You might think that horseback riding styles fall into two categories -- English or Western. While those are the main categories, there are subgroups that better describe these types of equitation. For example, while hunt seat and saddleseat equitation both fall under the "English" style, they are completely different disciplines. However, all riding styles emphasize balance, harmony and proportion.
Hunter seat equitation evolved from the forward seat developed by the Italian cavalry officer Federico Caprilli in the early 20th century. Today, hunter seat equitation is used both over fences and on the flat, in horse shows and in foxhunting. Riders use either all-purpose or close contact English saddles. In its simplest form, hunt seat riders use both hands to guide the reins, with the hands held above the withers in a straight line to the horse's mouth. The rider sits tall and straight in the saddle with the heels down, calves just behind the girth and the stirrup on the ball of the foot.
In French, dressage simply means "training." The dressage seat is deeper than hunt seat, with a correspondingly deeper saddle. The emphasis is on developing the seat as the primary aide. The stirrups length is longer than in hunt seat, so that the legs, while still just behind the girth, hang somewhat lower. The back is relaxed, and the rider should distribute her weight evenly on her two seat bones.
All of these saddles have some differences based on their intended use. Unlike the English disciplines, the Western rider learns to guide the horse with hand, by neck-reining. The other hand is free ostensibly to perform the tasks required on a working ranch from the saddle. The rider should sit "tall" in the saddle, while relaxed and balanced.
While the Australian saddle is sort of a cross between the English and Western types, it's generally known as an Australian stock saddle and originally was designed for many of the same uses as the saddle of the American West -- ranch work and long cattle drives. These saddles may or may not have horns, and the seat places the rider in a more forward position than a Western saddle, but not as forward as the English.
Saddleseat riding is an American style, originally developed in the South. Saddleseat riders learn and compete on specific breeds, who generally display animation and high action. These include:
- The American Saddlebred
- The Morgan
- The National Show Horse
- The Arabian
The saddleseat rider uses a flat saddle with a larger seat than in other English disciplines. It is not a forward seat. The hands are held somewhat higher than in other riding styles, and the rider finds the correct position and center of gravity "by sitting with a slight bend at the knees but without use of irons (stirrups)," according to the U.S. Equestrian Federation.