Different Horse Riding Styles

Horseback riding could simply be the activity of riding a horse but in the world of sport, there is more to horseback riding than just sitting on a horse and getting it to move to wherever you want it to go.

In this article, we are going to talk about the different types of horse riding styles.

Different Horse Riding Styles

1. Saddle Seat

The saddle seat is one of the most popular horseback riding styles. It is within the category of English riding designed to show off horses with a high-stepping trot. Though the style can be seen in Canada and South Africa, it was developed into its modern form in the United States.

In this style, the saddle sits further back on the horse allowing for a behind-the-motion effect. This translates to a higher action in the front while gaiting. To achieve this, the saddle features a flat seat with very little padding.

The Saddle Seat World Cup is an international competition and the highest level of competition for saddle seat riders. The competition is held biannually and it is competed in by the national saddle seat teams from qualifying countries around the world.

Other notable national saddle seat competitions include the NHS Good Hands Finals, the USEF Medal Finals, and the UPHA Challenge Cup Finals.

Type Of horse

For this horseback riding style, the riders preferably go for American action horse breeds. It could be either the showy Morgan Horse or the high-stepping American Saddlebred.

Horses with a high upright neck and high action gaits are usually the best options for this horseback riding style. Apart from the American Saddlebred and the Morgan Horse, other breeds like the National Show Horse, the Tennesse Walking Horse, the Spotted Saddle Horse, and the Arabian are considered.

Horse Grooming

Horse grooming is very important as it shows and emphasizes the elegance and grace of the horse. There are variations in grooming styles between breeds which helps spectators or newcomers to tell which breed is been shown. Most grooming techniques focus on the tail, the mane, the forelock, the legs and the head of the head

Rider’s Clothing

Riders’ clothing is usually men’s business suits or tuxedo with variations in styling to improve the rider’s appearance. The clothing for men and women are just about the same, though the choices in colour and styles may vary.

The United States Equestrian Federation requests only conservative colours to be worn, this includes colours of black, brown, navy blue, grey or dark green though some classes would accept a day coat.

In all classes, riders wear jodhpurs which provide support and flexibility when the rider is on horseback. For head protection, the rider could opt to wear a helmet or go for something fashionable like a derby hat.

2. Dressage

Dressage is a highly skilled form of horse riding where the rider and the horse are expected to perform a set of predetermined movements from memory.

Some riders engage in this form of riding solely for the sake of mastery while others do so in competitions and exhibitions. In a dressage test, the horse and rider are judged based on how well they can perform the movements and they are awarded scores based on a scale of 0 – 10: 10 means excellent, 5 means sufficient and 0 means the movement was not executed.

Like all other competitions, the degree of difficulty of the test increases per level. Most riders and horses are able to perfectly execute the Training (beginner) level, however, things get pretty tough at the Fourth level, USA National level or the FEI (Federal Equestrian International) levels.

There are six steps on the training scale and they are listed according to the degree of difficulty; with the easiest step coming first.

  1. Rhythm: This is the first level of the training scale or pyramid. It involves rhythm and regularity which refer to the sequence of the footfalls and the levelness and evenness of the stride.
  2. Relaxation: Looseness can be achieved in many ways. Some signs include a relaxed blowing through the nose, ease in positioning from side to side, a soft chewing of the bit, and looseness at the poll.
  3. Contact: This is a result of the horse’s pushing power and it is the third level of the pyramid.
  4. Impulsion: Impulsion is the thrust of the horse. It is created by the forward reaching of the hinds legs under the body (or storing the energy of engagement).
  5. Straightness: This is achieved when the hind legs of the horse follow the path of the front legs on both straight lines.
  6. Collection: This refers to the collected gaits. For the horse to achieve collection, it must have greater muscle strength. A collected horse is better balanced and would move about more freely.

To achieve a perfect score in dressage, the horse must be able to receive signals from the rider and perform accordingly even while moving. For this reason, not all horses are considered suitable for dressage.

For a horse to be suitable, it must have 3 free, regular gaits. The rider must also be exceptional and bond with the horse during a long training process to enhance both their performance. The rider must also learn to balance properly in the saddle and use their aids; weight, hands, and legs to assist their horse in achieving the perfect movement.

Rider’s Clothing

In Dressage, the riders and horses are dressed for formality. The rider may wear white or cream breeches, with white gloves and tall dress boots. Less-experience riders and upper-level classes usually have a different dress code, however, it does not deviate far from the standard dress code.



3. Hunt Seat

Hunt Seat is one of the two classic forms of English riding – the other is dressage. Hunt seat horseback riding is believed to have originated from fox hunting. It is also used to describe any form of forward-seat riding.

In hunt seat competitions, the rider can show over fences or on the flat. In both cases, the judges award scores based on the horse’s form and movement. In equitation classes, the judges focus more on the rider’s ability both over the fences and on flats.

Rider’s position

In hunt seat horseback riding, the hunt seat rider usually has a very secure position. Depending on the height of fences and the type of course, the rider would employ a “two-point” position while showing over fences. The secure position usually keeps the rider balanced though the rider would have to support their body using leg and stirrup, closing the hip angle, keeping the heels down while keeping the head and shoulders up.


Hunt seat competitions are divided into three horse show categories; hunters, jumpers, and equitation. Show hunters are judged on way of going, manners, confirmation, and the presentation of the rider and the horse. Showjumpers are judged by how fast a horse can complete a course of jumps with the least faults. Equitation riders are judged based on the look and form of the rider, and the overall appearance and the smoothness of the rider and horse as a team.

Each of these competitions has its own set of courses that vary in technicality. There are also differences in the obstacles using in each category and the way scores are awarded.

Types of Horse

Unlike other types of riding, horses used in hunt seat may be of any breed as long as they have a long stride with very little knee action, good manners, and a good jumping form (bascule). Most riders consider breeds like thoroughbred and warmblood.

Rider’s Clothing

The hunt seat rider is usually dressed in beige, grey or tan breeches, a white pastel shirt, and a navy, black hunt coat.


Types Of Horse Riding Competitions

There are numerous horseback riding competitions but you will find just about the most popular ones in our list including some you’ve probably heard about.


This is one of the most popular horsing riding competitions. In the racing platform, there are different events with the most popular being barrel racing, harness racing, saddle racing, and wagon racing.

In most horse racing competition, the aim is the same – to get the horse to run faster than any other horse in the competition. Some other horse racing competitions have different rules. In barrel racing, for example, the horse is required to turn around several barrels in a triangle without touching any barrel.

Show Jumping

Showjumping is a very popular equestrian contest in which horses must jump over obstacles while running at top speed. The obstacles are usually fences made of horizontal, wooden beams that come with different height and sizes.


Polo is another popular sport played on horseback. In this sport, the riders divide into two teams and are required to drive a small ball to the goal of the other team while riding on horseback.


In eventing, a rider and a horse combine and compete against other competitions across the three disciplines of cross-country, dressage, and show jumping. Eventing is a more demanding sport and it comes with several levels; from Beginner to Advanced. Each level has a certain height which the horse will have to jump before progressing to the next level.

Other Horseback Riding Competition

There are numerous horseback riding competitions that are well-recognized, but here are a few.

  • Western dressage
  • Western pleasure
  • Western riding (horse show)
  • Barrel Racing
  • Flat racing
  • Harness racing
  • Point-to-point
  • Horse show
  • Icelandic equitation
  • Jineteada Gaucha
  • Mounted orienteering or TREC
  • Pleasure riding


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