Differences among Riding Styles- Please Read!


I am a sociology graduate student who is interested in studying the subjective differences among the various riding disciplines and breeds.   More specifically, I am interested in what professional show members who are not part of a certain riding style think of that style.   For instance, what do dressage participants think of saddle seat?  What do Western people think of dressage?  Or, for example, what do dressage folks think of breeds associated with saddle seat (Morgans, saddlebreds, Arabians, even Tennessee walkers) and vice versa (warmbloods).  I am interested in moral issues (i.e. people of specific disciplines treat their horses poorly) and aesthetics (i.e. horses of certain riding styles move artificially or the questioning of the objectives of a riding style in general).   And, of course, I am interested in counterclaims (i.e. we do not treat horses as poorly as they think we do).   I am not very interested in the differences within certain riding styles (i.e. saddle seat distinctions between saddlebred people and Morgan people), unless you all think I should be.

I grew up on a horse stable,  went to quite a few shows as a spectator (actually, I was in a lead line class or two), and have worked at the Umass Amherst Equine Barn.  I have sensed that there is some tension among the different disciplines and the associated breeds based on what I’ve heard from various people.  So my question is: are my senses correct?  Do you believe that there is tension among the different riding disciplines?   What exactly?  Do you think people would be willing to talk to me about this?  I am mostly interested in talking to professional riders and trainers because they are probably more immersed in the show world to have a sense of the differences.

Thanks to all,


21 Responses to Differences among Riding Styles- Please Read!

  1. lucky says:

    Yes, your senses are correct!

    I think there is a lot of ‘opinions’ from dressage riders regarding ALL other disciplines.

    I was soliciting volunteers at the Michigan All Morgan recently and approached a couple of women grooming a horse in the aisle. I asked if they’d be willing to volunteer to work at either the in or out gate for a session. One woman, brushing the horse’s tail…and seemingly the ‘trainer’…said she didn’t think they’d have time because they were riding dressage the next day. The other woman…client, I believe…said ‘well, maybe’. Being somewhat involved in dressage, I made sure they understood the gates I was talking about were in the main show ring.

    The ‘trainer’ huffed in a totally disgusted way and said “NO, DEFINITELY NOT”. It was as I figured: they didn’t want to be anywhere near Morgans who were being ‘abused’ by being shown in other than dressage classes.

    With dressage as my basis for my philosophy towards training and riding, I see a lot of horses who seem to be mismatched for the discipline they are being shown in. I love a truly gifted horse who shows ‘from the heart’, no matter whether park, pleasure, western or dressage. What I hate to see is ‘made’ horses who are generally unhappy, confused and just too hot to be able to think straight.

  2. Sammy M. says:

    Yes, there are definitely some hard feelings among people of each group towards eachother. I think more of the animosity comes from the dressage people towards the show people, because in my opinion, most show people don’t really pay much mind to the dressage people.
    Most show people never see a single dressage class at a Morgan show because 1) the dressage classes aren’t normally held in the same area as other competition and 2) a lot of show people quite frankly find it a little boring.

    I know I get a little bored by it. Don’t get me wrong, I think dressage is great and I have no problem with the people who do it but most of the dressage classes that run at Morgan shows are training level, 1st level, and 2nd level. So basically it’s like watching people do basic patterns. Except they’re not on as pretty horses (just my opinion) as the ones in the show ring. Grand prix level is extremely exciting but lower levels are NOT, to me at least, and many others I know.

    So if you were to paint a picture of the relationship between the two groups, the dressage people would be glaring at the show people, meanwhile the show people wouldn’t even notice and would keep carrying on.

    I am a show horse person, but I don’t feel that one side is doing it “right” or “wrong”. If you think about it, any form of riding a horse is unnatural. So how can the dressage people be treating their horses any better. I’m sure there are dressage people who treat their horses worse than some show people and vise versa. And I bet there are some dressage horses out there that would be much happier plugging along in western pleasure in the show ring or pulling a buggy or something else. Just like there are show horses that might be happier in dressage. It’s all about the individual, what’s good for one isn’t good for all. Dressage is not the best thing for all horses and showing isn’t the best thing for all horses.

    The dressage people think they are doing everything the right way, but whenever I see their horses, they are usually completely out of the bridle and not using their hind ends which I thought was one of the major aspects of dressage- the horse using its hind end correctly, pushing from behind.

    It’s really too bad that the Morgan community is so divided in this way. It really almost is, in a lot of cases, like the two groups are on different teams, you can really feel it at shows. But we’re all on Team Morgan!!

  3. ksp says:

    I have competed as both a dressage exhibitor at Morgan shows and in the main ring. There is absolutely a divide between the two groups; something which i find unfortunate. Each discipline can contribute something to the other one. The hunter horses that now grace the ring are powerful and beautiful to watch, while the dressage horses exhibit the grace and manners that are needed.

  4. ksp says:

    I have personally found that dressage has helped my hunter pleasure horse become a better equitation horse as well as making myself a better equitation rider. You learn how each movement has to have the quality and precision that is needed for the equitation patterns. Your horse also starts to listen more and is challenged by the variety of movements that are being required.

    This is my opinion completely, and i know many people do not feel the same way. I just have found in my own experience that a combination of the two whether i show dressage at the shows or just practice it at home has really helped my horses. I feel many barns may be practicing “dressage” such as bend and yielding without feeling the need to show it at the shows. Many of the junior exhibitor horses have enough classes as it is between pleasure and equitation.

  5. Tea says:

    Ryan, This question would be on fire on The Chronicle of The Horse forums. The wide variety of posters (trailer riders to world champions in most ever discipline) on that bulletin board would make this very interesting.

    Yes, there is disdain between disciplines and breeds and even within the disciplines and breeds themselves. Look at the Morgan for instance. The foundation/old style breeder versus the modern Morgan breeder. Ryan, this topic is one that could be discussed ad infinitum!

    As for dressage not being for every horse. I’m sure everyone has heard this over and over agian but to refresh…dressage is French for training. Every horse can benefit from the training building blocks that dressage can offer. A friend of mine who train and shows Arabians (at their breed “A” shows) was schooled for a number of weeks by an FEI level dressage trainer. His horse’s impulsion and self carriage was out of this world by the time the training was over. This was an Engl Pls horse. He was leary at the beginning but…the blues tell the tale.

    Good luck with your research. I’ll anxiously keep an eye out for you on the Chronicle Forums!

  6. dressagemorganrider says:

    I think, coming from the dressage side, there is a huge divide. I’d love to be able to show my Morgan in dressage at the breed shows, but have been warned away because of how she would react to all the stuff used to get the show horses “fired up” like loud noises, whooping, whips with streamers on the end, all that. I do not want her fired up when I am showing her.

    When I was looking for a horse, I tried out a few retired show horses who were advertised as dressage prospects and found many things in their training that were so counter to dressage… like having to nearly face the wall to start the canter, “falling in” on the corners, lots of tension about being on the rail in general. Sadly, I did meet a few whose minds had been “blown” by the Class A ring and I guess their owners thought they might do OK at dressage because it’s quieter. It was just better to get a horse that had never been trained to do all that stuff.

    For ksp, I think that dressage folks define “in the bridle” differently than show folks do. One wants more of a “reach for the bit” feeling rather than a “holding the bit up” feeling. The role of the hindquarters is different, to push the horse into that “reach” rather than supporting the “up”.

  7. Tea says:

    “I’d love to be able to show my Morgan in dressage at the breed shows, but have been warned away because of how she would react to all the stuff used to get the show horses “fired up” like loud noises, whooping, whips with streamers on the end, all that. I do not want her fired up when I am showing her.”

    Just a quick comment regarding the whooping and such at the Morgan shows as it relates to showing in the dressage division. From the shows that I’ve been at, here in New England, the dressage rings are away from the main ring. Not right next, the whooping and noises are usually not an issue. Getting used to new surrounds can take a more than a few minutes. But if your mare has been to any local shows (be they dressage, two phases or hunter shows) and was able to compete, she shouldn’t be too fired up to perform at the breed shows. Go have a look at the next show offering the dressage division. Afterwards…You may find yourself with your checkbook out getting ready for the next one!

    Just stay away form the main ring when the roadsters are having at it! Talk about whooping!!

  8. leslie says:

    In the Morgan show circuit, the park horses are considered the ultimate. The dressage, carriage and jumper rings, when they’re offered, are sort of an afterthought. The show horses are the main event, no doubt.

    But, if you go outside our breed, people who compete in hunter/jumper, dressage or eventing think of saddle seat as a bizarre novelty, if they think of it at all.

  9. RFT says:

    Thanks for the replies everyone. I would love to hear from more folks if they have any thoughts. It seems that this project may be worth pursuing. More comments will increase my confidence of course :)

    Tea, I know what you mean in regards to the differences in Morgans. At Umass Amherst, we have bay state “cavalry” Morgans that look very different than the show Morgans. In fact, I went to a Morgan show with some friends from the barn and they said, “they aren’t real Morgans,” or during the hunter class, “they aren’t real hunters.” It was certainly interesting listening to them and watching their reactions. Claims of authenticity are likely to be a dominant theme here.

    I posted this in the Horse Chronicle forum in the “off course” section. The reactions there were much different than here. Some people even thought I was a fraud pretending to be an instigator. It seems that people are quite uncomfortable talking about the differences and tensions among the disciplines.

  10. leslie says:

    BTW, you mentioned you’re not interested in distinctions between different breeds within one sport, but you also grouped Tennessee Walkers in with Morgans, Arabians and Saddlebreds. TWH have their own show circuit and operate outside the regulation of the US Equestrian Federation. They’re sort of a separate can of worms. If there’s some chain of equestrian disciplines looking down on one another, the TWH show world is probably on the bottom of that chain.

  11. jns767 says:

    I can only speak from what I’ve seen and experienced. I’ve been involved with quite a few different breeds and have shown in open, 4-h, Dressage, Hunter Jumpers briefly the TWHBEA (walking horse circuit) as well as the AQHA, Morgan and Arabian circuits. I am in no way a professional rider or trainer, but in my brief encounters I did notice one thing in common with those who chose/choose to form opinions of other discipines and breeds of horses. That is ignorance. People tend to shy away from things that are different (imo) and when people make generalized comments that Arabians are too spooky or that Dressage people too snotty, it seems to me that that person doesn’t REALLY know.

    As for Morgans, it’s funny because it seems like I’ve never really gotten a sour expression when I mention that I’m involved with the breed. People usually just ask more questions and don’t seem to know much about them. I have gotten some nasty remarks regarding saddle seat, but it’s usually from someone whose only HEARD that it’s abusive and never witnessed it first hand. I have gotten plenty of strife when mentioning Quarter Horses (a breed I used to own) – comments ranging from: “Quarter of a horse” to grumblings of the bla-ness of their head sets and gaits. It’s only a matter of opinion I say, but I digress.

    EVERY time I mention my admiration of Arabs, people bla about their flighty, spooky nature. I’ve seen TONS of Arabs with little kids and handicapped riders, so I know that’s just out of ignorance too. And the poor TWH’s – my best friend growing up showed walking horses to the National level. There were indeed those who “sored” their horses, but many who did not. There are a lot of great TWH owners and the few abusive ones seem to have spoiled the breeds rep. big time, it’s sad really. I notice on other blogs that people really seem to assume that every walking horse that shows, is abused. I don’t particularly like the whole “big lick” thing, but I don’t know enough about that to judge. I never did get too involved with that breed due to my personal fondness for a good trot :).

    As for Dressage, I’ve worked and ridden at 3 different Dressage barns and can only go off what I’ve experienced. Yes, the owners and riders at these farms were much more nit picky than at other facilities, they were very very obsessive about safety and health and most seemed to look down their noses at all other disciplines other than Dressage. I have formed my own, probably very ignorant opinion based on my personal experience on that one. I don’t really know where I’m going with this other than to say that, yes, breed-ism/disciplin-ism is alive and very healthy. I try very hard not to form opinions based on what other people tell me. still really like Dressage, and I think that it’s something that every rider should experience at least once in their riding lives

    What a rambling mess I’ve written – I’m just trying to put out there the different prejudices I’ve heard of breeds/disiplines I’ve been involved with if even for a short amount of time.

  12. jns767 says:

    I read above and you also asked what the moral issues were. I can only go by what I’ve heard, but people have told me they think that saddleseat is abusive and unnatural. They tend to be under the impression that their heads are forced into an unnatural position, the shoes are cruel and that chains/whips/tail “techniques” and being kept in stall all the time are evil and unnatural for a horse. Please don’t freak on me as I know the realities of saddleseat and find it to be fine and not cruel in most instances. This is what I’ve heard from others though.

    I also have heard that the QH’s have some horrible techniques for getting their horses to set their heads super duper low, also that they nick the tails so they are flat against the rumps and don’t move, the halter horses have a bad rep. for their big ole’ bulky bodies on tiny hooves, and of course who hasn’t heard of the Impressive breeding Hyppa stuff? (I don’t know if I spelled Hyppa right).

    Then with Arabs I’ve heard that halter training can get rough, and that there are even some breeders who are performing cosmetic surgery on their horses to garner the big bucks in the halter divisions.

    TWH’s- some use horrific soring techniques on their horses hooves to create a higher stepping horse. This does occur, but to what extent, I have no clue.

    I know that there’s alot of hype on the whole Dressage thing with Anke using Rollkur. I don’t know enough about it to form my own opinions on that though.

    Gosh, I could go on and on with the opinions and realities of the horse show world. AGAIN – this is some of what I’ve heard others speak/write about.

  13. empressive says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Haven’t been on here in a long time and more than likely my “show” career is not as extensive as many others here, but I would like to try and add a comment here.

    It’s the people. But you already know that. It is loyalties and kindness. It’s the times that people were rude and obnoxious. I bought my first Morgan because of my grandfather’s love of Morgan’s. My first buy went extraordinarily well. The lady was most helpful and we are still friends now. It was after that when I tried to “immerse” myself in the breed that unfortunately I meet with a horrible demise. From that I had two options: Stay with Morgan’s despite my horrific past with them or Leave the Morgan breed and truly tout how Morgan people are stuck up, take advantage of even children, rotten jerks.

    Now above may have been a little harsh. You can obviously tell I still begrudge some people, but since I am on this forum you know the path I chose. Now I question you, why did I stay in the Morgan breed?

    See the biggest change, the reason people dislike or like different disciplines or breeds is because of two things: their character and their initial start in a specific breed (or in the large spectrum you are looking at) discipline. Be it dressage, jumping, cross-country, saddle-seat, or western. Tender, innocent caring people will naturally be afraid or intimidated by big moving saddle-seat horses. Hot tempered, excitable people will probably enjoy the saddle-seat horses. But, this is only a sampling of human characteristics. Really the hot tempered person may be adventurous and end up enjoying cross-country instead of circling around the ring. Or the nervous, tender person may have an excitable spark and actually enjoy saddle-seat or jumping.

    Now take any person that wishes to get into horses. Many come into breed’s naïve and excited choosing whatever discipline looks interesting or at their level. They look up as much propaganda as they can and every breed proclaims theirs as the best. So they go with the popular and most seen breed. Now humans are actually quite delicate. The perfect example of the delicacy of humans is in the tensions amidst breeds and disciplines. See people become offended through one mishap or another. They leave the breed blaming one person or more; go to another breed with a deeper understanding that not all horse people are nice. With this they are able to assimilate, stand back, and understand the new breed. Then with a new loyalty they bash the old breed.

    With that a rift! Like you and many others have already said there is good and bad in every breed and discipline. Not everyone will be able to experience the good in every breed. By good I mean horses and people alike. Some people take advantage of others, some horses are just not for beginners, etc. Those that do not experience the good tend to see everything as against them. But this is not the only reason…

    Specifically for trainers some training may seem harder or risky. People like to stay in their comfort zone. A western trainer is not going to start training cross-country horses just because someone recommends it. If he does I am sure his thought train goes something like this, “How bad is it going to hurt? How much time and physical stress for me? What kind of terrain? What! How bad is it going to hurt again?”

    Character determines many things in a person’s life. Disciplines take a LOT of patience and work. But if you have not tried them you are going to look at them differently. “Dressage takes too much time and is boring” “Saddle-seat takes too much time and is too much work” “Western is boring and long” “Cross-Country… OUCH!” People tend to like where they are and snub off other things that are out of their comfort zone. Ask any gamer to put on jeans and a cowboy hat and walk into a training barn. Can you imagine trainer’s remarks and snickers? Even if they say nothing the gamer will leave completely disappointed with no ego. Why?

    He tried getting out of his comfort zone. He was one thing, trying (desperately) to be something else. For that he cried on the way home and refused to do anything with horses. Now try a trainer. He’ll get pissed and badmouth whatever “new” discipline he was trying. Not all trainers granted (I am a gamer so snooze buddies) will go away with that response. Those that will though create the rift; you get the pic?

    It can even come to the things people see. Whether it be a one in a million chance that the saddle-seat horse is blind and crashes into the wall then wins the class, or the absurd training that makes the dressage horse keep its mouth shut and force the tail to not move. People can be offended simply be seeing things. Like the girl that wins the amateur In-Hand class with a see through lace shirt and black bra. LOL Shucks that would be enough for many people to say “scratch that breed! Onto the next!”

    As for people talking about it… many will not. Those are the people with bad experiences that they were not able to get over and now hide and bundle up those sores with pity parties and lashing out at people that would try to fix, help, or understand the situation. Others will. They don’t want rifts and want to be understood and praised and praise others for accomplishments made by either party. They’re the cool people! :) They are people that talk to you about this and warn you about reality.

    Fact is there will always be rifts. People will forever need something to complain about. People forever need something to fight against. Same goes for the horse world. Everyone wants to “one-up” the next guy, breed, or discipline. Maybe they have an agenda, hmmm, maybe they don’t. But everyone wants to look good, no matter what. And everyone wants a little approval. In the end a little kindness goes a long way.

    My sister is afraid to ride tall horses, especially after her pony died. I couldn’t stand catering to her constant fear and berated her for fearing tall horses hoping that she would prove me wrong. Instead it grew into bitterness between my sister and I. I regret now. She will have nothing to do with tall horses and could care less about any advances or accomplishments I make with my horses. (Being that they are tall) But I am in my comfort zone with family so I can say I’m sorry. Other people can’t. Now my sister wants to help.

    She hears me say that I am going to go get a horse ready and she wants to help. She wants to show one of my mare’s In-Hand now. She is even thinking of getting a larger pony for herself or possibly riding one of my mares. (we’ll see) The fact is that sorry and kindness goes a long way. I’ve meet hard, quarter loving only cowboys that deride other breeds like it’s a second nature. I was nice and with my very little and pretty, can’t do nothing Morgan showed them up. We’re friends now. They love my Morgan and while they could still care less about the breed they are warming up.

    One gent said he wished my Morgan was around when he was younger. Ladies and Gents that’s about as good a compliment as it gets. Now I have probably totally gone overboard. My deepest apologies please let me know if any of this helps. As now deleting this post is probably in my favor. For I have possibly mifted and pissed off every horse person that lives. I’ll try to leave this on until I get my first e-mail or someone posts on this thread flaming me. Hopefully not too many people will see this. I do tend to get lost sometimes. Sorry again.


  14. mrmi says:

    I read some of the posts on the Chronicle Horse Forum and whew, do they get their feathers in a bunch quickly!!

    I am probably not much help but the best example that comes to my mind is when my friend, a Paint person, watches me ride my Morgan. She says that he moves funny. She has been raised around Paints her entire life. So by my horse having a higher head set, with a rounded neck and knee action, he moves funny. She is not cruel in these statements, just expressing her honest opinion. Also, I have asked her if she wants to ride my horse and she always declines saying that he looks too bouncy. He is not bouncy by any means but she doesn’t believe me.

    I guess it all depends on what you are used to.

  15. leslie says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think you probably won’t find anything too exciting by talking to professional riders and trainers. I think the average eventer, for example, is too focused on eventing to think about what saddle seat or western pleasure trainers are doing. They might have opinions about other seats, but I really don’t think there’s tension.

    Now, if you do your research on internet forums, you’ll certainly get the impression that we all think everyone else is doing it wrong, or abusing their horses, but people who discuss horses on the internet do not always have the same views as the people who are actually out training and showing for a living (yes, if I belong to either group, it would be the former. Oh well.) You could probably use horse forums as research grounds for an academic work on how people can be opinionated and catty on the internet, but I wouldn’t use them as grounds for discussing what the horse world is really like.

    Also, the higher you climb in the levels of equestrian sport, the less interaction there is between disciplines. A hunter rider at a county fair might have choice words for the Saddlebred riders. But I don’t think Beezie Madden spends her downtime between riding Grand Prix jumpers to contemplate the ethics of tailsets.

  16. StacyGRS says:

    I would agree with Leslie…well educated, high level horsemen/horsewomen of most disciplines have respect and admiration of the like in other venues. Usually the most catty or objectionable are the most uneducated, but not always. I started in the hunter jumper world and still have many ties there, although I tend to do more SS than hunters in the Morgan World. I have great respect for the great hunter jumper trainers and not for the unethical or abusive ones…just as I do in my world. Each discipline has good and bad in it and each one has something to be admired and something that shows the worst of that discipline and will often be the first negative thing that comes out when it comes up. Regardless, people that care for their horses well, accomplish their goals and have happy, healthy horses doing so earn my respect.

  17. rsmorgans says:

    I started out riding as an adult when I bought my first Morgan. The first people I met in the Morgan world showed SS, so that’s how I learned to ride and drive. This was 25 yrs ago. I showed with some top trainers and initially there was disdain amongst them for the Sport Morgans, thinking that they weren’t quality. That has certainly changed alot over the years as many of them, probably initiated by customers, have gotten involved in some of the Sport disciplines and their breeding are doing well there. I started to diversify my interest and started dressage, carriage driving, CDE, etc about 13 yrs or so ago. I found a lot of vitriole amongst the Sport Morgan people against the SS people. Many of it having to do with the training methods, but more about the breeding and how it has changed the Morgan horse. I don’t see that changing any time soon. I value the old breeding and have a lot of it in my herd so I understand somewhat where they are coming from. But I do not eschew show breeding (well some of it I do), as I will take what I need to produce what I think is a quality Classic Morgan.

    Cindy Lundgren

  18. rsmorgans says:

    Stacy wrote:
    I would agree with Leslie…well educated, high level horsemen/horsewomen of most disciplines have respect and admiration of the like in other venues.

    That may be true in some disciplines, but not in carriage driving, certainly not around here near Fair Hill, where some of the top carriage and CDE drivers are. Maybe because it is a Morgan dominated field, but certainly the trainers will steer their students away from show breeding and do not think highly at all of SS and its training methods.

    Cindy Lundgren

  19. StacyGRS says:

    That’s a shame. I can honestly say that I think highly of the good Jumper trainers, dressage trainers,etc and have always had them show me interest and appreciation for our horses. You hate to hear that it is the poeple in the same breed that seem to be the least accepting and appreciative of others. My experience is that the best of the horsepeople in this world tend to appreciate those in other disciplines as well. I don’t know the CDE people well. In the H/J world, however, they used to show together alot (Penn National, Madison Square Garden, Devon, KC, Royale Winter Fair, Del Mar National, etc) with the Saddlebreds and they were always very able to tell the good horsemen from the bad (as the good ASB trainers were able to do with the H/J people) and they had a quite favorable opinion of the good as well as a positive relationship. Often had clients that had both and riders that rode both. George Morris won as both a SS and Hunt Seat eq rider at top levels, the Wheelers were big in both worlds, and the list goes on. Mutual respect and support of the horse show world, in general, is really more beneficial on the whole to the industry than the other options, IMO. As a kid I was at these shows very much as a part of the H/J world, so, I saw it from that side. When I got into Morgans I started to ride SS and then often went back to the same shows on the other side of the coin and experienced nothing but support.

  20. Jennifer says:

    Yes, there is a great divide in the Morgan world between the show and the sport side of things. In my youth I rode mostly SS. As an adult I then rode dressage for 20 years with a TB. Got back in to Morgans with the old lines, but honestly, after having some difficulties with them I looked to show horse breeding. The show horses are asked for an incredible amount of willingness, obedience, and trust, and happily they do it all with there ears forward and smile (not really, but ya know). That was the kind of horse I wanted no matter the breeding, old or show. We are now the proud owners of two line bred In-Command relatives and having a blast!

  21. StacyGRS says:

    Glad to hear you are having fun!!:)

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