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Western riding is considered a style of horse riding which has evolved from the ranching and welfare traditions which were brought to the Americans by the Spanish Conquistadors, as well as both equipment and riding style which evolved to meet the working needs of the cowboy in the American West. At the time, American cowboys had to work long hours in the saddle and often over rough terrain, sometimes having to rope a cattle using a lariat, also known as a lasso. Because of the necessity to control the horse with one hand and use a lariat with the other, western horses were trained to neck rein, that is, to change direction with light pressure of a rein against the horse's neck. Horses were also trained to exercise a certain degree of independence in using their natural instincts to follow the movements of a cow, thus a riding style developed that emphasized a deep, secure seat, and training methods encouraged a horse to be responsive on very light rein contact.
Though there are significant differences in equipment, there are fewer differences between English and Western riding than appear at first glance. When comparing Western riding or English riding, the first, and biggest difference is the saddles used. The Western saddle is designed to be larger and heavier than an English saddle, which is designed to be smaller and lighter. The western saddle allows the weight of the rider to be spread over a larger area of the horse's back which makes it more comfortable, especially for long days chasing cows. The English saddle, however, is designed to allow the rider to have closer contact with the horse's back (Wilson, 2003).
Another difference is that English riding involves the rider having direct contact with the horse's mouth via reins and the reins are used as part of an “aid.” In western riding, however, horses are mainly ridden with little to no contact with the riders using their seat, weight and neck reining to give aid or instructions in direction, etc., to the horse. In both Western and English riding, however, involve the rider sitting tall and straight in the saddle with their legs hanging naturally against the horse's sides as well as their arms relaxed and against their side, but not flapping, which is frowned against (Wilson, 2003).