Western Riding Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
The western riding discipline or class is a very demanding one, as it consists mainly of flying lead changes, which must be executed precisely at designated points. It may be a bit confusing that this class is known by a term that applies as well to western style riding as a whole.
In this class, the horse is judged on the quality of his gaits (here, the same demands are made as one would on a western pleasure horse), on his flying lead changes, on his response to the rider’s aids and his manners.
As for Patterns, there are several including all three gaits for the western riding class. Always a log on the ground must be jogged and loped over without touching it or stepping on it, and without breaking gait. Most of the pattern is ridden at a lope, with the number of flying lead changes varying between seven and eight. Cones are placed to lay out the course, and the flying changes must be executed right in the middle between markers. Part of the course will be slalom-like, but part of it asks for lead changes on straight lines.
It is not just the execution of the lead changes that is judged in western riding, however, but also the style in which it is done. The best horses are so smooth that one has to watch their legs closely to notice the change. They lope at an even rhythm throughout the pattern, stay in the same frame all the time, and are a picture of elegance, beauty, and athletic ability. The rider must control and cue the horse so that the pattern is executed with the flying lead changes at the specified points, and steer him over the log so that there is ideally no variation in his stride.
The scoring is done again in western riding on a base of 1 to 100, with 70 denoting an average performance. Credit is given for a smooth performance, an even cadence of gaits that is the same when finishing the pattern as it was at the beginning. For style and for precision the horse head carriage should be relaxed . Lead changes must be simultaneous with hind and front legs.
Breaking of gait, failure to change, or crossfiring, are of course severely penalized. Placing the change not in the prescribed area is also penalized. This is a truly advanced and stylish discipline, exhibiting great horsemanship.