“English” is a very broad term for a style of riding that really has many variations. Just like how within “Western” riding there is barrel racing, show pleasure, trail, ranch work, reining, cutting etc, within the broad term of “English riding there are many subcategories also. Some of the main disciplines are Dressage, Show Jumping, Hunter Jumper, 3 Day Eventing and Saddle Seat. Each discipline has its own set of rules and standards, as well as ideal equine qualities.
At the highest levels, stadium jumping features highly athletic horses leaping over incredibly high and wide fences. Stadium jumping takes place in an arena, with man made jumps of poles and standards placed in a specific and technical pattern requiring quick turns, bursts of speed, and excellent timing from horse and rider. In stadium jumping, the horse and rider are not judged on style, but on how fast they complete the course in a “clear” fashion (clear meaning they did not knock down any poles or refuse any jumps). The jumps are often taller and wider than the horse, and require a good eye for distance and perfect balancing skills to get over and on to the next fence. The horse and rider must jump the fences in specific order from memory, and not knock any poles or refuse any fences. These actions result in time penalties, and the pair with the fastest time wins. The form of the horse and rider is not taken into account, and the horse can wear boots, devices and accessories that are not allowed in other disciplines.
“Hunter” jumpers are a throwback to classic fox hunting. In this competition, not only does the time matter, but horse and rider must present a classic, calm approach to the course. The “style” of the pair plays greatly in their ride, which is judged as well as timed. The rider must display proper equitation and turn out, while the horse must have a good bascule and tuck his knees neatly over the fence. Knocked poles and refusals count against overall score.
Three Day Eventing
Three day eventing combines the skills needed in dressage and stadium jumping with the rigors of “classic” Calvary bush/trail riding. Horse and rider compete across the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. This event has its roots in a comprehensive cavalry test requiring mastery of several types of riding. The competition may be run as a one-day event (ODE), where all three events are completed in one day (dressage, followed by show jumping and then cross country) or a three-day event (3DE), which is more commonly now run over four days, with dressage on the first two days followed by cross country the next day and then show jumping in reverse order on the final day. Scores are averaged after each phase, and the ideals for each discipline remain the same.
The discipline of “Saddle Seat” is designed to show off the fancy high trotting action of certain horse breeds. The style developed into its modern form in the United States, from a plantation style of riding, and is also seen in Canada and South Africa. The goal of the Saddle Seat riding style is to show off the horse's extravagant gaits, particularly the trot, or “racking” gait if the breed is gaited. All saddle seat riding is done on the flat. The rider wears a flashy tail coat and hat, the horse is turned out with a long flowing mane and tail, with minimal tack and a double bridle. The rider sits a bit behind the horse's center of gravity, encouraging a more uphill, “big” gait. Certain breeds are bred specifically for this discipline, with high natural action in trot and gaits with a high headset.