6 English Riding Disciplines for Every Equestrian

Want to learn more about the different types of English riding?

I’ve got you covered with this easy guide!

English style horse riding has several niche areas, each with its own characteristics.

Below, I’ve answered your burning question in one place, so keep reading!

Quick Background About English Riding

As you now know, English-style riding is broken down into many different types. Each type has its own standards, characteristics, and goals.

Within each type, there are different disciplines, which we will cover a little later.

First, we’ll start with a little background information.

What is English Riding?

man riding a horse for dressage riding, one of the types of english riding

The most obvious indication of English riding is the type of saddle the rider uses.

English saddles are fairly flat, smaller, and attempt to allow the horse as much freedom of movement as possible.

But you will find different types of English saddles.

They are smaller, lighter, and provide less security than a western saddle. The saddle aims to provide the rider with good contact with the horse.

English riders use both hands, one on each rein, whereas western riders use one hand to hold the reins most of the time.

Both English and western use similar bits on a basic level but western bit types and English bits and their uses can differ quite a bit.

Another difference is that English riders wear paddock boots or tall boots while western equestrian boots are more styled like cowboy boots.

Origins of English Riding

English style riding comes from Europe and has hundreds of years of history. The first English-style saddle originated during the 1700s with the emerging popularity of foxhunting in England.

Riders needed a smaller saddle to give both the horse and rider more freedom of movement to navigate the countryside.

6 English Riding Disciplines

Equestrians take part in many different English riding activities.

These include those that like a quiet life of trail riding, local participation in fun or competitive events, and right up to the highest level of English riding competition in each discipline.

an equestrian riding a jumping horse for an eventing horse riding competition

Styles include jumping and flatwork, some disciplines include both. The majority of horses that are used are sport horses, such as the various warmblood breeds, American Quarter Horses,

Thoroughbreds, Morgans, and gaited breeds such as the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Equestrian disciplines fit into several categories, some you will have seen before, while others are smaller and might be new to you. Let’s take a look at the most common disciplines.

#1 Show Jumping

a horse jumping for showjumping event

Showjumping is probably the most famous type of English riding.

It is an Olympic sport and also holds several major competitions, including the European Championships, World Cup, and the World Equestrian Games.

Other disciplines that we will introduce next also take part in these events. Individual countries will also hold their own national championships. 

Showjumping tests the horse and rider’s ability to navigate a pre-set course of jumps (fences). They are given faults for fences that they knock down and penalized for not finishing in the time allowed.

There are two phases to a jumping class.

  1. First, the horse must complete the course without any faults or time penalties.
  2. If they succeed, they then proceed to the jump-off. The horse with the least faults and fastest time will win.

In almost all cases the winner will not only have the quickest time but zero faults.

Showjumping horses must be powerful, quick, intelligent, agile, and brave. There are different fence heights for horses and riders of different ages and abilities. At the elite level, horses jump 1.60 meters high.

#2 Eventing

close-up shot of a gray horse jumping over a log

Eventing, or Three Day Eventing is an equestrian activity that combines showjumping, cross country, and dressage.

These competitions take place over one or three days. During a three-day competition, riders will first complete a dressage test.

The second day is cross country where horse and rider navigate a long course over the countryside with natural jumps, such as logs, brush, and water.

The goal here is to avoid faults and come home in the best time.

The final day is show jumping. The winner is the horse and rider combination that finishes on the lowest score. This means that they received the fewest faults in each of the three areas.

Eventing horses must have talent in dressage, be very brave, have stamina, and like showjumpers have power, carefulness, and good minds.

#3 Dressage

lady riding a brown horse in a dressage event

Dressage has its origins in the military. The original movements had the purpose of teaching the horse to move quickly and efficiently in the heat of battle.

The earliest records of dressage type work come from the Greek commander, Xenophon in 430 BC.

In the 16th century, the Spanish Riding School was founded and bases its training on classical dressage. The school is still in operation today and is home to the legendary Lippizaner horses.

There is now jumping in dressage. Horses compete at different levels, with the highest called Grand Prix.

During a competition, the rider and horse pair complete a test, which involves performing a series of movements.

They are scored on how well each movement is executed. Dressage saddles have a longer, straighter flap than a jumping saddle.

They also have a deeper seat. Riders ride with longer stirrups than in other English riding disciplines. 

To reach the Grand Prix, a horse must possess the power, confirmation, and movement to successfully carry out the movements. It takes years of training for a horse to achieve this.

#4 American Hunter

a lady riding a chestnut horse

The American hunter is a discipline that is purely US and Canada-centric. You do not see these types of horses in other countries.

In this event, it is the horse that is judged. Horses compete over a set course of natural-style jumps.

They are judged on their jumping form, accuracy, rhythm, gait, style, and beauty. You will find a different style of hunter in Ireland and the UK. This is called a working hunter.

Both types of hunters take their inspiration from foxhunting, but in the UK horses look more like a foxhunting horse.

They tend to have more bone, are a bit heavier, and daisy cutter movement is not a desired characteristic. American Hunters are much more stylized.

The UK and Ireland also have show hunters, which compete in different weight classes and are judged only on the flat.

#5 Hunt Seat

close-up shot of a brown horse being ridden by a lady

Hunt Seat refers to the American English forward seat riding style. Another name for it is Equitation. In these classes, it is the rider’s style, position, and accuracy which is judged.

#6 Saddle Seat

an equestrian lady doing saddle seat riding

Saddle Seat is quite different from the disciplines we’ve covered so far.

In Saddle Seat the focus is on the gaits of the horse, which are high stepping and the elegance of the rider and horse presentation. The riders sit in a different position in a flat saddle. 

It is primarily an American event. You will see Saddlebreds as well as Tennessee Walkers, Arabians, and Morgans in saddle seat competitions.

FAQs

Is side saddle and English riding discipline?

Yes, side saddle is English and is where the rider, a lady sits in a special saddle with both legs on one side of the horse.

Is horseracing a type of English riding?

4 horses racing with their horsemen

Horseracing is a type of English riding and originated in England where the Thoroughbred was first developed.

What other types of English riding are there?

Other types of English riding include polo, endurance, English pleasure riding.

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed our guide to the disciplines you find in English riding. Do you have a favorite?

Is there a specific type that you would like to learn more about? We’d love to answer you, so let us know. If you want to take English horseback riding lessons, you will probably find a barn in your local area as it is quite popular.

References

  • “History of Dressage.” Equine World UK, equineworld.co.uk/equestrian-sports/dressage/history-of-dressage. Accessed 5 Aug. 2021.
  • Lucy. “The Different Disciplines of English Riding.” Sparkles Rainbows and Unicorns, www.sparklesrainbowsandunicorns.com/english-riding-disciplines/. Accessed 5 Aug. 2021.
  • “Types of English Horseback Riding.” Pets on Mom.com, animals.mom.com/types-english-horseback-riding-4490.html.
an equestrian competing for showjumping, one of the types of english riding

What types of English riding have you tried? Please share your experience with us!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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