In comparison to the classical riding method, which has been around for at least 3,000 years, Western riding is still very young.

Nevertheless, it has shown enormous growth, both for pleasure riders and for competition riders. The reasons are many.

A rider schooled in the English style may often change to Western riding, finding this style better because of the close contact with the horse, the disciplines and the technique of communicating with the horse.

The advantages of Western riding for trail riding, for which it is indeed mainly used, are also quickly apparent. The more relaxed and less strenuous way of Western riding is more enjoyable: a further consideration that makes riding like a cowboy so popular.

History Of Western Riding

The discovery of the Americas in 1492 and the subsequent settlement of the new continent was the starting gun for the emergence of Western riding.

Horses, together with cattle and sheep, were transported to America so that the“New World“ could be explored and conquered. The colonisation of North America was accompanied by many warlike disputes, not only with the original dwellers, the Indians, but also among the newcomers.

In 1861 Civil War broke out between the northern and southern states of the USA. Although the northern states emerged victorious from this war, they were short of foodstuffs. So began cattle driving and the emergence of a new vocation, that of the cowboy.

The cowboy relied on a mount to drive north the great herds of cattle that were reared in the wild, along with the imported horses.

The cowboy sat for up to 18 hours a day in the saddle when driving cattle, and his life was hard, full of privations and extremely dangerous. Hard as it was, the cowboy’s life was soon the stuff of legend, an image promoted worldwide by film producers in Hollywood. And so the cowboy became the most famous of all herdsmen.

The cattle boom and the driving of animals associated with it lasted for only twenty years or so, but the vocation of the cowboy, whose heyday indeed came to an end with the ending of cattle driving, in no way died out. There was always work for cowboys.

If cattle were no longer being driven across the country, cowboys worked on the ranches and were especially responsible for breaking in wild horses and branding animals. Working with cattle from a horse made it necessary to tailor the riding method and the equipment to these requirements. Right up to the present, many of these requirements have shaped modern Western riding.

The characteristic horn of the Western saddle served to attach the rope with which the cowboy lassoed the cattle. Work with the lasso made one-handed control of the reins necessary. This has been retained until now and is in fact stipulated for work with fully trained adult horses in events.

Western riding, which originated from the cowboy’s traditional riding style, has subsequently developed to a higher level, comparable in terms of the skills required with the English dressage style.

Many of the cowboys traditional methods of working in the past are still to be found in modern Western riding.

The Philosophy of Western Riding

Training programmes and show regulations for Western riding have developed which have no hard and fast rules. The rider and trainer of a horse enjoys individual freedom so that the requirements of each animal may be taken into account. The goal of the rider is the same for all types of riding: to strive for harmony with the horse and rider, grounded in a sensitive way of giving commands, fair handling and the correct management for the breed.

While the cowboys of fold forced a wild horse to its knees – even today, Americans speaking of “breaking in” a horse – present-day training methods no longer have any parallel with the old method. The early cowboy lacked the time to train a horse with affection and patience to make it suitable for its work.

Nowadays there is no question of using such forceful training. Gentle and understanding contact with the horse is the goal, not only because one thus brings on a reliable horse that is ready for performance, but also because a much stronger relationship between rider and animal is achieved.

For most riders contact with the horse is not an unavoidable chore, but rather a leisure pursuit. The intrinsic joy of a friendly relationship between rider and animal is the driving force for a life with horses.

This requires the horse to be trained without force. Training without force is a basic aspect of the philsophy of contemporary Western riding. In the first place, it expresses the rider’s attitude to the horse, its training, contact and management. For this, the term “horsemanship” was coined.

Horsemanship involves fair training, which must be carried out as far as possible without force. This gives the horse the chance to obey, for example the spoken aids.

The horse has a choice: to follow or to reject the will of its rider. This decision will then be met with praise, rebuke or indifference – in this way the horse can learn the will of the rider and eventually accept it, with out the trainer using force.

Horsemanship also means that the natural needs and characteristics of each horse are taken into account and respected. Correct management, the presence of other horses and plenty of space, natural feeding and close contact are called for, as is a sensitive way of giving commands. The horse will reat to this kind treatment with friendship, trust and a readiness to perform.

Suitable Horses

Western riding demands certain qualities in a horse. It is certainly possible for a horse of any breed to be ridden Western-style, but its ability to perform is strongly dependent on its conformation and character, so that certain disciplines are not workable with every horse.

The riding technique also demands certain qualities, not shared by every horse.

It is important to weigh up the goal of riding when considering a horse, in order to judge its suitability. Almost any horse is fit for trail riding, although even here sound training is necessary. The bodily qualities must satisfy some none-too-demanding requirements, so that the horse can rider over hedge and ditch.

Such Western riding disciplines as Pleasure, Reining and Cutting, each demand a horse with clearly defined qualities. These qualities include not only the horse’s build, but also its character, intelligence and readiness to perform. It follows that for specific disciplines, only a few breeds are suitable.


As a general rule, for Western riding one looks for a compact, short-backed horse of middling size. Height should be between 14.2 and 15.3 hands. The preferred square form of a Western horse makes it easier for it to shift its weight onto the hindquarters, without severe rein control being necessary.

A short back guarantees the required agility for Western riding. The neck should be neither too long nor too short. If the neck is very long, the horse tends to be heavy at the front, while a short neck is usually relatively thick and blocks jaw freedom. Such a horse would have problems rounding its neck.

Since, in Western riding, a horse is needed that can carry the rider comfortably over long distances, it should have good shoulder and hip angles. A shallow angle for shoulder and hip is normally linked with short spaces. This is more comfortable for the rider. The more oblique the shoulder, the more the horse is able to vary the stride length and will thus tend to move in a more athletic and supple manner.

The rider should look for a head with fine, sharp lines and noble air. The head should not be too long, in relation to the neck, and should match the rump. Sound, strong hooves and straight legs without significant defects are obligatory for every horse, to cope with covering long distances.

Of all the horse breeds, the Quarter Horse is the first choice for the Western rider. This breed was developed from Andalusians, English thoroughbreds, with a slight mixture of crosses with other breeds that had been introduced into the American continent. The Quarter Horse and its spotted variant, the Paint Horse, were specially bred over many generations for cattle work, for trail riding and also for racing.

These horses best suit the requirements of modern Western riding disciplines. The suitability of the Quarter Horse is slightly greater than that of the Appaloosa, which came from the same ancestors and has a similar conformation (although the Appaloosa is often somewhat larger and thinner than the Quarter Horse). The Appaloosa stems from selective breeding of flecked horses, which were very popular among the Nez Perce Indians and which they therefore used for breeding. The distinguishing mark of the Appaloosa is its flecked coat, which can vary greatly in its pattern.

With over three million specimens, the Quarter Horse is the most numerous horse breed in the world.

However, there are also solid-coloured Appaloosas. The distinguishing feature of the Appaloosa breed is therefore not the coat colour (tiger stripes can be found in other breeds) but white-ringed eye pupils, partly spotted skin (particularly in the mouth and genital regions) and vertically striped hooves. The hair of the mane and tail is frequently thin. Larger breeds of ponies, Cobs, smaller Arabs and smaller cross-breeds can also show the required external features, so very good Western horses are frequently found among these breeds.


There can be no doubt that the characteristics and peculiarities of a horse are much more important than its external appearance when selecting for suitability as a Western horse. Those with positive characteristics more than compensate for conformation defects. This kind of riding demands a horse that can act for itself, yet also work and think with the rider and is very eager and ready to co-operate and perform.

Western horses must have a “clear head”, prove their intelligence, show calm temperament, and yet be sensitive. Over-nervous and anxious horses (usually ones that have been spoilt by trainer or rider) are not safe and reliable partners. Stubborn or lazy horses, which need much pressure to get them to co-operate, are also unsuitable. Again, the Quarter Horse, Paint Horse and Appaloosa can best meet these requirements.

Extremely intelligent horses such as Arabs can compensate through their cleverness for many defects in their build (which are only defects when evaluating them as Western horses, as for example a straight crupper or steep angles for shoulder, hip and pastern-joint). However, many Arabs are hypersensitive and tend to be highly strung.

Cobs and robust types of pony have nerves of steel, but often lack sensitivity. Ponies and Cobs can be obstinate – an extremely undesirable characteristic, which hardly compensates for their calm temperament. The right mixture is best found in those Western Horse breeds (Quarter Horse, Paint Horse, Appaloosa) which have been specially bred for this type of riding.

Western Riding Tack

Much of the equipment for rider and horse has remained relatively unchanged since the origin of Western riding. Since the equipment for rider and horse has been shown to be very practical for trail riding, there is no reason for much change. The hat protects the rider from rain and sun, the hard-wearing jeans are comfortable to wear and the chaps protect the jeans from dirt and wet. Chaps worn over the trousers also protect cowboys against cold weather and prickly bushes.

The Saddle

A distinctive and very important piece of tack for the Western rider is the saddle. For the early cowboy, the saddle was definitely the most expensive piece of equipment that he needed for his work. Even today, a good saddle can cost more than a horse. A high quality saddle unfortunately has a high price, but the purchase will be worth it.

A good Western saddle, when looked after carefully, will give good service for the whole life of the rider. The Western saddle has a very supporting surface, which distributes the weight of rider and saddle evenly over the horse’s bath. This protects the horse from pressure points. However, the extra weight of the saddle is not an advantage – particularly for the rider who must heave the saddle onto the horse! A saddle is only as good as its fit on the horse.

The Western saddle must be carefully fitted to avoid saddle pressure, chafing, muscular tensions and other kinds of back problems. With a well-fitting saddle there are several centimetres of air between withers and pommel. The saddle must also lie naturally, must not press on the spinal column and must neither slide nor wobble on the horse’s back.

The rider should have sufficient freedom of movement in the saddle. The choice of the seat size is decisive here. Young riders use a 14-inch saddle, adults usually 15 to 16 inches.

The seat of a good Western saddle lies close to the horse and thus aids better contact with the animal. A deep seat also gives the greatest stability for the rider. According to riding discipline and taste, the Western rider can choose between different designs of saddle.

There are Equitation, Reining, Roping and Cutting saddles, which differ in seat and design. In each case they are tailored to the specific discipline. For instance, the horn of the Cutting saddle is very high, so that the rider can hold on during the extreme manoeuvres that are necessary when working with cattle. There is a particular variation in the seat of the saddle, while different ways of girthing or cinching allow the rider to adjust the saddle to each horse.

Bridles and Bits

The bridles and bits used by Western riders are very varied. The choice of bridle depends in the first instance on the training of the horse.

Young horses are usually ridden with the bitless sidepull, with which the rider can give direct aids to nose and cheeks. Eventually the sidepull can be replaced by a single snaffle bit. Many trainers begin immediately with a thick (and thus easy on the mouth) snaffle bit.

When the horse is about four years old, change to a bitless bosal hackamore. As this bridle requires much skill in its handling, training with this bridle can only be done by advanced riders. The bosal hackamore is used during the second, dentition, to protect the horse’s mouth. When the horse has completed its basic training, the rider usually uses a snaffle with shanks (jointed bit with lever), and then moves on to a bit with a solid lever arm, which is generally called a Western curb bit, whose action is designed for single-handed riding. The use of martingales and draw reins is forbidden in classes at shows (except for speed events).

If necessary in training, draw reins or a martingale (usually a training fork) may be used for a short time with the reins. The Western rider frequently uses split reins (open reins) with both hands, thus forming a “reins bridge”. When using the reins with one hand, the rider usually slips a finger between the reins. There are also closed reins, which taper like a whip and are called romal reins. These are used for one-handed work, the reins gripped in the one hand like a bunch of flowers. However, these romal reins are only favoured by a few Western riders.

Applying Aids

Western riding developed from the way that cowboys rode. Every day they sat for many hours in the saddle. Their riding style thus had to be as comfortable and effortless as possible, otherwise the riders would not have been able to keep going for the whole day in the saddle. It was therefore necessary to build an understanding with the horse that was effective without being exhausting.

For this, the Western riders developed a way of signalling, with control being exercised simply by means of rein checks.

There is no permanent pressure or tugging applied, which would desensitise the horse. Conversely, precise and fine signals sensitise the animal.

The Western rider is always careful to give minimal aid. The saying is “As much as necessary, but as little as possible.” This means that the rider uses as much pressure as necessary to make the horse react, but immediately releases the pressure as soon as the desired reactions takes place. A cue that produces no reaction, or a false reaction, is counterproductive and confuses the horse. The rider also avoids using more pressure than needed.

Communication by Body Language

The task of trainer and rider consists in training the horse to react to rein checks and subtle aids, producing a Western horse that is eager to co-operate and is attentive and obedient. These requirements can only be achieved through a method of training that allows the trainer to communicate with the horse. Logically, this can only be possible in the horse’s language, since that is the only language it understands.

Communication with a horse takes place mostly by body language. The trainer uses this way to communicate with the horse. As a training ground for these lessons, the Western rider prefers a round pen, like an enclosed lunge circle.

The trainer begins to communicate with the horse using body language, telling it to run faster, move slower or turn. For the individual manoeuvres, the body positioning of the trainer is decisive.

Following this, the trainer must control the young horse from the saddle, so it must be trained to accept an additional language, since body language is not possible from the saddle. Body language must therefore be combined with a voice command. The horse is, for example, shown the command to stop by the trainer moving towards its shoulder, thus effectively blocking forward movement while giving the verbal command “Whoa“. The horse will later respond to the spoken word “Whoa” on its own by stopping.

Vocal aids

In this way the horse learns the meaning of the words for Stop (“Whoa”), Move Forward (“Walk-on“), Jog (“Clucking” sound), Lope (“Kissing” sound) and Go Back (“Back”). lt is essential that the same command is given every time for each specific manoeuvre, so as not to confuse the animal.

Voice commands can be the gentlest of all aids, since they take place without bodily contact. ln spite of this, they can be wounding or punishing, for as the saying goes: “It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.“ You can punish a horse by shouting at it, just as it is possible to praise it with quiet and gentle words. The trainer uses this verbal communication with a horse to obtain increased attention and concentration.

It also gives the horse the chance to show obedience when it follows the vocal request (which cannot exert force). This strengthens the friendship and trust between the rider and the horse.

Use of the reins

As soon as the horse goes under the saddle. further help is needed to guide it. Suppleness and fitness should be improved by a foundational basic training, so that the horse will be in a position to carry its rider with ease.

Vocal aids are now no longer enough on their own. The rider uses the reins to link his/her hands with the horse‘s mouth, which, as is well known, is very sensitive. It is therefore necessary to work gently with the reins. Using left or right reins shows the young horse whether it should turn to the left or to the right.

In more advanced work the reins serve to “position” a horse, which means that the reins determine the bending of the horse’s neck from poll to withers. The position is reached when the horse has learned to submit to a one-sided action of the reins. The positioning of the horse is not to be absolutely equated with the direction of riding, since the horse can hold its nose to the left and step away to the right, looking over its shoulder. Such tasks are deliberately carried out in further training for more athletic events, but here again, more aids are needed than just voice and reins.

The reins can be used for further signals. They do not just have a sideways acting function, but if both reins make contact with its mouth, they can cause the horse to collect. Getting the horse on the bit is important for its later responsiveness and collection. Pressure with the reins is only exerted for a short time. As soon as the horse is in the correct outline, the reins are again loosened. ln Western riding there is no permanent contact with the horse’s mouth, so the horse cannot lean against the bit. On the contrary, the horse should learn to carry itself and balance itself without bit support.

Only in a few cases (for example in initial training for the sliding stop) should the horse be given support of the bit with the help of the reins, so that it can balance better. Of course, the rider must not pull on the reins, which would only cause the horse to fight against the pressure. Possible reactions would be that it throws its head high, fixes itself solid or leans against the bit. If the horse does not accept the bit, i.e. does immediately submit to light pressure, then the rider must have given incorrect signals with the reins.

Each time the reins are used, the pressure from the hand must be immediately released as soon as the horse has responded to the pressure in the desired way. However, there are situation where the rider locks his/her hand (aids with restraining reins) and must give the horse more time until it has decided to accept the bit.

As well as direct signals with the reins, the Western rider has at his or her disposal an indirect signal. With so-called neck reinlng, the outer rein, thus the indirect one, is laid on the horse’s neck. The horse responds to this touch by moving in the opposite direction. The indirect rein may therefore only be applied to the horse‘s body axis, but not in the direction of movement. If the rider were to apply the rein over the withers too far in the direction of travel, there would be a tug on the outside of the horse‘s mouth.

The horse would then move its head outside and respond from the back of the neck, and would then no longer be in balance. When using the reins with both hands for control. the hands are only moved for some ten centimetres in the required direction of travel. In this way the outer rain is automatically laid on the horse’s neck, while the inner one at the same time points in the direction of movement. Neck raining was primarily developed so as to be able to steer the horse with one hand. The radius of movement of the controlling hand must be no more than ten centimetres to work to the middle axis of the horse. With single-handed control, the outer rein gives the most important signals to a horse that has been correctly schooled in neck raining.

Leg work

Although work with the reins is important and necessary, its priority fades as the horse’s training advances and the rider’s legs are used ever more for control.

Controlling the horse with one hand and with a loose rein can only be a partial form of control. Furthermore, it is only possible to control the head and neck of the horse with the reins. The rider must be able to control the whole body of the horse, especially the position of its shoulders and quarters. This is necessary both on safety grounds and on technical training grounds. In order to get the horse into a balanced and correct position, it must be obedient to the rider’s legs. Each time they are used, the rider must also be able to move hip and shoulder outwards or inwards, in order to allow correct positioning of the horse’s body.

The rider’s legs lie in physical contact with the horse’s ribs so that signalling pressures can be given, to which the horse should respond. if the rider wants to move the horse’s shoulder outwards (for example onto a circular line to which the horse will bend), his/her inner thigh must give a signal at girth position.

When the rider moves a leg back, it obliges the horse’s hindquarters to respond. When the horse has learnt that it should respond to such pressure, it is ready for more physically demanding manoeuvres. This means that it can be ridden not only forwards, but also in all sideways manoeuvres (where one-sided leg pressure is given).

If leg pressure is applied on both sides, the horse responds by moving forward. if the rain blocks forward movement, only the “door” to the hack remains open. When moving back, the reins can only prevent forward movement, so here it is wrong to press with the reins. As soon as the horse moves backwards, the reins must he released.

Leg pressure is basically used as a signal. This means that the pressure, as with control by the reins, is immediately loosened when the horse has responded to the thigh contact, thus keeping it sensitive. This way of signalling commands depends on a check being given whenever the rider wants to alter the present way of moving. If the rider wants to go faster, his/her legs are used on both sides.

These aids are immediately relaxed when the horse answers the request; the horse should maintain the higher speed on its own, requiring no further help. However, should it go slower again, correction by renewed leg pressure is necessary. Signals in the form of aids are then given if the rider wants something different, or to correct the horse because it has made a mistake. With increasing training, the horse can more and more be steered by the legs, and use of the reins recedes into the background.

Weight aids

Each manoeuvre is practically always ridden with a combination of aids, since the wish of the rider must be made clear to the horse (partially through voice aids) and the rider must then be suitably positioned to carry out the manoeuvre correctly (as a rule this happens by applying aids with reins, legs and weight). Weight aid is the finest method of bodily communication between rider and horse and thus has most meaning in Western riding. A balanced horse will follow weight aids in a reflex manner, so that rapid correction is possible by weight.

A horse that moves in balance will always try to keep its rider in the centre, it therefore strives to keep its body under the rider’s weight. For instance, if the rider applies pressure with the right gluteal muscle, and thus shifts his/her weight to the right, an advanced horse will follow the weight and move its body to the right. The Western rider strives to steer the horse primarily by weight aids, in order to preserve the sensitivity of the animal.

The Seat Of The Western Rider

The basis of applying correct aids is the balanced seat. The basic seat of Western riding, also called equitation seat, is almost identical with that of the classic dressage rider. The rider must be in equilibrium with the horse;As seen from the side, ear, shoulder, hip and heel of the rider should lie in a vertical line. The knees are slightly bent, the heels somewhat deeper than the toes, and the pelvis in the central position. This guarantees that the pelvis can move both forwards and backwards, so that it is possible for the rider

to sit to the horse’s changes in gait in a supple manner. The elbows lie quietly against the body and the lower arms point in the direction of the horse’s mouth. The reins lie easily in the loosely closed fists.

When seen from the front, shoulders, hips and heels should always be level. In this way the rider is balanced, sitting centrally over the horse‘s spinal column and not hanging to one side. The lower legs remain in physical Contact with the horse, neither stretched out to one side nor forwards. Nor should the tips of the toes be splayed out too far.

The different disciplines of Western riding involve slight differences in the basic seat. For instance, during Cutting the rider sits in the saddle with tilted pelvis and rounded back, in order to be able to match the lightning fast movements of the horse, and must hold on to the saddle horn.

Disciplines in Western Riding

Western riding involves a large number of different disciplines. Most of the riding classes are adapted from the cowboy’s daily work, but some arose from the leisure occupations of the American herdsman, emerging later into disciplines which reflected the desired goal and training of Western horses.

The large number of disciplines within Western riding are in turn divided into different classes. For example, there are different performance classes according to the rider: Novice Youth, Youth, Novice Amateur, Limited Rider, Amateur and Open. The rider can progress, by a specific points system at shows, to the next higher class. Amateurs can also enter Open classes, but people working professionally as horse trainers or riding instructors may only enter Open classes.

The horses are also graded by age into different performance classes. Three-to-five year olds rank as Junior horses and may start in Junior classes. Three- and four-year olds may go into Snafflebit/Hackamore classes. All horses from four years may start in All-Age classes. Junior horses may be ridden with both hands with a snaffle bit or hackamore, or one-handed with a curb bit.

All horses which are six years old or over are Seniors. They start in Senior or All-Age classes and must be ridden one-handed with a curb bit (except for timed disciplines). Specifications can vary from association to association, so a competitor must work within the rule-book of the corresponding controlling body or union.

Halter classes

In the halter classes the horse is shown “inhand”. Halter classes are usually run by breed associations in order to assess the gait and the conformation of the horse. The classes are divided by age, sex and breed. The judge also takes the groomed condition and physical condition into account. Horses are therefore well turned out for halter classes

The “Showmanship” discipline has been introduced, in which the horse, rather than the handler, is judged. The judge will penalise controlling the horse by excessive hand movement.

Western Pleasure

In Western Pleasure the quality of gait in particular is assessed and also the conformation and manners of the horse. Great value is laid on flowing movements, keeping in rhythm, and natural “self-carriage” by the horse.

In Western Pleasure, all the riders are called into the arena at the same time. When the signal is given, participants must follow instructions to walk, jog and lope. This can be extended to include stops, moving backwards and extended jog.

Western Horsemanship

in the Western Horsemanship class, the position, seat and aid giving of the rider are closely assessed The test is in two parts: work as an individual riding a set pattern, followed by rail work in the form of a Western Pleasure Class. 80 per cent of the marks are given for the individual pattern work 20 per cent for the rail work. The work as an individual includes performing different manoeuvres, all of which must be ridden to a predetermined route, marked with cones. Careful riding and precision are called for.


The Trail class is a test of manoeuvring, and consists of three compulsory obstacles and at least three obstacles chosen by the judge. The compulsory obstacles are: riding through a gate. riding over at least four logs or poles. and moving backwards. The tasks can vary greatly. The poles to be ridden over can be laid in curves. in parallel or in zigzag. All three basic gaits are required on a Trail course.

The chosen obstacles can include any type of obstacle that could be encountered on a trail ride and is allowed by the judge. For instance, such chosen obstacles may be water hazards, filling and emptying a post box. moving sideways over poles in different variations, putting on and taking off a raincoat or crossing a wooden bridge.

Judges in the Trail class look at the manners of the horse, its responsiveness to the rider and the quality of movement. Horse and rider will score more highly when the horse can evaluate obstacles itself and follow the rider’s cues for more difficult tasks.


The Reining discipline is sometimes called Western dressage, and is ridden exclusively at the lope. Predetermined patterns must be ridden from memory, with different manoeuvres such as spin (fast 360-degree turn on the hindquarters), sliding stop (an abrupt stop from a lope, with the horse sliding on its hindquarters), roll back (following a sliding stop, immediately turning and loping in the opposite direction).

The circles are loped either fast or slow, with flying changes to change the rain. In Reining, the precision of each manoeuvre is assessed. Positive weight is given to finesse, smoothness and quickness of manoeuvres while maintaining a controlled speed.

Western Riding

in Western Riding the horse should show a high degree of responsiveness, sensitivity and accurate movement. Flying changes in lope must be ridden in quick succession, with fore and hindquarters changing leads at the same time. Subsequent rising of the hindquarters will be taken as an error.

The flying changes must be carried out over a predetermined course, between two cone markers, with the horse showing that it can complete the task effortlessly, precisely and quietly. Depending on the course, seven or eight flying changes must be ridden, which makes the discipline highly demanding.

Cattle disciplines

Cattle disciplines in Western riding include Cutting, Team Penning and Working Cowhorse. Cutting is understood to be the separation of one cow from a herd. The rider has two and a half minutes in which to work. After separation of a cow from the herd, the horse must attempt on its own to prevent the cow from rejoining the herd. The judge gives plus points it the horse is clearly in a position to control the cow.

The Working Cowhorse is in two parts. The first part is a raining pattern, called dry work. In fence work, the second part of the Working Cowhorse discipline, rider and horse must work with an individual cow, The cow must be driven on predetermined paths, for example on the short and long sides of an arena with turns in the form of a figure eight.

Team Penning is a team test, in which three riders must separate three marked cows from a herd and drive them into a corral. The team of riders has a maximum of one and a half minutes in which to accomplish this task. If the team beats the time, a hand is raised to stop the clock. The team which does the task fastest, wins the test.

Timed events

The timed disciplines are won by the rider with the fastest time, but are treated more as a “competition”, purely for entertainment. The best known are the barrel race and pole bending events.

The barrel race is ridden round three barrels on a set course. Pole banding is a slalom race between upright poles. The fastest rider wins each test, with five penalty seconds being added to the time for any barrel or pole knocked over.

Two different things: Western riding and rodeo

Time after time, Western riding is confused with rodeo. It is true that both these sports have their origins in cowboy work, with both using the same tack and clothing, but Western riding has been developed into an art form, while rodeo is seen as entertainment.

In rodeo one tries to ride bucking bulls or horses, to capture animals with a lasso or be judged in exciting races. Such “riding” on a refusing horse completely lacks the harmony between rider and horse which is the whole basis of the Western riding discipline.

In Western riding the rider strives to nurse the art of riding so that the horse reacts to the minimum of aids, This basis produces a well-bred, disciplined horse that is schooled in the foundations of riding, so that it is ready for active co-operation.

These foundations are no longer to be found in events such as the barrel race, so such races are only seen with reluctance by most Western riders at their shows. However, they are still carried out and it must be admitted that the barrel race is a popular rodeo discipline, so there are some overlaps. However, the targets are clearly separate and there are no longer any points in common between the two.