wikiHow to Choose a Riding Style or Equestrian Discipline

Three Parts:Before Your First LessonThe DisciplinesHow To Choose

There are many riding disciplines to choose from, including the well known arts of Dressage, Show Jumping, Cross-Country, Eventing, Rodeo and Barrel Racing to the less well known Hacking, Trail Riding, Hunter and Western Riding. Many riders often try a variety of them, others excel at one or two. It also comes down to availability of teaching and training facilities level or capability of both you and your horse. Read on to learn about the different styles and disciplines and how to choose the best one for you.

Part 1
Before Your First Lesson

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    Make sure you have access to a horse, pony, or mule. This way you can decide what your horses attributes are and what it's downfalls are. If you ride school horses or loan a horse, it is probably already trained for a particular style or discipline, and many riding schools only teach certain disciplines such as Dressage, Show Jumping and Western. In other cases riding schools have many horses that can be ridden in different styles, such as Show Jumping and Western etc.
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    Select an event or style of riding that you like, or you think you might like. It doesn't hurt to experiment with a discipline. This is what helps you decide if you're going to be the next Olympic Show Jumper or you simply prefer a laid back Trail Ride. There are a lot of styles and below are the general disciplines and styles with brief explanations about each. For information about any of the following or other disciplines or events, you should seek advice from a local riding school in your area as riding disciplines vary from area to area.

Part 2
The Disciplines

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    Learn about dressage. Remember dressage is a French term meaning Training, this discipline is the basis for many, if not all of the other styles and disciplines. Simply doing a 20 meter (65.6 ft) circle in your back yard is dressage, you are performing a set task within the 20 meters (65.6 ft). Dressage can be done for fun at many riding schools, and as you improve the tests increase in difficulty as do the required moves.
    • Dressage starts at Introductory then moves to Training Level, First Level, Second Level, Third Level, Fourth Level and then on to FEI. The tests begin with walk, trot, halt and simple shapes (like 20m circles), and on the 1st-4th levels you will add in extensions, medium gates, flying changes, lateral work, and the beginning of pirouettes. All horses are capable of the lower levels, as they just require basic walk, trot, canter and larger circles.
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    • Try some show jumping. This discipline is exactly what is says, you ride a set course of show jumps at a particular height, gradually progressing higher as you get better and more advanced. The course usually consists of changes of direction, and can have as many or as few jumps as can fit in the space available. The rounds are timed, with the best time winning. You get time faults for rails knocked down.
    • The jumps vary in difficulty, from small cross poles to oxers and spreads through to Jokers and Parallel Fences. Different countries call the jumps different names but all the fences are the same. This discipline is not for the faint hearted and is a lot of fun.
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    Try Cross-Country riding. Have you ever dreamed of galloping over a huge field jumping effortlessly over logs and cantering though streams and down ditches. Well, don't dream anymore! This event is very similar to Show jumping, though it is a little less restricted to a small area. The jumps are wider spaced and made to not fall down.
    • Cross-Country jumps are set further apart and this means a better memory of the order. The jumps are numbered and as the course progresses the fences change from easier logs to water jumps, and ditches. Many times you can finish a course and want to do it all over again, though while riding your heart is in your throat and many times you don't realize that you're not breathing.
    • This is an exhilarating discipline and your horse must be very fit.
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    Try Eventing. This discipline is a combination of the above three disciplines. Riders are judged firstly at Dressage to demonstrate the training and capability of the horse and rider. Next the combination are to ride the cross-country course, this tests stamina, fitness, and bravery. Finally they are judged in Show jumping, this assess the ability to come back to a controlled speed and perform the tight turns and stamina to complete the final leg of the discipline.
    • Eventing is also known as Three Day Eventing (3DE), although many of the lower levels are held in one day.
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    Do Rodeo Riding. You have probably seen Rodeo riders cutting cows and tagging steers. The ladies will barrel race and bend around poles, while the males bronc ride and rope. This event is fast and dusty, the horses are fit and trained for speed. The riders dress for success in sponsored shirts and rodeo chaps, all riding in western saddles.
    • Many riders travel around the States and Australia competing in Rodeo Competitions all seeking the same thing, the High Point Award for there chosen field of Rodeo Riding. This discipline is not for the Faint Hearted but if you like speed and being in the spotlight, this event is for you.
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    Do Barrel Racing. This event is mainly seen at Rodeo Events, but is also run on its own. The combination are required to ride a clover leaf pattern around three barrels. Many states require the pattern to be ridden on a right hand, whereas others can choose from a right or a left hand pattern. This event is fast and requires a lot of skill in being able to stay in the saddle as you gallop from one barrel to the next. If you enjoy riding for fun and like fast paced riding, this event is for you.
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    Try Hacking. In England, a Hack is referred to as a leisurely ride through paddocks and lane ways, it is a way to ride a horse out of a show ring its informal and a lot of fun its great for the laid back rider who does not wish to compete . In Australia it is referred to as a Show Riding Horse.
    • The horse is trained to be able to walk, trot, canter and hand-gallop (Extend Canter) with a high to medium head carriage with presence and alertness. Horses are also required to complete a set workout which also includes extensions, rein backs, and change of direction, which are asked as a simple change (canter to trot back to canter), flying change or a walk through (canter or trot to walk and back to the required pace) .
    • This event is similar to Dressage, but the riders and horses are a little more showier and their attire is much higher and the horses are spotless. This event requires a lot of ability as a rider and handler. If you ride a Pony, a Galloway or a Hack, your able to hack, the event is judged in height classes as well as rider age groups.
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    Try In-Hand. This event is good for those who may have an unbroken horse, or if a rider is unable to ride for any reason. Similar to a Hack event, the horse and rider and judged on the capability and ability to handle and complete the set workout. In-hand showing is available for nearly all breeds from Arabians and Welsh and Native Ponies, through to your Western #*Breeds such as Appaloosa and Quarter Horses as well as to Warmbloods and Draft horses.
    • Western Pleasure and Western Events. All about the sparkles and the glitz and glamour. Appaloosas, Paints and Quarter Horses are mainly used, although Arabians are also used in western riding as well as a lot of other breeds. The horses are trained to be a pleasure to ride and throughout the years have been trained as peanut pushers to the older style to know, having a straight line across the neck form wither to poll, and working from the back end.
    • This event is judged on both horse and rider, and isn't as easy as it looks. Riders are asked to walk, Jog (slow trot) and lope (a slow, 3 beat canter, many horses 4 beat, and this is unnecessary and often marked down. Western riding also incorporates the events such as Trail, where the horse and rider are required to ride a course of obstacles often seen on the trail such as poles, bridges and opening a gate. Other western events include Reining, Western Riding, Showmanship (a halter event) as well as halter. Also Horsemanship and Equitation.
    • The ladies wear shiny glitzy outfits and the males wear trendy shirts with neck ties or bolos. The horses are ridden in Western Saddles, and Western bridles, either bitted up, snaffled or bosoled. One handed or two handed depending on the age and degree of training. This event requires both skill and ability, in being able to control your horse without the use of your reins and being able to sit quietly and elegantly.
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    Do Hunter Riding. This event is also seen at Appaloosa, Quarter Horse and Paint Horse Shows, this style of riding is often referred to as the English Western. The horse is ridden two handed in an English bit. Riders wear English Jacket and breeches with tall field boots, and often ride in an All Purpose, or a close contact Saddle.
    • Though an English event horses are required to travel with a bit more upbeat pace, while maintaining the light contact on the rein and easy paces. Other Hunter events include Hunter Under Saddle and Hunt Seat Equitation.
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    Do Trail Riding. Also known as Hacking in England, a quiet horse is needed, and riders ride alone or in groups along bridle paths, in open fields or in hills and forests. This style of riding is relaxed and easy going, and often a great discipline for riders unable to go very fast or who ride an older horse that may be semi-retired.

Part 3
How To Choose

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    Decide which event is best suited for you and your horse. You should research into local riding schools that may cater for the particular style you wish to try. If there are no schools that teach it, you need to look into getting lessons from a qualified coach or teacher, who is proficient in the event. A Rider who competes in the event isn't a good choice, as they may be riding a well-trained horse and often are unable to answer the questions asked.
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    Look at what equipment you already have available. You may have an English saddle and a few poles laying around the paddock, or you might have a paddock with a river or stream and some fallen logs. You can ride incorporating these things to get the feel of the discipline you wish to try or ride.
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    Buy new equipment if you need to. At some time you will need to buy the required equipment and saddlery if you are really interested in the discipline. If you're starting out or you are figuring out what style of riding you want to do, look into second hand saddles. In the case of Western, (all other events can be ridden in an English saddle), a training saddle is also good. You can eventually buy a new saddle when you are sure of the event and riding you're going to do. You can also borrow a saddle or equipment if able to from a friend, ask their permission before taking it.
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    Go to a show. once you have all the right equipment, go to a show or event of the same discipline. Many shows and events have beginner or lower levels. You can ride and get the feel of the show, and what happens during the day. You will also meet a lot of nice people who will be happy to help with any questions. You may also meet some not so nice people, stay clear of them and try to be nice.
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    Finalize your decision. this is both a milestone for you and your riding career. Many times you will want to buy a new piece of equipment so as you look better and perform better, this may include a new saddle, or a new bridle, a new piece of clothing, or simply a back number holder, or a set of spurs to help you ride better.
    • To others it may seem nothing, but this is the first step into your new career of riding in your chosen field. Your discipline choice may change as you improve or change to unforeseen circumstances such as your horse getting injured or you getting too tall for your horse. You may also move into a higher group or level that you are not happy with and choose to try something new.
    • You may also choose a new discipline if you want a change of pace. e.g. Pony Club to Show jumping to Western back to Dressage. You can also do more than one, such as Western and Dressage, or Eventing (all three).
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  • Groom under his belly so that the girth doesn't touch dirty and rub up against him, causing pain.
  • Smile.
  • Head up!
  • Be cautious of other horses/riders around you.
  • Heels down!
  • Wear safety gear, (helmet, boots and safe clothing).
  • Do not get cocky.
  • Don't feel like you need to decide right away, you may take as long or as short as you need.
  • Do not overwork your horse.
  • Train with a coach, friend or parent.
  • It's ok to back out at the last second.
  • Do not leave your horse in cross-ties
  • Remember, short reins!
  • Going to fast may cause strain on yourself.
  • Breathe.
  • Butts down, heels down, and remember...

Smile and Wave!

  • Always start under the supervision of a trained coach, as they can help you whenever you need.
  • Saddle seat is also a very rewarding and fun discipline, if you get involved, the most popular breeds are the Morgan and saddlebred.
  • Saddle seat is a great discipline where you can learn another type of horse and get experience with them.
  • Always be kind to your horse and remember that they have feelings as well as you.


  • Don't get upset or sad if you can't get it straight away, it takes time and effort, research using books and the internet, and go and watch at shows and events. This way you can sit back with a cold drink and talk to other spectators while you learn and watch the other rider compete.
  • If you try too many styles or disciplines in a short amount of time, your horse may become confused. So try riding a horse already trained in the discipline your interested in to get the feel of it. Then you can train your horse for what you want.
  • It's more than your horse at the competition, it's you AND your horse TOGETHER as a TEAM.

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Categories: Riding