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English vs. Western Riding Style

If you're new to riding, you may wonder what the difference is between Western and English riding, and which one is best for you. While visually the two may seem very different because of the differences in style and tack, they both require lots of hard work and discipline to master.

  • Western Riding Western riding was brought to America by Spanish conquistadors and then used by cowboys in the western region for labor-intensive work such as roping cattle and making long trips over rough terrain. Western riding sports include calf roping, barrel racing, goat tying, pole bending, team penning, trail classes, and pleasure riding. Western tack tends to be more ornate with intricately carved leather saddles and silver accessories.
  • English Riding English riding takes many of its tack and traditions from European mounted military, therefore it is considered to be more disciplined and classic in style. English sports include hunting, jumping, racing, polo, country pleasure, and dressage. English tack is more simplistic and lightweight to allow for more movement.
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Types of Bits

No matter what style of riding you choose, a bit and bridle are required to control the direction and speed of your horse. Every horse is different, and it may take some time and research for you to find which is best for your purpose and your individual horse.

Bit Terminology
  • Mouthpiece the part of the bit that goes into the horse's mouth. There are many different types of mouthpieces available that create varying amounts of pressure to your horse's mouth ranging from fairly gentle to severe.
  • Purchase The part of the bit above the mouthpiece. A shorter purchase results in a quicker reaction from your horse when the reins are pulled, while a long purchase results in a slower reaction time.
  • ShankThe part of the bit below the mouthpiece. Giving leverage on the mouthpiece, you'll find that the longer the shank, the more control you will have.
  • CheeksThe sides of the bit, including both the purchase and the shank
  • Snaffle Bits If used properly, the snaffle bit is considered to be a gentler option for your horse. The lack of shanks, which are made to multiply the pressure that the rider puts on the reins, ensure that this bit gives the exact amount of pressure that you as the rider apply. The rings on a snaffle bit put pressure on the sides of the horse's mouth while the mouthpiece puts pressure on the mouth. Snaffle bits do not have purchase rings to connect to the headstall. Keep in mind that although the Snaffle has been coined a gentler bit, an inconsiderate rider or ill-fitting bit can be still hurt your horse.
  • Curb Bits With the use of shanks, curb bits multiply pressure applied by the rider. The amount of pressure put on your horse's mouth depends on the length of the shank – the longer the shank, the more severe it is. Severity also depends on the type of mouthpiece used and where the bit is placed; the further down in the mouth, the more concentrated the pressure will be. This bit gives the rider much more power and should be used with caution, especially by inexperienced riders.
  • Hackamore If your horse has had problems using a traditional bit, the Hackamore offers a useful, bitless alternative. Rather than using a mouthpiece, this bridle uses a noseband that puts pressure onto your horses face, as shanks add leverage.
  • Gag BitUsed mainly for polo, show jumping, and eventing, the gag bit is a severe bit used for increased control in potentially dangerous situations. It is placed further down the mouth than other bit options, and forces the horse to lift its head, so it may also be used for heavy pullers or horses that tend to lean on the bit.
  • Choosing The Right Bit – For most horses, the double-jointed snaffle bit is recommended as it stands at the midpoint between gentle and severe bits. If you have trouble using this bit, consult a trainer and consider another bit. In most cases, what you may think to be "mouth problems" are probably a sign of poor training. Be patient and listen to an expert – changing your horse’s bit for the wrong reason could be dangerous and lead to unintended injury to your horse.
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Types of Bridles

A bridle consists of a headstall and reins to direct the horse during riding and other activity. It holds the bit into place. We've listed some of the most used styles in both English and Western riding to help distinguish which is right for your horse.

English Bridles
  • Snaffle With one bit and one set of reins, the Snaffle is the most uncomplicated bridle. Even though Snaffle is in the name of this bridle, it can be used with many types of bit – including snaffle bits, curb bits, gag bits and more. It is most commonly used with some type of cavesson noseband.
  • Weymouth Also called a double or full bridle, the Weymouth is regularly used at higher levels. It is commonly associated with dressage and is required for upper level FEI dressage tests. While being able to provide more nuanced commands, the Weymouth bridle is rarely used for show jumping and eventers. This bridle has two bits and four reins; the first bit is a bradoon, which is much like a modified snaffle bit.
  • Pelham This bridle uses one bit and two reins. The bit is a cross between a curb and snaffle, with two sets of rings for the reins. This bridle is sometimes used in place of a Weymouth because it similarly has two reins, but is considered less severe.
Western Bridles
  • Common Western Bridle This straightforward bridle is used in almost all Western riding, and usually consists of a headstall and throatlatch. Closed or split reins may be used, as well as a snaffle or curb bit, although a curb bit is most common.
  • Split Ear Bridle Also known as the One Ear bridle, the main difference between this and the common Western bridle is that the leather strap goes behind one ear and in front of the other, rather than behind both ears for extra security in keeping the bridle on.
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Choosing the right saddle is one of the most important decisions you will make as a horse owner. It will not only greatly affect your time spent riding, but your horse's as well. You want a saddle that represents your style and provides comfort for both you and your horse. We've listed the differences that you'll find between Western and English saddles, and how to measure for each style.

  • WesternOriginally used by cowboys and cattle ranchers in the western United States, Western saddles are built for comfort when traveling long, rugged distances and working all day long. The seat has more contouring to it to provide extra comfort. This style of saddle also includes a "horn", a place for ranchers and ropers to tie their rope and to drag roped cattle. In contrast to the English saddle, the stirrups on a western saddle cannot detach in an emergency, but have a wider tread to keep the riders boots from getting caught in a fall. The tree of the saddle has little padding, so it is common to place a blanket under the saddle to provide more comfort for the horse. Western saddles are bigger and heavier than English saddles, and tend to feature ornate carved leather designs.
  • EnglishEnglish saddles are specifically built to give horses a wide range of movement for jumping, racing and other English equestrian events and are much more sleek and lightweight than its western counterpart. While the English saddle is not made for long journeys on rough terrains like the western saddle, one of the differences between the two is that the English saddle has panels, which are pads underneath the seat filled with wool, foam, or air for the horses comfort. A steel stirrup bar sits on either side of the saddle where the stirrup leather hangs for the rider's feet. There are many styles of English saddles for all the different sporting events, including a jumping saddle, dressage saddle, showing saddle, endurance saddle, polo saddle, racing saddle, and more.
English Saddle (Click to view larger image).
Western Saddle (Click to view larger image).
How to Measure for a Western Saddle

The seat size on a western saddle indicates the distance from the horn (front) to the cantle (back). Sizes range from 12 to 17 inches. Here are the general size assignments for western saddles:

Distance (in.)
13 – 14 inches Youth
15 inches Women 95 – 120 lbs, Men 120 – 140 lbs
16 inches Women 120 – 180 lbs, Men 130 – 200 lbs
17 inches Women 180 – 230 lbs, Men 170 – 240 lbs
18 inches Women 230-270 lbs, Men 230 – 325 lbs

While this may seem like a simple guide, all types and brands vary and there are certain aspects of the saddle that can cause these variations. Some of those things include:

  • The Slope of the Cantle – a steeper slope may cause it to feel smaller in size
  • Seat Depth – A deep seat helps keep you anchored during strenuous activity, and a shallow seat allows your body more movement
  • Seat Slope – the back of the saddle seat can have a steep or shallow curve to it, the steeper the slope, the smaller it will feel

Basically, it is important to thoroughly research any saddle before purchasing to find any specific size quirks that may affect your decision. When your new saddle arrives, pay close attention to how it fits to your horse's back. If your horse seems to feel any discomfort, this will affect his behavior and ability – it's of the utmost importance that both of you are comfortable.

How to Measure for an English Saddle

The easiest way to measure for an English saddle is to sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and measure the length from the front of your kneecap to the backside of your buttocks. The chart explains sizes below.

Saddle Size (in.) Length (knee to buttocks)
15 inches Less than 16.5 inches
16 inches Between 16.5 and 18.5 inches
16.5 inches Between 18.5 and 20 inches
17 inches Between 20 and 21.5 inches
17.5 inches Between 21.5 and 23 inches
18 or 19 inch More than 23 inches

If you are in-between sizes, it's better to go with a larger size for both you and your horse's comfort.

  • Gullet Size - The gullet size is also known as the tree size or saddle width, and it is very important to get the correct sizing for your horse. Gullet sizing usually comes in the form of narrow – extra wide. Most horses will be a size medium. You will know what your horse needs whether they are a wider breed such as a Draft or Warmblood, or a narrow-backed breed such as an Arabian or Thoroughbred. If you are unsure, contact your trainer or a local horse professional.
Equestrian Tack Terminology

Bit: Placed in the horse's mouth in the interdental region where there's no teeth and is held into place by a bridle and reins. The bit helps to communicate directions and commands to the horse from the rider. It can be made of metal and synthetic material, and many types are available to bet suit your needs

  • Breast Collar: Keeps the saddle or harness from sliding back during activity
  • Bridle: Consists of a headstall and reins to direct the horse during riding and other activity. It holds the bit into place.
  • Cinch: Also called a girth, keeps the saddle in place by leather straps that pass under the barrel of the horse. Used in Western riding.
  • Girth: Also called a cinch, keeps the saddle in place by leather straps that pass under the barrel of the horse. Used in English riding.
  • Hackamore: A bitless alternative to the traditional bridle. In this version, pressure applied by a noseband controls the horse.
  • Halter: Consists of a noseband and headstall, and is used to lead a horse or tie it up
  • Irons: Stirrups used in English riding
  • Leads: Usually attached to the halter with a heavy clip or snap to lead a horse. Sometimes a lead is integral to the halter, but most often not.
  • Lunge line: A 20 – 40 foot-long rein used to lunge a horse
  • Martingale: Used in both riding and driving, the martingale controls the horse's head height, to keep it from harming the rider. There are many varying types available.
  • Noseband: The part of the bridle that encircles the nose and jaw of the horse.
  • Reins: Attached to the bridle by either its bit or noseband, the reins are used to direct the horse in riding or driving. They can be made of leather, nylon, metal, or other materials.
  • Saddle: Worn on the horse's back as a seat for the rider
  • Snaffle Bit: Most common bit used on horses and is less severe than a curb bit. The snaffle bit has a jointed mouthpiece and rings at the ends, working on the corners of the mouth.
  • Spurs: Worn as a pair on the heels of a rider's boots to aid in the direction of a horse. They are used only to refine and back up the other aids and commands.
  • Stirrups: Loops on either side of the saddle for a rider to place his or her feet.
  • Surcingle: A girth that goes all the way over the saddle. Used for racing, as well as bareback for training and vaulting.
  • Withers: Located between the neck and back of a horse's body – this is how a horse's height is measured.
Blankets and Sheets

Blankets and sheets are used for many different reasons, most of which are to protect your horse against various environmental factors. Blankets are generally used for insulation and warmth, and come in a wide variety of weights and materials to best suit your horse's needs. Sheets are lightweight and used mainly to keep your horse clean and protect against moisture and mud. We've listed some basic types of blankets and sheets and their uses to get you started.

  • Blanket Liners: Worn under a horse's blanket for added insulation
  • Coolers and Anti-Sweat Sheets: Made of moisture-wicking materials such as traditional wool or synthetic fabric, coolers and anti-sweat sheets are placed on a sweaty or freshly bathed horse to keep away chills. You will know when to take the sheet off when dew has formed on the outside.
  • Fly Sheets and Masks: Lightweight and primarily made of mesh, fly sheets and masks keep flies from biting your horse.
  • Hoods: Horse hoods are worn over the horse's neck, head, and face. They are used for a number of reasons including warmth, training your horse's mane, and keeping your horse clean before a show. Some have blinders, which many racers use to keep their horse focused ahead rather than on other distractions.
  • Stable Blankets and Sheets: Usually not water-repellant, but moisture-resistant to keep coat free of urine and manure stains. They are used to replace heavy outerwear with a loftier coat to keep your horse warm. Stable sheets are lighter weight and primarily used to keep the horse dust free.
  • Turnout Blankets and Sheets: Made for outdoor use, turnout blankets and sheets are usually waterproof and very durable to keep your horse dry and can stand up to lots of movement and action.
Boots and Leg Wraps

When your horse is leading an active, competitive lifestyle, risk of injury is high. Boots and leg wraps are generally used to prevent injuries that are sometimes associated with different sporting events and generally keep your horse's legs in good working condition. Here's a brief list of boot and wrap terminology, and directions on how to measure your horse's hoof size.

  • Bell Boots: Are great for protecting the back of the pastern and heel of your horse by encircling the ankle. This prevents overreaching (when a horse's back feet grabs the front heels).
  • Shipping Boots: Protect your horse's legs from injury when being transported in a trailer
  • Skid and Knee Boots: Commonly seen in Western riding, skid boots protect the horse's hind legs from injury when participating in riding sports such as cutting and reining where sliding stops are performed. They are usually made of leather or synthetic materials like neoprene.
  • Splint Boots: Worn mostly on horses performing fast work such as jumping, splint boots (also known as brushing boots) protect from brushing, which is when one hoof catches the other leg, resulting in injury.
  • Therapy Boots: Rubberized boots intended to help remove pressure from an injured hoof during the recovery process
  • Wraps/Bandages: There are multiple reasons to wrap a horse's legs, generally it's to give them extra support, medicate them from injury, or even just to protect them from injury. It's extremely important to master the art of wrapping correctly as you could end up injuring your horse with an incorrect wrap job.
How to Measure a Horse's Hooves

First off, you will find the most accuracy when you measure right after a trim, and after all caked-on dirt has been picked off. Hold the horse's hoof between your legs and hold the end of your measuring tape at the very front (or toe) of the hoof, and stretch it to the middle of the back of the hoof (or the buttress). The buttress line is the farthest weight bearing point of the heel, not including the heel bulbs. Now find the widest part of the hoof, and measure at this point.

First off, you will find the most accuracy when you measure right after a trim, and after all caked-on dirt has been picked off. Hold the horse's hoof between your legs and hold the end of your measuring tape at the very front (or toe) of the hoof, and stretch it to the middle of the back of the hoof (or the buttress). The buttress line is the farthest weight bearing point of the heel, not including the heel bulbs. Now find the widest part of the hoof, and measure at this point.

U.S. Horseshoe Size Chart
Size Hoof (in.)
00: 5 1/4L x 4 1/2W inches
0: 5 5/8L x 4 7/8W inches
1: 6L x 5 1/4W inches
2: 6 3/8L x 5 1/2W inches
3: 6 7/8L x 5 7/8W inches
4: 7 3/8L x 6 1/4W inches
5: 7 3/4L x 6 5/8W inches
6/7: 8L x 7W inches
8/9/10: 9L x 7 7/8W inches
Health Care

Your horse's strength and ability, as well has his happiness, depends on receiving the right health care from you on a daily basis. Whether it's giving him daily supplements for a balanced diet, keeping his hooves clean and trimmed, or caring for a wound or injury. Here are a few areas of your horse's health that you will need to consider, and terms that you will need to know.

  • Liniments: Liniments are a medicated topical substance used mainly to relieve pain and stiffness in a horse's legs. Always read the directions on these substances, as they are usually supposed to be diluted, and can harm your horse's skin if too concentrated.
  • Fly Control: There are different solutions for keeping flies from bothering, biting, and possibly infecting your horses. First, find out what kind of insects seem to be swarming your stable. Once you've found the offenders, you can choose from a wide array of repellants and insecticides to keep your horse safe.
  • Hoof Care: Shoeing protects your horse's muscles, tendons, and ligaments from injury, and most horses will greatly benefit from it. Remaining unshod or incorrect shoeing can also result in great injury or even lameness. Every six weeks your horse will need his hooves trimmed, and there are other hoof-related things to keep an eye on, such as abscesses, disease, and injury.
  • Supplements: Supplements ensure that your large animal is receiving the nutrition needed to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Some supplements help maintain joint health, some help to correct a nutritional imbalance, and some just help him through changes in climate and exercise throughout the year.
  • Wormers: They remove all sorts of worms and parasites that your horse will be exposed to living out in a stable. These worms, including strongyles, pin worms, ascarids, stomach worms, intestinal worms, and many more, can damage your horse's internal organs and cause death. Over-the-counter wormers are widely available and absolutely necessary in maintaining your horse's health.
  • Braiding Supplies: If you plan on showing your English riding horse, you will need to master the art of braiding. Items such as braiding wax, elastic bands, combs and picks are available to create the perfect look when presenting your horse in the ring.
  • Brushes/Combs: You will need to regularly brush your horse and comb its mane to keep it from becoming matted and infected. It also acts as a bonding experience for you and your horse, building a trusting relationship. Curry and dandy brushes are used on your horse's body for daily grooming, and mane brushes or combs keep your horse's mane looking long and luscious.
  • Clippers: Used to remove a horse's winter coat so that they will be more comfortable in the warmer months, and are also used to trim ears, legs, and jawlines.
  • Shampoo/Conditioner: Bathing your horse is a regular part of grooming, whether in preparation for a horse show, or just cleaning off dirt and mud. Keeping shampoo and conditioner handy will be important in maintaining a healthy coat and mane.
  • Tail Wraps: A long and luscious tail is required in certain disciplines. Using tail wraps helps promote growth while keeping hair safe from dirt and breakage.