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Western Style Riding - Riding Styles & Disciplines

Western Riding Styles Disciplines Western Style Riding Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

Western Style Riding is a colorful equestrian world, and in the tradition of the Americans and Canadians who ventured westward, settled the land, and established ranches.


Today's western horse shows offer a full slate of western classes, most of which derive from the work which the cowboy did from horseback, or from general riding across country back when the West was won. Like herdsmen everywhere in the world, the American vaquero and cowboy controlled his horse with one hand, because he needed the other to do things with: swinging and throwing a rope, opening and closing a gate, shooting, leading another horse, etc.

The American vaquero directly inherited this one-handed style from his Iberian forerunner, who held in his working arm a type of lance.


In true western spirit, the riders attire is only marginally regulated, and leaves lots of room for individual tastes, and for ever-changing trends. A western hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and cowboy boots is about the extent of the regulations.

When it comes to the equipment, however, everything is outlined in minute detail, and riding with an illegal piece of equipment automatically results in disqualification, which is necessary to ensure a level playing field in the sport of western style riding.

Today's western style riding classes include roping, where the free arm and hand is actually needed, but in most other classes it is just a matter of tradition that reins are held in one hand. There are also classes for junior horses in which they may be shown two-handed in a snaffle bit or hackamore. Senior horses must be shown one-handed

Roping, barrel racing and pole bending are not only part of horse shows, but also of rodeos. Although roping is also often put on as a single event.

Barrel racers have their own associations, which govern approved barrel racings.

Reining, cutting, and reined cow horse have their own governing bodies/associations, as does western pleasure.

So all these disciplines can be part of horse shows, and breed shows (of stock horse breeds such as the Quarter Horse, Appaloosa and the American Paint Horse.)

The highest level of competition is usually found at shows put on by the respective governing association. Some other breed associations, such as the Morgan and Arabian, may also have some western style riding classes.


Reining - The most popular event, or class, at western horse shows is reining, which is a western dressage class that became recognized as an official discipline by the F.E.I., the world-wide governing organization for equestrian sports. It is so far the only F.E.I.-recognized western style riding discipline.

Other classes are highly popular, such as western pleasure and trail.

Western Pleasure - All entries of a class ride together as a group, or, in case there are too many, the class may be split into several go-rounds, with a final go for the best ones. This class is a typical one for beginners, because they feel safer in a group.

Trail - This is a another class that beginners feel encouraged to try although all entries perform separately, they nevertheless feel they can handle it because it is a matter of slow negotiation, without the speed involved in other western style riding disciplines. They often feel confident that they can learn to manage these obstacles if they only work at it diligently. Typically, opening, riding through, and closing a gate, jogging and loping over poles, going over a bridge, backing up through parallel poles, and side passing are among the many obstacles and tasks one can find in a trail class course.

Western Horsemanship - A gratifying class for Amateurs and youth riders. The skills of the rider, his or her general ability to communicate with the horse by way of subtle and effective aids is the main focus in this western style riding class, not just the correct execution of the pattern the judge posted. Correct seat and posture are judged as well, and rail work is added, like in a western pleasure class.

Western Riding - The name of this discipline can be rather confusing, as western riding sounds like an all-encompassing term for western riding in general and for western style classes. But western riding is the name for a class at western horse shows that consists for the most part of a series of flying lead changes at pre-described points. It is a very advanced dressage-type class within the western style riding disciplines, which appears to be too demanding as far as the rider's skills and the talent of the horse is concerned to ever enjoy a huge following of active performers. However, the crowd very much appreciates the stylish and hugely competent performances of the top riders in this event. Pylons mark a slalom-like course which horse and rider have to master, with the flying lead changes always placed right in the middle between the markers.

Besides the actual riding classes, an array of classes that are related to the working of cattle can be found in the fascinating world of western style riding.

Cutting - One of the most popular disciplines, and is the one awarding the highest prize moneys in all equestrian sports, if we disregard flat racing. It derives directly from ranch work, and is still close enough to it that cutting show horses can still be useful on ranches, in spite of the specialization of the sport since the National Cutting Horse Association was formed. To cut a cow is to sort her out, bring her out of the herd, and keep her separated from the herd which the cutting horse does on his own!

Reined Cow Horse - A western style riding class every bit as spectacular as cutting. It is know as working cowhorse at breed shows. It consists of two parts, the reined work, or dry work, and the fence work, or cow work. The fence work is one of the most dynamic and thrilling performances in all of equestrian sports, and is also rather dangerous. It takes a lot of guts to chase a cow down the fence and then block her with the horse against the fence, forcing her to stop and turn.

Roping - All ropings are timed events, not so much riding classes. In this type of western style riding class, what counts is the skill with a rope and the fastest time, although at breed show ropings the manner a horse displays while working is also being judged. Roping classes include calf roping, team roping (heading and heeling), and single steer roping.

Barrel Racing - Yet another, separate branch are the timed events, the most popular of which is barrel racing. In barrel racing, a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels is run against the clock.

Pole Bending - This is another popular timed event, but one that seems to be too demanding to be embraced by very many riders. In this western style riding class, a slalom-like course is marked by upright poles, through which the horse must weave.

Cow Pony Race - This is a short distance flat race (no official distances exist), ridden with western outfit and a western stock saddle.

Article © Submitted by Hardy Oelke and Photos ©Oelke or Oelke Archive. Reproduction of any portion of this copyrighted website without written permission of the publisher is prohibited and subject to legal action


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