Rodeos, barrel racing, show jumping? What do you choose? How do you choose? Well, you have come to the right place, because we will be breaking down the differences between the two main parent disciplines, Western and English, and how you can afford them competitively thanks to equestrian scholarships.
Western riding—the world of the glorious American cowboys found in movies about the Wild West. Well, coming back to the real world, an obvious difference between Western and English is the tack, the saddle being by far the most noticeable variation (as it is heavier and also has a horn). Although the saddle is heavy, it is quite comfortable and secure, which is why it is also commonly used in trail riding ranches for novices who want to experience riding the horse with minimum experience. However, Western riding can also get quite advanced.
Among some of the disciplines is roping. Roping is an event during which the rider tries to lasso a calf’s neck from the horse’s back. The event is timed, and the fastest rider wins. There is also reining, which is known as the Western form of dressage (more on that term later). The cowboy (or cowgirl) rides through patterns that include challenging tasks, such as turns, spins, and stops. In ranch riding, the horse is judged on its ability to work at a forward, working speed while performing required and optional maneuvers. The ranch riding horse should simulate a horse riding outside the confines of an arena and reflect the versatility, attitude, and movement of a working horse.
Western styles also include barrel racing, an event during which riders go around barrels in a clover pattern as quickly as possible. For those looking for something a bit more 'quiet,’ there is the discipline of Western pleasure, where the goal is to make the horse look as easy and light as possible to ride. Arkansas is the place to go if you want to see some of the Western disciplines in action. A classic style in the state, it is home to several events, such as Rodeo of the Ozarks and even Western Round-Up Dance, with live music and dancing.
Aside from the obvious difference from Western riding (seen in a closer contact saddle), English riding contains a discipline that is considered to be the mother of many riding styles: dressage. Equated to ballet on horseback, the test in dressage is to see if the combination can find harmony with each other. In this discipline, horses perform basic movements, such as transitions, and more advanced movements that require a high degree of collection (the transfer of the center of gravity to the hind legs underneath the horse), such as the piaffe. It is scored based on the way the horse performs the movement.
English riding also includes a discipline that is considered arguably the most popular (especially at the top level): show jumping. The goal of show jumping is to be fast and careful. If a rider knocks a fence, has a refusal, or even goes too slow (stays on course for longer than the time allowed), then he/she incurs penalties. The winner is the rider who stays clear while being quick. For those who are real adrenaline junkies and love the challenge of being good at more than one thing, eventing is the way to go. Eventing combines dressage, show jumping, and cross country. Cross country is considered one of the most dangerous sports as horses have to clear solid obstacles.
In addition, both horse and rider should have good endurance in order to clear the course without any physical damage to themselves. English riding also has a wide variety of other disciplines, such as hunting and equitation. Finding what fits you best is just a matter of trial and error.
English and Western Discipline
So, which should you choose? The reality is that it comes down to preference, and it does not hurt to try both. You may prefer Western because of the additional security that the saddle gives, or you might find yourself loving the balancing challenge in the English saddle. Ultimately, it is great to master both as the best equestrians are often well-rounded. In Western riding, you generally ride with a long loose rein, while in the English riding style you seek out contact with your horse through the reins. The Western horses are trained to rely less on rein pressure and more on weight and leg aids. Essentially, their head is allowed to stay free from the rider’s hands.
In the English style, you ride from your seat and legs into the hands, which is why rider balance is so important. The rider must have soft and sympathetic hands in order to allow the horse to soften in the jaw and relax the body. However, this can only happen if the rider is using the forward driving aids (leg and seat) correctly and has a nice contact with the mouth. It can take years to establish this feeling, but the end result is satisfying and stylish.
Although both riding styles can be light, the best Western riders are often soft with the mouth. It is easy for English riders to become strong and hence more harsh because of the addition of contact running from the hind end of the horse into the hands. Western riders, on the other hand, may become a little bit more sloppy with balance, especially with the extra support from the saddle. However, all of this can be prevented (or corrected) with proper, consistent training.
You know the difference between Western and English and have chosen the riding discipline that fits you most, but now what? Well, you go and peek in a riding school and the first thing you notice is the prices. How can anyone afford this sport? It’s a struggle many equestrians face, which is why we compiled a list of grants and scholarships that no rider can miss.
Equestrian Grants & Scholarships Every Western & English Rider Should Know
As the sport grows, so do the opportunities. Below is a list of some available scholarships in the world of Western Riding:
- The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) scholarship ( from $500 to $75,000)
- The Appaloosa Youth Foundation scholarship
- Mike Lozano scholarship ($2,500 )
- The Washington Thoroughbred Foundation Scholarship
- The ARA Memorial Scholarship (for locals in Arkansas)
There are also heaps of opportunities for English riders. The Blenheim Equisport Emerging Grant gives nearly $40,000 to riders and trainers who are just starting out.
The Emerson Burr Horsemanship grant is aimed toward young riders (including pony riders) and aims to encourage good horsemanship.
The Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund/USHJA Emerging Athletes Program allows young riders to pursue their riding and horsemanship skills further. The goal is to help equestrians advance through regional and national sessions, eventually seeking success in high-level competition across America, such as the USEF Prix de States.
For riders wanting to compete but lacking funds, there is also the Michael Nyuis Scholarship, which helps four riders (aged 14–25) every year. For more scholarships and more information about the above, please click here.
Colleges with Equestrian Scholarships for English and Western Disciplines:
Riding competitively in the Western or English disciplines also opens other opportunities for recruitment to an equestrian team. NCAA equestrian teams can be found in several schools all across America (a list of some of these schools can be found here). There are around 15 scholarships awarded by NCAA for each school with a Division 1 and Division 2 equestrian team. Schools with Division 3 teams are highly selective and award riders with high academic performance and great achievements in the sport.
Division 1 NCAA Equestrian Programs:
- Auburn University
- Baylor University
- Brown University
- California State University
- College of Charleston
- Cornell University
- Delaware State University
- University of Georgia
- Kansas State University
- New Mexico State University
- Oklahoma State University
- Sacred Heart University
- University of South Carolina
- South Dakota State University
- Southern Methodist University
- Stephen F. Austin University
- Texas Christian University
- University of Tennessee
- Texas A&M University
Division 2 NCAA Equestrian Programs:
- University of Arkansas
- University of Minnesota
- Pace University in New York
- Stonehill College in Massachusetts
- West Texas A&M
The choices are unlimited in the equine sport, but the only way to know is to start. The right way to go is to an experienced equestrian center with past successes. The Pine Hill Ranch started as a dream, then turned into a vision, and only after years of work became a reality (much like the dream of riding for a little child).
To this day, our greatest success has been an American Saddlebred named Red Hot Mamma (or “Girlfriend”), who has won six World Championships in the Working Western Pleasure division of the American Saddlebred Association. Located in Little Rock, Arkansas, The Pine Hill Ranch team focuses on combining luxury with pleasure and success starting from all levels and disciplines.