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The Different Types of Horseback Riding Styles—Explained

It is estimated that around seven million Americans go horse riding each year. Around 870,000 horses are involved in races or take part in events. But when it comes to riding, do you know the many different styles available?

From showing skills to highlighting the physical characteristics of a horse, there are riding styles for everyone. Read on as we highlight the horseback riding styles that you need to know.


Dressage is one of the most skillful types of horseback riding styles. Performed in large competitions, it is even an Olympic event.

During the contest, the horse and rider must perform a series of movements from memory. These focus on the horse’s athletic ability. It also showcases their calmness and the attention given to the rider, for which they are graded out of ten.

It can take place in two types of arenas: large and small. Large arenas are used for both dressage and eventing, with the smaller ones only used for dressage.

Certain breeds of horses are also preferred for this type of riding. The Lipizzan from Vienna, Austria as well as Andalusians from Spain are famous dressage breeds.

Horseback riding style: Dressage

Western Pleasure

This type of riding is one of the western styles of horseback riding events. The competitions look at the horse’s ability to provide pleasurable riding through walking, jogging, loping, and walking backward.

Before a show, competitors will bathe the horse to make it look appealing. It will then have its ears and muzzle clipped. Tails remain long and flowing though they may get groomed as well.

In the arena, three gaits are performed going forward one way and then in the opposite direction. Horses also have to back up. Riders are then ranked from first to last place.

Horses walk around an arena slowly with other competitors and get awarded points. As the horse should look like it is a pleasure to ride, light horse breeds are preferred, though any horse can enter. American Paints and Appaloosas are commonly associated with this style of riding.


Eventing is a large showcase of different horseback riding styles made of smaller rounds of dressage, cross country, and show jumping. Many competitions are known as three-day eventing, with each day showcasing a different discipline. It has its roots in a cavalry test that would allow others to view the skill of a rider and horse.

The rules for eventing are quite strict. If any horse refuses to jump an obstacle, points get added and increase if it refuses an object again. A few years ago, the rules changed so that if a rider or horse falls anywhere on the course, it is an instant elimination.

Horses need to have a lot of stamina and mental ability for these events. The Hanoverian breed is particularly popular.

Show Jumping

Show Jumping is another English-style horseback riding skill. It comes from country hunts, when horses would have to travel across large fields, jumping fences and obstacles as they went. Now, it takes place in an arena and is often referred to as stadium jumping.

Points get awarded for how high the horse jumps over the fences in the ring. A time limit is set, and any mistakes will result in deducted points. Mistakes could include hitting fences or failing any jumps.

Fences and obstacles are extremely varied. There are high verticals, spreads, and double or triple combinations. Quick changes of direction are always factored into the course design, testing the mobility of the horse.

When the time limit is up, the quickest rider and horse after penalties are the winners. Horses need strong legs and tall statures. The American Quarter horse and warmblood breeds like draught horses are good for this style.

horseback riding style: show jumping


Reining is often known as the western-style horseback riding version of dressage. The two are extremely similar, using skills and horse types that are almost identical. However, reining has more activities that the horse must accomplish in an event.

The horse must do loops, circles, and spins. These are taken at a lope or gallop. A successful horse will respond to commands smoothly and gracefully, not resisting commands or faltering in movements.

An extremely precise form of riding, the American Quarter is another favored breed. Appaloosas and Paints are also popular.


Cutting is a subset of events that can be found at a rodeo. It has its roots in the practical application of being able to single out a cow and direct it to a designated place. While it is a test of how wise and experienced the horse is, the rider must also be able to respond with great skill.

When not in a competition, cutting is done to brand the animals or check them for veterinary purposes. Cross horses and quarter horses are great for this as they are very intelligent and wise. A strong, firm body is also desirable.


Endurance is a test of stamina for both the horse and the rider. It involves riding over long distances, typically between 25 to 500 miles. Both stay safe with regular checks every 25 miles.

The event began as a way to test cavalry mounts and their suitability for warfare. Each horse had to carry a weight of at least 200 pounds. They would then have to trek over 300 miles in a five-day event.

It became a sport in the 1950s and is now practiced across the world. However, weights and distances vary from place to place. Arabian breeds are desired for these events as they have great stamina in a range of conditions.

Trying Horseback Riding Styles

Now you know the horseback riding styles; you just need to try them out. Start with horseback riding lessons for beginners, and then when you are confident, move up. You may find yourself taking part in one of these exciting events!

If you are looking to do horseback riding in Arkansas or Little Rock, then visit the Pine Hill Ranch. We provide a world-class equestrian experience for beginners or experts. Click here to book your first lesson, and let us get you on horseback.


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PHR Director

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