Before you buy or lease a horse, or even take lessons, you need to determine which discipline you are interested in. Each of these disciplines includes different types of tack (riding equipment like saddles and bridles) and the rider also assumes different riding positions in the saddle. For example, in saddle seat, the rider sits further back on the horse’s back.
Your choice of riding style is a personal one. You should choose a discipline that appeals to you. Some of the most common disciplines include Hunt Seat, Dressage, Western and Saddle Seat.
The English discipline of hunt seat originated from the British sport of fox hunting. Hunt Seat is probably one of the most popular disciplines in the world. If you are interested in jumping, then this could be the discipline for you. It is not uncommon for those who do hunt seat to go on to do show jumping, which is a timed sport involving higher jumps. Many people who participate in hunt seat also participate in horse shows where horse and rider are judged over fences (jumping) and on the flat (at the walk, trot and canter). Although many people who ride hunt seat ride Thoroughbred horses, this is changing and we are seeing more Warmbloods.
Dressage is another English disciplines. This style is one of the oldest in the world. It was originally used in ancient Europe for military maneuvers. The word dressage is French for “training”. Dressage is the guiding of a horse through a series of complex maneuvers by very slight movements of the rider’s hands, legs, and weight (aids). In dressage, riders compete in tests of increasing levels of difficulty. The levels include Introductory Level, Training Level, First Level, Second Level, Third Level, Fourth Level and Olympic Level. At each level, the horse is evaluated for rhythm, relaxation, impulsion and contact. Although any breed of horse can be used in dressage, warmbloods are often the breed of choice.
If you have watched a cowboy movie on television, then you are already familiar with the Western style of riding. Western riding and the western saddle can be credited to the American West. People who herd cattle in the West still enjoy Western riding, but it has also become a form of pleasure and show riding. Classes often include western pleasure, trail, gymkhana, reining, roping and cutting. A popular western horse is the American Quarter Horse.
Saddle Seat is considered an English discipline although is unique to America. The history of saddle seat originates from the American South, where this discipline is still popular. Gaited horses like American Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses that have more “knee action” are typical of this discipline. The primary purpose of this style of riding is to show, but some saddle seat riders also enjoy trail riding. In saddle seat competitions either the horse’s movement, or the rider’s position can be judged. Successful horses in this discipline must be very flashy.