Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: New South Wales, Australia
Those stereotypes aren't exactly true.
More often that not people ride either Western or English depending on simply where they learned.
I know I didn't have a "choice", I just went to the local riding school and they taught English. Western isn't that popular outside of the US/Canada. In some places it is gaining popularity but in places like England, Australia, New Zealand etc English riding still dominates.
People can be uppity in each discipline. There are people who are just as serious about western pleasure as others are dressage etc. It just depends on their personality. There are just as many English riders who just ride for pleasure as western, and just as many western riders are seriously into competing.
A difference however may be that when looking at western riding is that it is still used, to an extent, in farming and work. This has probably affected the stereotype, with western being seen as more utilitarian and perhaps practical.
However English riders still get their hands dirty, and they still just go on trail rides. They still relax and muck about. They go on long treks if they want, endurance riders... really there is no limit to either discipline.
There are more similarities between the two, and you can draw parallels between disciplines, western pleasure is like english showing, reining is like dressage (and there is western dressage). The only differences really are that English has jumping sports, and western has cattle sports.
Western doesn't really have jumping, it is possible to jump occasionally in a western saddle, however not ideal for horse or rider. There are jumping saddles made specifically for that purpose, and they are a form of English saddles. In addition, the way jumping horses are ridden is English.
Neither are harder or easier than the other. They both require good horsemanship, balance, body control etc. The top of any disciplines requires a lot of training.
Saddle size...they're not as different as you think. The Western saddle is larger an heavier, with swinging fenders and a horn. They tend to fit QH types best, with a little variation although not quite as much as English. Its slightly harder to do rising trot in a western saddle however otherwise they're fairly similar. English saddles can put your leg underneath you more. Bits are different, English riders use direct reining, which involves direct pressure on the mouth, staying in contact most times, western uses in direct pressure via neck reining. However a trained horse of either discipline should be able to ride with both reining styles.
Some people say western saddles are more secure... perhaps they are a little. I don't think it's a lot though. You may be less likely to fall, but they are harder to get out of in a tricky situation,and you can injure yourself on the horn. All in all I think they're about the same. The best way to minimise risk is to have good lessons and ride a well trained horse. I know I feel safer and more secure in a dressage saddle than a western.
As far as training an English horse to be western. It depends I guess. You can put a western saddle and bridle on an english horse and there isn't a huge difference, or vice versa, both can still be ridden. However training for specific disciplines is more complex.
If you live in the UK I'd ride English. I live in Australia and I started riding western a couple years ago. There were no local instructors or tack shops. It was hard and expensive to get western tack. It's just so much easier to ride the style that is common in your area. And you can always switch later.
Don't worry too much about where you are going to end up. Take lessons somewhere practical for you, you'll learn a lot either discipline. Once you've got established skills then look at specialising.