The first time I rode a horse was at a local zoo when I was about three years old. This memorable first ride was just on the back of a small pony being led around a ring at a pace so slow I am sure I could have saddled the pony to my back for a faster ride.
But it was the most thrilling event to occur in my young life and it started a love for horseback riding which has yet to diminish.
Most everyone has ridden a horse at some point in their life, whether it was a trail ride while on vacation or being led on a pony around a small arena. The feeling of riding the back of a beast whose heart still beats wildly ignites our thirst for danger while at the same time relying on our sense of trust. If it did not, show jumping, barrel racing, dressage or rodeos would not be the crowd pleasers they currently are.
Those who consider themselves horseback riding enthusiasts tend to pick one discipline over the other based on the events most suited to them. Many differences exist between English and Western disciplines, but they provide the same ends: the bond between human and horse. While a healthy rivalry exists between the two, each side believing their method of horseback riding is the preferred method, both schools have a lot to offer.
English and Western horseback riding styles have debated about such technicalities as the most suitable type of horse or events they host: reining, cutting or roping in Western and dressage, jumping and flat equitation for English. However, I believe the biggest difference is also the simplest: the saddle.
Western saddles are probably the more recognizable of the two thanks to just about every Hollywood movie involving a horse. Western saddles are the larger of the two because they are made for comfort to be able to be ridden all day out on the range. It also has the horn on the front, which is not, in fact, for novices to hold onto to keep from falling off; rather it is used by a cowboy to wrap the end of his rope around when roping cattle.
The horn is non-existent on the English saddle because being punched in the stomach by it when jumping your horse would tend to take away some of English riding’s graceful allure. The English horseback riding saddle is small and has built-in padding. It is a very simple saddle with little material to allow for maximum communication through the body from rider to horse.
Western horseback riding events have evolved from typical cowboy events. The name Western comes from a time when pioneers and cowboys were developing the western territory of North American. A cutting horse is desired in the sporting world as much as in the ranching world. Once used solely to keep up with stay sheep or cattle, displaying the same techniques in the arena is a viewer-friendly feat. Barrel racing is another exciting event where a horse and rider run from one barrel to another at opposite ends of an arena, swerving around the barrel so fast and low the rider’s foot can touch the ground as the horse is almost horizontal.
English derives its name from the long love affair Great Britain has had with equestrian events. English events are popular and have a rich history; these events have been part of the Olympics since the early 1900s. While Western horesback riding prides itself on speed, English riding is defined by accuracy. Equitation is an event when the rider is judged. Things such as inconspicuous leg commands and proper diagonals are taken into consideration. Hunt class is the event when the horse is judged. Being on the right lead, alertness and general good behavior are desired.
While both disciplines have their fans, enthusiasts appreciate both. If you are just starting to ride and do not know which you will prefer, check out a few different stables and take an introductory class from both schools.
Do not get scared if you fall off. They say you are not a real rider until you have fallen off at least three times. Plus, with Madonna recently falling off and breaking a couple of ribs, it could be the new vogue thing.