Western riding developed to suit the needs of working horsemen on the ranches and ranges of the western United States and Mexico.
Characterized with a deep seat in saddle and soft hands, western horseback riding was ideal for driving cattle and working long days in the saddle.
From the original cowboys, many western riding disciplines have emerged, and have enjoyed tremendous popularity across the US and around much of the world.
Western Riding Styles
Western pleasure classes are very popular throughout the US. Competitors compete against each other in the same arena at the same time.
Horses are judged at the walk, jog, and lope. Horses are expected to perform the gaits at controlled speeds and collected with a loose rein and a light hand by the rider.
An exceptional western pleasure horse and rider will perform the required gaits and transitions with little indication of cuing from the rider.
Reining competitions are conducted one horse and rider at a time completing a set pattern comprising of multiple precise movements.
Often called the dressage of western riding, reining at a high level takes an experienced and talented horse and rider.
Reining horses are asked to perform numerous turns, lead changes, and gait transitions.
Roll backs and full gallops into sliding stops are exciting aspects of a reining horse pattern.
Originating directly from the work performed by horses on the ranch, cutting is a fast paced event where horse and rider must identify and separate a steer or cow out of a herd of cattle.
Once the selected steer attempts to go back with their herd, the rider takes all pressure off the reigns and the horse uses it’s cow sense to prevent the identified steer from going back with the rest of the herd.
Team penning, and it’s similar event ranch sorting, consists of three horse and rider combinations who must work together to get a certain number (usually three to five) steers separated from their herd.
The horse and riders then push the steers into a pen within the arena. The competitors close the pen’s gate only when they have each of the identified steers in the pen, with no other cattle with them.
Teams are timed and the fastest team to successfully pen the correct steers wins.
Ranch Horse Event
These events require a well rounded horse and rider as it combines multiple skills used by ranch hands and their horses.
Most events include a ranch trail class performed in real world terrain. Ranch riding classes are held which are similar to western pleasure classes. Additionally, ranch cutting, ranch roping, ranch halter (judging the horses conformation), and working cow horse competitions are included.
Working Cow Horse
Working cow horse competitions are a combination of reining horse and cutting horse events. One horse and rider are in the arena along with one steer who must be herded through a specific pattern.
Halter classes are in hand classes (horse is handled from the ground using a halter and lead rope) where the horse’s conformation is judged against breed standards. The horse is typically judged at a walk, jog, and while standing”square”.
Showmanship classes come in multiple names, usually fitting and showing, halter showmanship, or just plain showmanship.
Another in hand class, horse and handler are judged on their ability to perform specified maneuvers in a set pattern.
Horses are generally asked to walk, jog, pivot, back within specific rules defined by the judge.
The handler and horse are also scored based on their grooming, attention, and overall level of presentation.
Trail riding with your horse is one of the most pleasurable experiences in the equestrian world.
With thousands of groomed horse trails throughout the United States you can go for day rides all the way up to long distance trail rides.
The United States National Trail Classification System has a list of trails that will suit your desired ride. They have trails suitable for one rider up to long distance trails capable of handling a hundred riders.
The United States Forest Service and many State governments maintain equestrian trail systems open to the public.
And often times, with the right approach, you can gain permission from private land owners to ride on their property.