Different Riding Disciplines

Different Riding Disciplines

Makenna Scott

While some say that horseback riding isn’t even a sport, and there aren’t that many activities, there is certainly a plethora of horseback riding disciplines to choose from. Some are Olympic sports and others are more informal disciplines. To the untrained, it can get confusing. For the English Style disciplines there are: Dressage, Para-equestrian Dressage, Show Jumping, Cross Country, and Eventing. For the Western Style disciplines there are: Western Dressage, Reining, and Barrel Racing. For the Racing part of disciplines there are: Flat racing, Harness racing, Skijoring, and so much more that I can’t fit into four paragraphs. But the 4 main topics from each discipline that I have the most interest in are Show Jumping, Cross Country, Barrel Racing, and Flat Racing (your regular horse race like the Kentucky derby).


First, an Olympic Sport governed by FEI, show jumping is when a horse and rider jump fences made up of lightweight rails in an arena. The difficulty rises with the increasing height of the obstacles, but also with the complexity of the layout of the obstacle course as well as the width, shape and make of the obstacles themselves. Abrupt turns, for instance, demand great flexibility and obedience of the horse and brightly colored or oddly shaped obstacles can be potentially intimidating to the horse. Riders get penalty points for any rails that are knocked down during the round, any refusals (where the horse stops before an obstacle) and for exceeding the optimum time.

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Show jumping is run both as individual and team events at an international level. For a cool rider’s perspective in show jumping watch this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5htEchdkas .


Cross country is a very physically demanding discipline for both horse and rider and is performed in a gallop. Cross country involves an up to 4-mile long course in varied terrain with fixed fences as well as natural obstacles like sandbanks, ponds, and deep ditches. Penalties are given for refusals and when a rider exceeds the optimal time for the course. This is also one of the most accident-prone equestrian sports due to the fixed nature of the fences, which sometimes cause horses to stumble and riders to fall off at high speeds. Here is a cool video from a rider’s perspective in a cross country course https://youtu.be/R3lud9cyCgk .


Barrel racing is a rodeo discipline where three barrels are placed in a clover type pattern in an arena and the horse and rider need to ride around all three in as short an amount of time as possible. While the premise is simple, the execution demands both strength and speed from the horse and the interplay between horse and rider needs to be perfect to round the barrels as close as possible to limit the time, but not so close as to tip the barrel over (which gives a time penalty). Barrel riding can be done both individually and in teams. If you want to watch an awesome barrel race with a riders perspective watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlT5rnJ2A-k .


Horse racing in its most basic form is two or more horses competing to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. This is one of the oldest equine sports around and is in many places associated with gambling as people bet money on a specific horse. The sport has many variations depending on location and traditions such as the gait, the pace of an animal, especially of a horse or dog, the types of horses, whether obstacles are incorporated and the type of surface the horses compete on. Racing faces sometimes stark criticism for being a dangerous sport that pushes both jockeys and horses beyond their limits, sometimes with fatal outcomes. Flat racing are gallop races without obstacles where a jockey rides on the horse’s back around a flat and usually oval-shaped track. Some races are short and primarily test the horse’s speed and explosive strength whereas others are longer and focus more on endurance. The typical range is 1-3 miles (1.6 – 4.8 km). If you want to see the greatest racehorse in history in action watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfCMtaNiMDM .

Overall, there are a lot of different horseback riding disciplines and all of them are really fun to watch. There are three main styles of riding English, Western, and Racing, those are the three most popular styles. In the English we have Dressage, Para-equestrian Dressage, Show Jumping, Cross Country, and Eventing. In Western we have Western Dressage, Reining, and Barrel Racing. And last but not least in Horse Racing we have Flat racing, Harness racing, Skijoring. I hope that after you have read this you can find a favorite discipline of your own too!