasure is tall with a stable frame. With leaner shoulders and hips, it needs to hold steep angles to execute slow, deliberate motions. A level neck and an effortless stride create a successful Western pleasure horse.
Quarter Horses that are hand-picked for durable lower forelimbs are worthy Western pleasure candidates, especially if they’re trained from youth. Due to their smooth gait and calm demeanor, they’re frequently selected for Western pleasure.
Tennessee Walking Horses are also graceful participants and their comfortable gait fairs well in Western pleasure competitions.
Comparable to English dressage, Western reining is a swift series of guided activities. The reining patterns range from circles, stops, spins, roll-backs and flying lead changes, and they demonstrate a horse’s refined agility.
The sharp transitions in reining take skillful maneuvering, so the horses have to be sensitive to cues at a moment’s notice. Horses that work with cattle typically have the dexterity to complete these exact tasks.
While reining is based primarily on athleticism rather than breed, two prominent reining horses are Paints and Appaloosas. Paints have broad chests and strong centers of gravity that keeps them firm through the shifting stages of reining. Similarly, Appaloosas are highly coordinated and powerful, which allows them to carry out precise exercises.
Cutting is a herding activity where the horse and rider block off cows, abiding by certain techniques. During cutting, the handler and horse isolate a cow and continue to separate it from the herd despite its attempts to rejoin the group. The handler also has to let the horse lead the cutting for a period of time, practicing its own preventative instincts.
Steering a frightened cow is challenging, so the horse must have advanced intuition to face off with the cow. Anticipation and flexibility are two natural qualities your horse should have to effectively cut.
Working cow horses often include Morgan Horses and Quarter Horses. Morgan Horses are versatile, but their speed and compact body help them counter the motion of cows in cutting. The balance and attentiveness of Quarter Horses establish them as an assertive horse for this competition.
4. Trail Riding
With arranged trail barriers on a natural course, the handler and horse travel and strategically navigate. Trail riding can involve gates, changes in terrain and logs, and it isn’t timed like endurance racing. The way the riders complete the challenging obstacles is scored, along with the horse’s adaptability and poise.
Horses need stamina and athletic prowess to make it through the distance and stops. The best horses for trail riding can tolerate long stretches of riding and nimbly accomplish obstacles.
Arabians are proficient at traversing a course because of their muscular legs. Trail riding can wear on even the most resilient horses, so thorough hoof health is an important consideration. Fortunately, Arabians’ sure-footedness can conquer the hazards of trail riding. Their elegance is also beneficial in coming off as a capable trail contestant.
Missouri Fox Trotters also maintain their energy in trail riding. Their sloped shoulders and sturdy back help them carry the weight of a rider through the obstacles, too.
5. Team Penning
As a group competition, team penning requires three handlers to guide three cattle into a pen. The pen is usually on the other side of the competition area, and the riders have to coordinate with one another to draw the cows away from the herd. The three cows have to be labeled the announced number, which makes it complex.
Because this combines cutting, penning and teamwork, this style requires a resourceful horse, and the same breeds for cutting fulfill the needs for team penning, too. Quarter Horses have diverse abilities, and their stature helps them put up a barrier for the cows. Morgan Horses, once again, are smart and expressive, which develops a forceful influence over the cows.
6. Barrel Racing
To barrel race, a horse and handler swing around three barrels in a triangle layout. They loop each barrel in a cloverleaf design before exiting the arena. Scoring is dependent on the overall time, but the turns and control play substantial roles, too.
Horses have to have powerful haunches to build up speed, and their balance and footing around turns need a quick reaction. When a Quarter Horse has an even build, they can distribute their full power short-distance racing.
Endurance horse riding competitions stretch more than 50 miles on average, and these long distances have vet checks at marked intervals to evaluate the shape of the horse.
Physically demanding performances over great distances can tire out horses. However, many horses are equipped to persevere through these intense races. If a horse is high-spirited, it has the vigor to overcome tough terrain and hours of riding.
The horse type with the longest-lasting vitality is the Arabian. Arabians are dominant in endurance racing because of their history of survival and fortified structure. Their pronounced hips, laidback shoulders and muscled haunches let them release spurts of energy along the route.
This is a collection of speed games that normally apply to youth. Gymkhana is also referred to as mounted games, and riders participate in things like flag races, barrel racing, keg races, pole bending and keyhole races.
In fast-paced games on horseback, the type of horse you decide on needs to support you. They should also be able to climb to brisk speeds and be aware of the rider’s guidance.
To accommodate younger riders, you should choose a horse that’s experienced but good-natured. Ponies can serve as adequate mounts for children, but appaloosas are also an acceptable choice for Gymkhana. Their independence and trustworthiness set them up for the hubbub of the events.
Types of English Riding Styles and Suitable Horse Breeds
Unlike Western style, English riding styles are more structured and add further pomp to events. Jumping techniques and high stepping styles are two instrumental parts of English riding, but the numerous types switch up the arenas, obstacles and expectations. Here are seven types of English riding styles.
Dressage is a classical discipline where riders usher their horse through a rhythmic routine. The tests in the sequence can cover multiple gaits, piaffe, passage and pirouettes. Riders and horses are graded on their harmony, impulsion and composure.
As an almost choreographed dance, dressage cultivates restraint and willingness. Horses have to closely obey their rider and demonstrate finesse, and this artistic practice prioritizes visual excellence.
Hanoverians and Andalusians are beautiful breeds that conduct themselves well during dressage. Hanoverians are noble and trainable — plus, their gaits are light and far-reaching when necessary. Andalusians are also sophisticated animals that create a spectacle, and their cadence has the perfect amount of lift for dressage moves.
2. Show Jumping
For show jumping, the horse and rider must leap over a succession of fences in a ring formation. As a timed task, the jumps should be consecutive, and the recovery of horse and rider in between should be immediate.
Appaloosas achieve impressive jumps for show jumping. Their legs are narrow but mighty, which lets them push off for a leap. Those with long but considerable backs can create an appealing arch as they jump, too. Thoroughbreds are also magnificent jumpers, and their extensive leg length is one advantage that propels them over fences.
As a three-tiered event, eventing hosts dressage, cross-country and show jumping segments. Cross country, the only part not yet addressed, involves a course of lower and higher fences, as well as obstacles.
Multi-talented horses are useful for eventing, and it’s even more profitable if they have high stamina. The jumping exercises take high degrees of strength combined with continual smoothness, and Hanoverians boast an assortment of skills that are optimal in eventing. They’re masters of dressage steps and hurdling fences.
This mounted team sport is played on horseback, and the teams hit a ball with a wooden mallet into goals while staying in the saddle. Horses in the game, or “polo ponies,” carry their riders close to the ball and finagle their way around other horses.
Polo ponies tend to be Thoroughbreds because they can learn competitiveness. They intrinsically have the ease and endurance to complete the games, too.
5. Saddle Seat
Saddle seat competitions highlight the high-stepping abilities of horses. It’s a dramatic exhibition aimed to catch the judges’ eyes, reflecting some shared principles with dressage.
Morgan Horses and American Saddlebreds are both viable options for saddle seat riding. Morgan Horses characteristically have a proud neck and distinguished gait, which gives them the flair they need in saddle seat.
Alternatively, American Saddlebreds offer a regal stature, as their back gently dips. Their steps are exaggerated, which clearly conveys their gait in saddle seat competitions.
6. English Pleasure
While Western pleasure has horses lope and jog, English pleasure requires more showmanship in the gait, which is why it consists of trotting and cantering. Judges look for more animated motions in English pleasure.
Arabian can bring style to English pleasure, and they are capable of a high-scoring strut. Their manners are amiable, so they can easily pick up a winning attitude.
Hunting or hunt seating riding features a forward saddle and riding position, and there’s separate scoring for the horse and rider during flat and jumping tests. Also, the obstacles take on a neutral tone that simulates the outdoors.
Horses that notice the subtle fences and function smoothly in careful gait tests are preferable. Thoroughbreds are sharp, and they can produce high jumps and precise steps. Considerate preparation for natural events can lead a Thoroughbred to proficient hunting riding.
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