The Near Side: Your Equestrian Identity


There’s a car I’ve seen driving around the area a couple of times that stands out to me because of two decals on the rear window. One is a trotting Saddlebred. The other is a reiner doing a sliding stop. It’s not weird to see either of those things around here, but it’s strange to see the two of them together. I think the owner of that car and I could be friends.*

A lot of riders choose a discipline and stick to it. It becomes part of their identity, and those car decals become like Greek letters across a t-shirt, telling the world which equestrian sorority you belong to. I’m a barrel racer, they proclaim. I’m not just a rider, I’m a dressage rider. A fox hunter. A western pleasure aficionado.

Equestrian Sports


When you first encounter another equestrian and discover that they share your love of horses, undoubtedly one of you will ask the other, “What type of riding do you do?” Answering that question might come with more information than simply what type of tack you put on your horse, for better or worse. We all know the stereotypes. The dressage queen. The hunter princess. The country-proud barrel racer. So when you tell the other person, “Oh, I just trail ride for fun,” did you just inadvertently tell the competitive eventer that you don’t take your riding as seriously as she does? Or by telling you that she gallops her horse toward big, solid obstacles, did she out herself as a bit crazy?

Our poll question this week here on HorseChannel asks you to identify your primary discipline (take a look on the right-hand sidebar to weigh in.) Oddly, I have trouble answering this question myself, and that’s why I think I have a lot in common with the driver of that saddle seat/reiningmobile.

I used to be able to identify myself as a saddle seat rider. It’s how I rode, for the most part, from high school through most of my 20s. It’s what my horse and I competed in for most of our competitive career together. And I’m well aware that if I told another rider that I was a saddle seat rider, their inclination was probably to back away slowly, assuming I had some fire-breathing horse trapped in a stall somewhere wearing giant padded shoes and a tailset. (I didn’t. I had Snoopy, wearing plain shoes and hanging out in a pasture with his buddies in between shows. Sometimes stereotypes are wrong!)

In any case, it’s been a few years since I rode that style, and I can’t honestly call myself a saddle seat rider anymore. I even donated my cutback saddle to a horse rescue. I could hardly go back if I wanted to.

I usually say that I trail ride, but I hesitate to call myself a trail rider. Fact is, I don’t leave the farm, and the “trails” on the property are very limited. I can’t even say if I ride English or western, really, as I am currently without a saddle. Does bareback count as a discipline?

I’m trying to condition myself to saying that I ride hunt seat, because I think it’s probably the closest to the truth. I take biweekly lessons at a hunter/jumper barn. In Snoopy’s last few years of showing, we did the Morgan hunter pleasure division, which is not really the same as the hunters most people are accustomed to, but it’s some form of hunt seat. Still, I feel like a fraud putting myself in that category. Whatever the initiation ritual is for the hunt-seat sorority, I haven’t been through it yet.

The other thing is, I often talk about my theoretical “next horse.” This is the youngster I buy with my theoretical “horse budget” once Snoopy is fully retired, and this horse becomes my next project. Depending upon what day you ask me about this horse, he or she may be an endurance horse, an eventer, a cowboy mounted shooting horse, a reiner, a show jumper, or all of the above. I sort of envy the people who have picked a discipline and stick to it. I bet it’s easier to get good at a sport if you stick to it. But they’re all so great. How can you possibly pick just one?

But enough about me. I want to know if other riders feel the same. Do you identify with the type of riding you do, and do you find you gravitate toward riders of your same discipline? Do you find that other riders stereotype you based on your chosen sport (and, ‘fess up, do you do the same?) Are you a one-sport rider, or do you dabble in lots of riding styles. And what SHOULD my theoretical next horse be? Tell me in the comments.

*Fun fact: William Shatner raised Saddlebreds and competed in reining. He has horses in training around here. So maybe it’s him! Probably not.

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  1. I think it’s really hard to pick one discipline. I’ve done western, English, bareback (yes, I think that is a discipline in itself!), and mounted games. I can’t very easily say which one I like best…they all have their charms!!

  2. I rode saddle seat as well when I was the same age; best I can manage now is to stay on top; wish I were able to do more than I do, but even a good curry is pleasurable – just to be in the company of a horse will always be special

  3. Yes, I do honestly get stereotypical thoughts branching in my mind when I hear that someone trail rides. I only then carry the conversation up a few notches to see if I may have jumped the gun on my opinion of them. If the person proves that they really do know a thing or two about horses, then my stereotype is typically rooted out of my thoughts.
    (I would consider bareback a sport. XD It is just as –if not more, difficult than riding with a saddle. If you really want to get extreme, free-riding would be the most natural and what I would consider one of the funnest ways to ride. )

  4. I had trouble answering the poll too. I ended up choosing other. I like to ride as many different styles and disciplines as possible. I don’t compete. I just love riding and horses. And driving!

  5. I can certainly relate to the author of this article! I definitely envy those who have chosen a discipline and stuck to it (my gelding probably wishes I would have done the same!) I started out being a western pleasure rider, loved riding saddle seat, dabbled in gaming, tried riding a reining horse, trail ride mostly… So whenever a site asks me my preferred discipline, I usually choose a different answer every time!

  6. I definitely can identify myself as a rider under English discipline. Been riding that way for all of my life, trained lots of young and older horses that way and also competed in showjumping events.
    Where I currently train horses, some other trainers ride under western discipline. Huge difference in the training mode, leg and rein support between the English and Western. Just as one example: we collect horses using lots of leg aids with the legs always connected to the barrells of the horse, and hands with soft connection to the bit, or noseband (if you ride bitless). The Western rider doesn’t collect the horse, has less connection with the bit just when they want to stop or turn, also they keep their legs away from the sides of the horse and just touch the sides when they want the horse move faster. (That’s what I saw from Western riders). I’m not saying if any of them is better than the other. It really depends on what would you like to achieve with your horse. What is your goal. Any horse that has been trained either under Western, or English discipline can be a great buddy for you on the trails, out in the country, in the arena. BUT, I do recommend to choose one discipline, especially if you plan to buy a young horse that needs to be trained. You have to pick one discipline to train the horse to. Otherwise he or she’ll get confused of the different leg and rein aids you’re giving, and will end up not understanding what you want from them.

  7. I will never be able to make up my mind what discipline I ride. When people ask, I normally say eventer and or trick rider because they are my favorite, but I cant give up the others. The truth is I used to ride saddle seat, then I spent years at a western barn and joined a drill team, then bought a dressage horse that I trainer to ride western and we rode on the drill team (he was also my first vaulting horse). When he had to be put down, I bought my current horse. This year alone we have shown in open and state pleasure shows, hunter jumper shows and won equitation over fences champion at the state fair and his breed national show, dressage shows where we also have breed national champion titles and will be showing at USDF shows in the next few months, we ride on a flag drill team and trick riding drill team that perform all over the Midwest, he is an excellent vaulting horse, and event at horse trials (Our favorite). My horse and I love changing it up, it has helped both of us tremendously to ride different disciplines.

  8. From Sarasota… Western riding adopts all the same principles from dressage, Cassandra, you must work in a barn full of back yard trainers. If you train at any discipline, this knowledge is basic, fundamental… But Sarasota, is full of yahoos. Unfortunately there is no regulation of who is calling themself a trainer or instructor, so this is an area that is a complete mess of riders with a know it all complex and no real knowledge. I attended the Mary Wanless clinic before I moved and the people attending were shouting questions while she was working with riders… That was it. That’s what comes from this area. If there was SOME regulation of who trains and instructs, as it is in Canada, this wouldn’t be such an issue.

  9. I think the older you get the more you find your way to your favorite disipline…..I started out bareback, went to MM and learned more English, dressage basics…..did many jobs with different kinds of riding…..alot of trail riding, almost everyone is a trail rider…I teach for a living and horses have been my life in a beautiful tunnel. I don’t regret it. But, when we moved my daughter started Barrel Racing…..this is definatly my thing…..found it!!!! in a big way. I have qualified kids for world, only been barrel racing 5 yrs. Took over the local club wins! But, moral to the story here. I started english, loved it but when I barrel raced it really is not different….all riding to me is basic dressage, you change the saddle and the speed. But I only know basci dressage and believe me it works in barrel racing or any other type of riding….learn correctly, do a bunch of different things and pick if you want….Maybe their are some people like me tooo that always question….is their more….I feel like I have learned from all the disaplines I have been exposed to. I am 58 and learning faster than ever….as a instructor!

  10. I’m a hunter/jumper rider with training in dressage. I personally find that I am most comfortable in my jumping saddle, no matter what I am doing. I have recently started dabbling in competitive trail riding (ACTHA) and still use my jumping saddle there. If I get on a horse with another type of saddle, I still ride with a hunter position. This can result in me looking ridiculous, but it is just where I’m comfortable. My horse, on the other hand, will take any saddle/rider/style. She has no preference and will preform to the best of her abilities regardless. I think that is something to really look for in a horse, especially if you are undecided or if they need to have more than one job (this is the case with her, as she is an accomplished therapy horse and active in a lesson program). I ride at a barn where there are A LOT of Tennessee Walking Horse owners and my TB and I kind of stick out. The difference is, they can get on my horse and ride/do wherever they want while still riding with the position from their discipline but I can’t do the same. Their horses don’t know how to function with my seat and tend to panic. I have seen this happen with horses from every discipline if they are highly trained and have never been exposed to anything else.

  11. FINALLY, SOMEBODY ELSE WITH THE SAME PROBLEM AS ME!!! I can’t decide what my next horse will be either. I’m interested in gaited horses and saddle seat, but also in jumping. I’ve done the western thing and I can say that I wouldn’t go back to quarter horses or any stock breed ever again.

  12. I love to barrel race, but I also compete in trail, ranch and cattle sorting when I can and I still have my AP english saddle that I work my barrel horse in. I love to dabble in everything and just see what a horse will do – which is often reflected in my blog, Musings From The Leadrope –

  13. I’ve had a barrel horse, saddle bred pleasure horse, and a thoroughbred amateur hunter and had a wonderful time with all. Now at 72 years old, I am sticking with a western trail horse and loving it as well.

  14. I show Huntseat & a little Dressage. However my horse & I are jacks of all trades & master’s of none. We go trail riding, we show huntseat a little Dressage, at fun shows we do all kinds of things! While it is good to have a top priority discipline to focus on, its also fun to try something new & different, even if its just for fun. ?


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