When it comes to equestrian events, most casual observers can tell that there is a large difference between English and Western shows. While the riding techniques themselves are actually quite similar, the jumping tack is vastly different. This is mainly because the traditional use of horses has been so different on opposite sides of the world. Western riding has its beginnings in the cowboy lifestyle of the wild west, while English dressage comes from the hunting and sport of old aristocrats. Of course, the resulting styling will reflect that vast spread.
Because Western terrain was rough, the jumping tack is also much more heavy duty. A Western saddle is quite substantial, as cowboys needed to be able to sit for long periods of time, travel at high speeds and still remain secure atop his mount. The noticeably larger tree and pommel accommodate roping in the Western discipline. The horse’s bit is also made to accommodate more slack on the reins and often includes flashy embellishments for show.
Western riders wear a long chap to protect their legs from brush and that is still seen in modern showmanship. There is also a big difference in the uniform of the rider himself. In Western competitions, the rider’s apparel is designed to draw attention and add to the showmanship of the event. It is much flashier than what you will see in an English horse show.
In English competition, it’s all about clean lines and control. Both the horse and the rider offer a toned down picture of professionalism and mastery. The jumping tack in English riding is composed of a flat saddle that lacks the extra features seen in Western saddles. There are also significant differences in the bridle. The reins are shorter as English riders always use both their hands to guide and control their mount. You will also notice the distinctive nose band seen on the horses in English competitions. The rider’s clothing is also more streamlined. The basic uniform features tight fitting breaches, high boots, a neat shirt with tie, a sharp jacket and, of course, a cap or riding helmet. In English riding, the emphasis in removed from the riding accessories and placed on the skill of the horse and rider.
Whatever the preferred style, there is much to appreciate about horsemanship in general. Learning to control an animal with that much power and ability automatically teaches a rider discipline. To the casual observer, it can be interesting to understand the differences in style and jumping tack. Knowing each piece and what its use is can increase your enjoyment of the show, whether it’s the Western or English discipline. Make sure you have quality horse trailers when taking your horse to all of their shows.