Western riding is a style of riding which evolved on the ranch spreads of the Americas. Much is made about the difference between English and Western riding, but in fact the two styles are very similar. A rider who is talented in one discipline will be skilled in the other, since the basic skills remain the same. In both English and Western riding, riders need to have solid seats, gentle hands, communication skills, and a good sense of balance.
This style of riding owes much to Spanish cowboys or vaqueros who handled cattle, sheep, and other livestock on large ranch spreads in the Americas. As a result, many of the features of Western riding are geared for ranch work; Western horses are trained to be extremely responsive, just like English-trained horses, but Western horses are also trained to use their common sense to keep their riders safe. Western riding also places an emphasis on endurance, comfort, and cooperation between horse and rider.
One of the key defining points of Western riding is the way in which commands are given. Western horses are trained to neck rein, which means that they respond to pressure on their necks from the reins, rather than just to pressure on the bit. Neck reining allows riders to handle a horse with one hand, dedicating the other to managing a lariat for roping. Western horses are also trained to move away from pressure, and to be highly responsive to leg signals so that their riders can drop the reins for a moment if they need to.
Western riding also involves the use of specialized gear, known as tack. The Western saddle is heavy and broad, with a high saddlehorn. The broad design makes the saddle comfortable for the rider, since it's sort of like an armchair, and for the horse, because it distributes weight widely across the back. The design also keeps riders from slipping out of the saddle, and it provides support for roping. Many Western saddles are secured with a breast collar in addition to a girth, which keeps the saddle in place on the horse.
Only one set of reins is used in Western riding, and the reins are often tied together so that a rein cannot be dropped accidentally. Riders may use the ends of the reins as a quirt to provide cues to the horse, but many Western horses respond to reins and legs alone. Riders tend to wear heavy boots which cannot slip through the stirrups, and chaps may be worn to protect the legs from brush.
Western horses are taught that they must sometimes use their best judgment to help their riders, since the rider may be distracted by a herd of animals. Many horses are skilled at cutting, working with their riders to separate an animal from the herd, and they know how to throw their weight around to help out with roping, ensuring that animals are roped and secured quickly for safety. Western horses are also taught to stand when the rider jumps out of the saddle, and to exercise intelligent refusal: if a rider asks the horse to do something dangerous, it will refuse to do it.