riding – A general
western style was - in contrast to the classic way of riding – developed for working. Therefore, the
western horse of the past was mainly a “working
ranch horse” which was trained to work most of
the time on it’s own as partner of his rider. It
had to be guided by the rider with a minimum of signals,
because the cowboys had to concentrate on their work
and didn’t have much time to think about horsemanship.
But nevertheless the horse had to stay under absolute
control all the time. As they had to work a lot on tough
ground, the horses had to be very balanced, cool minded
and awake with a safe stride.
features and characteristics of the old ranch horses
are still considered in the breeding of today’s western
horses and in the rules and regulations of the modern western
competitions, even though the horses aren’t used
for real work any more.
The typical characteristics of a western horse
Affability and reliability
are two key words which best explain the fascination of
the western style . And both are
not possible if the horse has no confidence in his rider
and handler. The horse has to stay calm in tricky and
dangerous situations and may not react hectic and nervous.
Therefore, great importance is attached to a cool mind
and a balanced temper.
These qualities make a horse suitable both for leisure
time riding and the competitive sport of western riding.
In general, the western riding style can be taught to every
horse, no matter which breed it belongs to. There are many
different breeds which show excellent performance.
A western horse has to be intelligent, sensitive and willing
to learn, characteristics that can also be found in many
Competitions & disciplines
competitive sport of western riding contains a wide range
of different disciplines, which offers due to their
variety something for each taste, each temper, each level
of training and each horse.
All disciplines have developed from the origin demands
that were set on a good working ranch horses. For certain,
all these competitions have become an end in itself, but
nevertheless the basic working demands on a ranch horse
can still be found in most of the patterns and exercises.
Usually all disciplines are offered at different levels:
from beginner classes, to non-pro and open / professional
Horses between the ages 3 – 5 are allowed to be shown
two-handed in a snaffle bit or bosal, from 6yrs on they
have to be shown one-handed in a bit.
Reining has been likened to a western form of dressage – both
disciplines requiring a competitor to ride a set pattern,
demonstrating the unity of horse and rider.
Reining is a judged event designed to show the athletic
ability of a ranch type horse within the confines of a
show arena. Contestants are required to run one of the
ten approved patterns. Each pattern includes small slow
circles, large fast circles, flying lead changes, roll-backs
over the hocks, 360 degree spins done in place, and exciting
sliding stops that are the hallmark of the reining horse.
Despite the very quick succession of all manoeuvres and
the high speed (the whole pattern is ridden in gallop)
the horse may never loose its nerves and calmness. The
ideal reining horse should be willingly guided and controlled
with little or no apparent resistance. The performance
should be ridden with smoothness, finesse, attitude and
quickness, while using controlled speed which raises the
The phenomenal growth of this sport worldwide has led to
it becoming the first western discipline to gain full F.E.I.
recognition with the result that reining is now part of
the World Equestrian Games and European Equestrian Games
programmes. Price money in this discipline can raise up
to150.000 USD and more.
Stops: the horse should come from a fast lope to
a stop position by bringing the hind legs under his body,
lock into position and slide on the hind feet. The front
feet should maintain ground contact, forward motion,
A spin is
a series of 360° turns executed
around the pivot (inside) hind leg. The hindquarters should
their position whilst the front legs and outside rear leg
provide cadenced propulsion.
In this disciplines a large number of flying lead changes
are asked to be performed in an exact defined area within
a specific pattern. It is a test for a well ridden ranch
horse, which shows its manoeuvrability, free and easy movement
and constant stride during the whole pattern while it should
always be willingly guided.
The main criteria are: the quality of the gaits, the exact
and correct flying changes of lead, the response to the
rider, the manners and the disposition. Credit is given
for smoothness, cadence of gaits, and the horse’s
ability to change leads precisely and easily rear and front
at the centre point between markers.
A trail horse is one that can manoeuvre through a course
of obstacles with physical skill, expression and a good
mental attitude. It should travel through and between obstacles
with an inquisitive desire to go forward without compromising
its calm, relaxed attitude and way of going. It should
approach each obstacle squarely with authority and correct
form, with its own style, yet maintaining its willingness
to be dictated completely by the rider with no apparent
resistance. Maximum credit is given to the trail horse
that negotiates its way through an entire course efficiently,
without sacrificing carefulness, control, and / or attitude.
Ultimately, the trail horse is skilful, eye appealing,
confident, and leaves one with the impression of being
sure, safe and a pleasure to ride over a course of obstacles.
Walk over logs, opening and walking through a gait
good western pleasure horse has a comfortable free flowing
stride of reasonable
length in keeping with the
individual’s conformation. It should cover a reasonable
amount of ground with little effort. Ideally, the horse
should have a balanced, sweeping motion that requires no
more than light contact by the rider. The head and neck
serve a balance arm and are carried in a relaxed, natural
position appropriate for each individual’s own conformation.
Maximum credit is given to the responsive, confident, willingly
guided horse that performs all the required gaits correctly
with strength and finesse. The horse should be balanced
in all aspects - conformation, gait and disposition and
it should give the appearance of being a pleasure to ride.
Light contact should be measured by a horse’s response
to the rider’s hands, seat and legs and not merely
by the tension in the reins. However, an excessively draped
rein is just as undesirable as extremely tight reins. Subtle
cues are desirable, while an absence of cues is not.
Walk: flat-footed and ground covering, Jog: two beat, free,
square, slow, easy, Lope: a true tree-beat gait, smooth,
slow, easy and straight on both leads
In this discipline all competitors are judged together,
the horses have to be shown on the rail in all 3 gaits
on both hands on announcement of the judges. Extensions
in jog and lope upon request of the judge.
Judged are the quality of the gaits, the overall attitude
and the conformation of the horse. For a too fast tempo
or a wrong lead penalties are given.
In this discipline the performance of the rider is judged.
Criteria are the seat and the cues the rider gives to the
horse during all parts of the pattern. The pattern has
to be ridden as exact as possible, which also requires
a high level of control over the horse.
This event consists of two parts: the first part (which
counts to 80%) is a single ridden pattern where the exact
performance and the style of the rider are judged. The
second part (which counts to 20%) is the rail work – a
western pleasure where still the style of the rider (seat,
way of giving cues to the horse) is judged.
Racing & Pole Bending
Both are racing / speed disciplines which are very rarely
In Barrel Racing 3 barrels positioned in a triangle have
to be rounded as fast as possible, while Pole Bending is
a slalom race through 6 poles.
is a discipline, where living cattle have to be worked – it
is one of the few classes, where one can see what western
riding was originally concepted
The rider has to cut a cow from its herd and block it
from running back. During the 2 ½ minutes of the performance,
at least 2 different cows have to be worked. From the time
the cow is separated from the herd, the horse has to work
completely on its own by synchronizing all of the cow’s
moves and moving with it always keeping it on a distance
to the herd. For this discipline the horse has to have
a lot of “cow-sense” – it has to have
the ability to “read” the cow to know to which
direction it will move.
Working Cow Horse
cowhorse consists of two parts: the first one is a reining
called "dry work“,
the second one is the cow work, also called “fence
work”. Here one single cow has to be controlled.
First the cow has to be turned several times on the
short side of the arena, then the horse has to drive the
cow down the fence on the long side of the arena and
turn it twice against the fence. Finally the cow has
to be driven to run a figure 8 in the middle of the arena.
This all has to happen within 2 minutes.
of more information on this and other events you can