English is a very complex riding style and with it, comes a variety of different disciplines for horse and rider to explore and even compete in on a national and international level.

Credit: Amy Lizee

Show Jumping

Show Jumping is one of the best known English disciplines due to facilities such as Spruce Meadows with its internationally recognized and televised events as well as the disciplines place in The Olympic field. In show jumping competitions men and women compete equally in teams and individual events through a course comprised of 10-13 jumps.  The most common breeds of horse to be seen in show jumping at the international level are Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds, though many breeds compete at local and national levels. The purpose of show jumping as a professional sport in the equestrian world is to test a horse and rider’s skill, accuracy and training. In this event, rider and horse teams are scored on time and how many rails are knocked down. Each rail to touch the ground results in 4 penalties, which are added up at the end of the event. It is not uncommon at The Olympic level for a team to win with 4 (or more) faults.


Dressage is often considered the “highest form of a horses training” by testing them throughout a series of figures, which are sets of predetermined movements. Each Dressage field is marked by 12 letters which indicate where these figures are to start and end. Dressage has varying levels for riders and horses including children’s and senior competitions, though the highest level is seen at The Olympics. Famous Dressage horses include the Spanish Lipizzaner Horse, which are molded into wonderful “dancers” per the Spanish Riding School in Spain. Other Spanish breeds such as the Andalusian and Lusitano make excellent Dressage horses along with a number of Warmblood-type breeds. The competitors are scored from 0-10 on each figure by a team of judges. There are also freestyle Dressage competitions where riders are allowed to choreograph their own figures to music, as long as they include all of the required movements.


In cross-country horse and rider pair compete individually or in teams across a natural course that is typically 4–12 kilometres (2.5–7.5 mi) long and can contain anywhere from 12 to 40 natural obstacles depending on the level of competition.  These obstacles can include ditches, ponds and lakes, jumps, drops, etc. A rider is scored based on time and attitude at the obstacles – a third refusal receives elimination as well as a fall on the part of rider, or horse. All breeds of horse can compete at the lower level, though it is popular for Thoroughbreds. At the upper levels, many Warmblood-type breeds also compete. Many teams use specialized studs in their horses shoes to provide better traction as the fields for these events can often be wet and slippery.


The three aforementioned disciplines: Show Jumping, Dressage and Cross-Country, combine into another discipline which is commonly known as 3-day Eventing where rider and horse teams compete across all three events over the course of three days. Dressage is the first test and occurs on day one, day two features cross-country and the event ends on the third day with Show Jumping. Thoroughbreds are very popular in this sport due to their versatility and stamina.

Endurance Riding

Endurance has recently become a full-fledged equestrian sport backed by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. Endurance competitions and events are split into phases where at each phase the horse is assessed by a veterinarian to determine if that horse can continue in the competition. The goal of endurance riding is not necessarily to finish first, but to have the horse which finishes in the best condition after the course of the ride. Some of the high-level endurance rides are 160km, which can take years for a pair to condition for. The most dominant breed when it comes to endurance riding is the Arabian Horse, but many other breeds also compete in the event, such as Standardbreds.


Equestrian vaulting, which is sometimes described as ‘gymnastics on horseback’ can be enjoyed at non-competitive or competitive levels. Originally established in Germany, vaulting has continued to grow in the West after being introduced in the United States first in the 1950s. In competitive vaulting, riders compete individually and in teams and, much like Dressage, is comprised of predetermined exercises and freestyle exercises done to music. Non-competitive vaulting includes riders from 3 years to 30 years or older who practice individual and team routines and are often seen in circuses or special shows.


Polo began as cavalry training for horse and rider back in the middle ages, but the first ever recorded match was in 600 BC between the Turkomans and the Persians. Polo is a team-only sport with each team consisting of four rider and horse pairs who play at speed on a large grass field up to 300 yards long by 160 yards wide. The purpose of the game is for the team to move the ball down the field. Rules are based on the "line of the ball" so as to determine safe versus dangerous movements by any player. Mounts are known as polo-ponies, but are a traditional size horse ranging from 14.2-16hh many of which are Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred-crosses.

Whatever your choice of discipline be it an Olympics-recognized event or a non-competitive past-time, there are many options for a rider and horse to pursue in the world of English equestrianism.

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