Best Horses for Western Riding
Evolving from traditional ranching, western riding is a popular style associated primarily today with rodeos and the ranch lifestyle. It allows riders to control the horse with a single hand, freeing the other up for traditional ranch work like working a lasso. Today, horse lovers embrace Western riding not only as the preferred riding style when working on modern ranches but also for participating in rodeo events like barrel racing or enjoying a relaxing trail ride.
Whether you are starting riding lessons with your heart set on Western riding principles or an experienced rider excitedly researching to purchase a new horse, we have you covered! Check out our list of the 10 best horses for Western riders.
American Quarter Horse
The most popular breed in the US, the American Quarter Horse, is a great all-around horse. It’s suitable for beginners, English Riders, and, of course, Western Riders. These horses can be very energetic but also friendly, reliable, and highly adaptable. For this reason, they are often recommended to beginners. Quarter horses are available in two different body types depending on the activities they are bred to perform. Racing Quarter Horses are taller with a sleek muscular appearance like a Thoroughbred. This allows them to run at faster speeds. Stock horses, on the other hand, are short and stocky. They were originally bred to be strong and agile working horses to keep up with the demands of ranch work. They are available in a wide range of solid colors and spotted color patterns, but the most common is a brownish red or chestnut.
Initially developed in the US, the Morgan horse was bred to be a strong, sturdy, and powerful stock horse. This made them great for ranch work, harness racing, cavalry, and general riding. But their cooperative and friendly personality makes the Morgan horse stand out the most to riders and horse lovers. When this breed bonds with “their person,” they are eager to please, making them easy to train and handle in nearly any situation. In fact, the Morgan horse is often preferred when choosing a horse to be handled by children. Today, you can find the breed in nearly every equestrian sport, both in the Western and English riding worlds, showcasing just how diverse they truly are. They are usually dark, solid colors but can be found in a wide range of colors from black and chestnut to gray, pinto, palomino, and roan.
Tennessee Walking Horse
The Tennessee Walking Horse is best known for their friendly eyes and compassionate disposition. This breed gets its name from their ability to do a “flat walk,” meaning they can walk forward while keeping their back still and motionless. This makes them very popular in the show ring as well as in television and movies. A Tennessee Walking Horse was sometimes used to play the Lone Ranger’s trusty sidekick Silver. They are impressively sure-footed in various landscapes and situations, allowing them to perform very well as trail-riding horses. You can also see the Tennessee Walking Horse in many traditional Western riding activities, including barrel racing, reining, cutting, and general ranch work.
With a beautiful spotted coat pattern, it’s not hard to spot an Appaloosa in the field. But this eye-catching horse breed has more to offer than just its unique appearance. Appaloosas are among the most popular horse breeds in the United States due to their eager, gentle, and friendly personalities. They are easy to train and handle, making them an excellent choice for a wide range of riders, from beginners to the most experienced equestrians. The breed was initially bred to be reliable in both hunting and battle. Today, they can be seen working cattle, competing in many rodeo events, or enjoying long-distance trail riding. They are incredibly loyal to “their person,” making them an excellent choice for horse lovers searching for a companion for pleasure riding.
Arabians are well-known for their quiet and calm disposition but don’t let that fool you! There is a fire behind their eyes that can be seen when a situation calls for it! They are compact horses with small muzzles, small ears, and large eyes, giving them a recognizable profile. While they are available in a spectrum of colors, the most common color associated with the breed is gray. Throughout history, they have been used for various important tasks, including as war horses, hauling loads, and offering reliable transportation. Today, Arabians are popular for endurance and long-distance riding due to their endurance and stamina. This makes them suitable for everything from trail riding competitions to working ranch horses. But they are also an excellent choice for horse lovers that want a beautiful companion for pleasure riding.
Missouri Fox Trotter
As the name indicates, the Missouri Fox Trotter originated in the state of Missouri. Like the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Missouri Fox Trotter quickly gained a reputation for their ability to maintain a smooth gait. This has led to the breed being widely used by trail riders for a smooth and comfortable ride regardless of the terrain. They are also often used for riders that may struggle with minor physical disabilities while riding, making them a top choice for handicapped riding programs across the country. The physical build of the Missouri Fox Trotter reflects their working roots, with powerful shoulders and sturdy legs. This allows them to comfortably carry a heavier load, like the gear required for longer horse-packing trips.
American Paint Horse
The American Paint Horse stands out for its beautiful and unique coat patterns. But they are more than just a “looker” for riders seeking a versatile horse. You can find American Paint Horses participating in many competitions and events, including trail riding, barrel racing, jumping, combined driving, and working cattle. They are very friendly and calm horses, making them an ideal choice for many horse lovers interested in functionality and companionship with their new four-legged friend. American Paint Horses are bred to excel in strength, agility, stamina, speed, intelligence, and trainability. The result is a well-rounded horse that, with the right work, can be taught to perform in nearly any situation (and look good while doing it).
The first thing that comes to mind for most horse lovers when discussing the Thoroughbred is horse racing. These impressive horses were initially bred to be able to carry weight over long distances at a sustained speed, making them quickly stand out to those interested in the sport. But this isn’t the only place where the breed shines. Thoroughbreds are highly versatile horses that can excel in various sports and activities, including polo, show jumping, hunting, and barrel racing. They are popular for both English and Western riders and even used by many mounted police divisions across the country. While their incredible speed and endurance have led to the Thoroughbred being in high demand for competitive purposes, they are also a great choice for recreational riders.
These small horses are sometimes pony-sized, but their compact stature isn’t a reflection of the power these beautiful horses bring to anything they do. Originating in Iceland, the Icelandic has a heavy coat and sturdy build to adapt to the northern climate. They have a double coat, including a protective, water-resistant topcoat and a softer, insulating undercoat. The Icelandic was made for draft work, resulting in their muscular build and strong legs. It allows them to carry a significant weight load for their size. This, combined with their sure-footedness on all surfaces (including rough terrain), makes the Icelandic a great choice for trail riding and farm work. They are often used in Iceland to help round up sheep in the highlands.
The Paso Fino may be the final horse on our list, but this doesn’t reflect in any way on their popularity or versatility. This is an energetic and lively breed of horse with a natural drive to complete whatever jobs they have been trained and tasked to perform. This allows the Paso Fino to be a highly versatile breed that is used in a wide assortment of different activities, equine sports, and disciplines. They can be seen in horse shows, endurance competitions, gymkhana, working on the ranch, or hitting the trails. A graceful and smooth-gated horse, the Paso Fino is recognized by many experts as the “smoothest riding horse in the world.” They are a popular horse choice for riders who regularly suffer back pain.
What Activities are Considered "Western Riding"?
There are several different horse-riding styles you can choose from, but the most common are English and Western. The biggest difference between the two styles is the equipment that is used. Western saddles are bigger and heavier. They are designed to evenly distribute the weight across your horse’s back while making it easier for riders to balance themselves when roping cattle.
When selecting which riding style to pursue, you should consider the activities that you are most interested in enjoying. Western riding activities include:
- Western Pleasure Riding
- Trail Riding
- Barrel Racing
- Team Penning
- Gymkhana (Games on Horseback)
When it comes down to it, there is no right or wrong style of riding. It’s all about finding the style that you are most comfortable with!
Can a Horse Do Both English and Western?
Many horses are capable of riding both English and Western effectively, including the saddle and bit. Although, some breeds are better suited for one style or another. There are slight differences between the two styles, but it is a myth that a horse previously ridden with one style can’t do both.
The most important consideration when making a change is the equipment that you are using. You want to ensure that everything you use fits properly for your horse. This will help you achieve comfort and safety for you and your horse.
If you are transitioning from English riding to Western riding and concerned about the shift to riding on-handed, don’t worry. Many horses are ridden Western while wearing a snaffle and with two hands. This can make your transition from one style to the next easier.
Is it Cheaper to Ride Western or English?
If budget is a concern, you may wonder whether one style of riding is cheaper than the others. The cost of riding lessons can vary greatly, with both premium and budget-friendly options in both styles. When considering the cost of gear and participating in riding-related sports, Western riding is usually the more affordable option. But if your budget doesn’t restrict you, experts recommend selecting your riding style based on your goals and interests instead of just the price point.
Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.
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