Horse Riding vs. Horseback Riding: What’s the Difference?

Horse Riding vs. Horseback Riding: What’s the Difference?

You’ve probably heard that horses weren’t roaming North America until Columbus’s second voyage in 1493. What most people don’t realize is that this is only a half-truth, because there were wild horses in North America millions of years ago that are now extinct.

Why do we bring up this popular horse myth? While many of us have ridden a horse at least once in our lives, there’s a lot that we don’t know about the history of horses and their relationship to people. Another common misconception is that horse riding and horseback riding are the same thing–and we’re here to explain why they aren’t.

To reveal the story behind horse riding versus horseback riding, we’re going to hop back and forth between two different nations: America and England.

Ready to enrich your knowledge about the relationship between horses and humans? Read on for our unbridled guide to the differences between horse riding versus horseback riding.

The Long History of Horse Riding

On occasion, you’ll hear someone refer to horse riding as “English horseback riding.” However, the English will almost always say “horse riding.”

Horse riding has been part of English culture since, by some accounts, 700,000 BC. Let’s take a closer look at horse riding today as well as its historical roots.

Horse Riding Uses

Horse riding as we know it today has roots in the English military cavalry. Soldiers used horses as a mode of transportation, either riding them directly or using them to pull carts and chariots.

Unlike in America, you will not find today’s horses in England working in fields or providing long-term transportation. Instead, modern horse riding in England is largely done as a competitive sport.

For example, a popular competitive sport in England is Dressage, a type of riding that exhibits a horse’s training and natural obedience. A Dressage rider wants their horse to behave and perform calmly with minimal prompting or commanding. Other popular horse riding competitions include jumping and eventing.

Horse Riding Tack

Horse riding equipment (aka “tack”) is designed to be lightweight. The objective is to ensure that both the rider and the horse are as mobile as possible throughout the ride.

The wardrobe of a horse rider is sleek and upscale, marked by slim gloves, high leather boots, white pants, and a dark coat.

What to Expect from Horse Riding

If you decide to sign up for horse riding lessons, it will likely involve preparation for competitions. That means that your lessons will focus not only on how to ride safely and comfortably but also on how to communicate in a subtle manner with your horse. If you’re hoping to hit the trails with your horse, you will likely be disappointed.

The Comparatively Short History of Horseback Riding

When Columbus did reintroduce horses to North America, they were used in trades with indigenous people. It was the indigenous people who would learn how to tame, care for, and ride horses, passing this knowledge on to American colonizers throughout the 1500s and 1600s.

Horseback riding involves different equipment, fulfills different purposes, and evokes a different culture than horse riding. Let’s take a closer look at horseback riding over the years.

Horseback Riding Uses

Horseback riding in America has a long and diverse history. Like in England, horses were used by the American military units in the wars fought on American soil. However, they were also used by farmers, settlers, and cowboys, to name just a few of the groups that contributed to horseback riding culture.

We do see competitive horseback riding in the US. Reining is an event that is comparable to dressage. However, you’ll also see things like roping and barrel racing, two events that are common at rodeos.

To this day, one of the most popular forms of horseback riding is trail riding. Trail rides are exactly what they sound like–horses and their riders saddle up and hit the trails for a long and often pleasant, albeit challenging, ride.

Horseback Riding Tack

Because the history and evolution of horseback riding differ from that of horse riding, horseback riding tack is a little different. Western saddles are much larger than English saddles and have a large handle-lack object in front of the rider called a horn. The horn was traditionally used for cow roping, giving riders a place to tie or wrap the reins of steer to guide them to different pastures.

Horseback riding attire is often western-looking in the American sense. Cowboy boots, hats, blue jeans, and other durable clothing are worn for many horseback riding outings. In some events, such as rodeos, you’ll see a more theatrical and colorful version of the traditional cowboy look.

What to Expect from Horseback Riding

Are you considering taking horseback riding lessons? Unless you specifically pursue lessons in competitive activities like reining, you’re more likely to spend your lessons on a trail. During your lessons, you’ll learn how to ride and guide your horse, practicing skills like signaling the horse to change directions, speed up, slow down, and stop.

Horse Riding vs Horseback Riding: Which One Do You Enjoy?

Depending on where you live, you may have a very different idea of what riding a horse looks like. If you live in England, you may be more accustomed to horse riding in a competitive and contained setting. If you live in America, you may think first and foremost of horseback riding either on a trail or at a rowdy event like a rodeo.

The important thing is that horse riding and horseback riding aren’t quite synonymous! Which one sounds more appealing to you?

Looking for more ways to change up your day-to-day life? Take a look around for more helpful guides on fun activities from gaming to exercise and beyond.

Marisa Lascala

Marisa Lascala is a admin of She is a blogger, writer, managing director, and SEO executive. She loves to express her ideas and thoughts through her writings. She loves to get engaged with the readers who are seeking informative content on various niches over the internet.