English or western riding for a young child?

My sister’s five-year-old daughter is just starting to ride. Her riding teacher says she is a natural, and has had her try both the English and western styles. Her mother is concerned about the former though, as the saddle lacks the extra safety of the horn (in terms of falling). Any advice as to which would be better (and safer) for a young beginner?

I’m living proof that a kid can fall off of both just fine. If anything, I think the horn is something to get snagged on while you’re on the way down.

The saddle horn isn’t really used for safety anyways - if you start to fall your best bet is either to actually fall away from the horse, or to grip the horses’ mane (it doesn’t hurt them). A new rider will learn to keep their balance using their core muscles and legs and they shouldn’t depend on the stirrups/saddle to stay on (bareback riding is so much more fun, IMHO!)

It comes down to what kind of riding you think your granddaughter wants to do. With a Western seat, it will be more trail riding and rodeo games (barrel racing, roping etc) in the long run, which with an English seat she can set herself up for dressage, hunter/cross-country, jumping, etc. I rode Western for a few years but switched to English when I moved to a place where Western wasn’t common, and I much preferred the English style, even though the Western saddles tend to be a bit more padded and comfy.

Also: any rider worth his salt has fallen off a horse a few times. I rode for about 10 years…my count sits at 12. I never got seriously hurt, though of course the risk was always there. The hard part is to get back on. It’s part of the sport and part of the thrill of understanding how to guide and control this giant animal that really just wants to go over there instead and munch that lovely grass…

Perhaps let your granddaughter choose what she prefers? She can perhaps do a bit of both for a few years, if her instructor teaches both anyways. The difference isn’t the saddle, so much as the techniques of guiding the horse. The saddle is just to make your butt slightly less sore - you really don’t need it to ride.

A skilled horse can eject a rider from any kind of saddle :slight_smile: Holding the horn of a western saddle won’t keep you on, and (as others have mentioned) it can keep you from falling away from the horse.

Most English saddles have a pair of “D” rings near the front. If your sister is concerned, it’s possible to attach a grab strap to those “D” rings. It may not provide any more security than the saddle horn, but if it allows your niece to be a little more confident in the saddle, that’s a good thing.

A helmet is the single most important piece of safety equipment you can own. It doesn’t matter how experienced the rider is or how quiet the horse is. Horses trip or spook, riders fall off, and one has very little choice in *how *one falls. I once saw a rider go flying due to centrifugal force during a lesson on a longe line. Heck, my quiet old mare spooked and dumped me a few weeks ago - I went off sideways and backward, landing on my ass and smacking the back of my head. Without a helmet I’d have had a head injury; as it was, the impact knocked the wind out of me but I was fine. Moral: Wear a helmet every time.

Although I ride and prefer Western, English actually teaches a better “seat”. There is more balance involved for the rider in riding English. Western, as mentioned above, is more comfortable - to me at least.

Also as mentioned above, a helmet is a must. Learning to take a fall is a good idea, also.

Just an anecdote, but I’ve heard from several friends who ride that it’s much easier to learn English, and then switch to Western later, than to start with Western and then try to transition to English.

I seriously doubt there’s any difference between the two styles as far as safety goes, at least for a young beginner - she’s not going to be either jumping or barrel racing for years, and if the same person is teaching both styles, then there’s not even the relative safety records of different schools to consider.

If the kid is just taking lessons for the purposes of fun activity and being on a horse, then I second mnemosyne - let the little one choose. If there is the goal of riding being something competitive or a long-term “sports activity,” then I’d go with English first, based on my friends’ advice, but that’s just me.

When I was a kid I rode Western and as an adult I’ve done English riding. I personally felt more secure in a Western saddle and there was one occasion when I grabbed the horn to keep myself on the horse when the horse unexpectedly knelt down to eat some grass, so I do think that there is something to the idea that the western saddle makes it less likely you’ll fall off (but falling is pretty much inevitable if you ride horses enough).
I definitely agree with the advice to make sure she gets used to wearing a helmet. Another thing that I think riders should be aware of is that jumping is one of the more risky aspects of horseback riding. Many of the serious injuries/deaths that occur in horseback riding are related to jumping (as illustrated by the Christopher Reeve accident).

Many thanks to everyone for the informative replies. My sister feels somewhat reassured, and is now leaning towards letting her daughter decide.

I learned to ride mostly bareback, and as a consequence I have a great seat–or so I’ve been told.

The thing is that horse sports are not risk-free no matter which one you choose, so letting the kid decide what she wants is probably the way to go. But once you get the basics down it’s easy enough to switch. I think probably it’s easier to go from English to western, but I went the other way and that wasn’t so bad either.

I wanted to add a vote to the English first group, it will give her a great foundation (the only better foundation would be bareback).

Also, you can buy body armor for the back/chest area of riders in addition to helmets. I think, if I had a child so young, I might consider getting a set while they’re starting out, then you can sell them on after the girl has at least gotten the basics down.

ALWAYS buy certified equipment that is fitted properly!

I have only ever ridden Western, but I’d agree to let the child try both, and decide.

I’ve taken my share of spills, so I second the suggestion for a helmet. I’d also agree that grabbing the horse’s mane, if necessary, is always a good option. They really don’t feel it, and it is nothing like having your own hair pulled.

As a former horsewoman, good instruction with an emphasis on safety is far more important that English vs. Western. All other things being equal, let the kid decide.

I’m like you. I started bareback, went English, then TRIED western. I couldn’t handle it.

The saddle actually gets in the way of keeping proper balance on the horse in some terrain and I couldn’t t really feel what the horse is doing. I have an Arab mare that can tele-transport 4 feet straight to left at the trot. She’s never unseated me bareback or in an English saddle, because I can feel that she was about to do it and counter it on an unconscious level. In a western saddle, I was suddenly (almost litterally) hanging in mid-air with my horse three feet to the left of me and nothing to do but decide how to land.

The only reason I could see using a western saddle is if I was going to pack a butt load of stuff on the horse or use a rope off of the horn. (Notice that many trail riders actually go to Ausie style saddles w/out the horn).

Helmet first … good horse second … good instruction … then whatever they choose to sit in!

I personally find an english style saddle much safer. It has knee rolls and a deep seat which secures you in and is more likely to keep your leg still (which means a child will be more balanced).

Child can always grab the mane if they need something to hold on to … and I’d be more worried about the horn catching on clothing in case of a fall (as mentioned up thread - it is safer to fall away from the horse!).

If you ride horses you WILL fall off, at some point. And as a rule, it’s really no big deal.

It’s not the saddle that keeps you on the horse, it’s balance and proper technique. There are also as many kinds of saddles out there as there are models of cars, and it doesn’t so much matter what style of saddle as how well it fits the rider. Some english saddles are deep and have knee rolls, some are flat as pancakes with no padding at all.

Best advice is to get a properly fitted helmet, riding boots, and find a lesson program with one-on-one teaching and safe, beginner appropriate horses.

And then have fun! :slight_smile:

Another person who has done bareback, english and western. I might also point out that inner abdominal injuries can happen with a horn if the rider gets crunched forward just right [or just wrong if you prefer]. Not that the sprog is going to be riding bucking broncos, but shit happens.
Cory A. Collinge, MD, et al. Saddle-Horn Injury of the Pelvis. In The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. July 2009. Vol. 91-A. No. 7. Pp. 1630-1636.

I had a preference towards english saddle, you learn to deal with all the gaits, western doesn’t seem to take trotting into account [perhaps the riding profile is walk, canter and GALLOP!!!fertheFUNofit!]

Mostly I saw western saddles used in trail rides and working where the horn is used as a tool, not something to hold onto. In western parlance ‘pulling leather’ is a newbie action of hanging onto the horn because you are terrified and don’t know how to sit a horse properly. The only sport was gymkhana done by kids and the occasional adult.

Eastern on the other hand has classic pony club, which teaches show jumping and safe horsemanship, and more adult is more jumping, dressage [making the horse and rider dance] steeplechase [crosscountry with jumps and terraine features] fox hunting [which is now actually chasing a couple guys making a scent trail] and flat racing [want to make a bet?] and adult version of pony club which tends to be more for new learners at the adult age.

[I started with a welsh cob in pony club. Never get a kid a shetland monster, those suckers in the wild are carniverous!]

I was a very small child. I’d bicycle out to a neighbor’s house, catch a pony and go riding. I was too small to lift the heavy western saddles so I rode bareback. Late I switched to English when I started lessons. In the rare occasion that I did ride Western, I felt so removed from the horse - I couldn’t feel his muscles move.

Safety-wise - western riders are far less likely to accept helmets as a matter of course. As an adult I’d get teased by the western riders for wearing mine.


I grew up with ponies and horses…I learned bareback, western and english. My preference now would be bareback, then english, then western. western saddles feel a bit like sitting in a chair. Im not sitting n a chair, Im riding and I like to feel like I am riding! I would like to reiterate what many have said- part of riding is of course, occasionally falling off. It does happen. The first time it happened to me I was 4, maybe 5. I remember it vividly, but it didnt stop me from clamoring to get back on that beast! i loved my experiences with horses and dearly wish i had one now. I loved most of all riding my gorgeous pinto girl with no saddle and no bridle- I could reach out and tug the halter to control her if necessary.

My advice is let the child learn it all, if possible, then let her determine what she likes.