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Welcome to the Equestrian Outreach Riding Discipline - Western Page

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Western Riding Discipline Overview

The western riding style features a western saddle, long stirrup length, Western clothing and tack, and includes the distinctive one-handed hold on the reins. Western Riding is a popular and rapidly growing Equestrian discipline throughout the world. Lately western equestrians have begun to emphasize safety over style as evidenced by the increasing number of western riders who have replaced helmets with cowboy hats in both pleasure riding and western shows.
Western – History: Western riding evolved from the cattle-working and warfare traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors, and both equipment and riding style evolved to meet the working needs of the cowboy on ranches in the American West. The working cowboy developed skills to fit the needs of the terrain and climate of the American west, and had many regional variations. However, the skills required to manage cattle and horses date back even farther, to the Spanish traditions of the vaquero (Spanish / Mexican cowboy).
English vs. Western: A wizened and wise equestrian once said:” Any good rider can ride any good horse”. Though the differences between English and Western riding disciplines appear dramatic, there are more similarities than most people think. Both styles require riders to have a solid seat, with the hips and shoulders balanced over the feet, with hands independent of the seat so as to avoid disturbing the balance of the horse and interfering with its performance.
Western Horse Gaits: Western horses are asked to have a brisk, ground-covering walk, but a slow, relaxed jog trot (Lope) that allows the rider to sit the saddle and not post. The Western version of the canter is called a lope and while collected and balanced, is expected to be slow and relaxed. Working western horses seldom use a sustained hand gallop, but must be able to accelerate quickly to high speed when chasing cattle or competing in rodeo speed events, must be able to stop quickly from a dead run and "turn on a dime."
Western – Tack: The most noticeable feature of western style riding is in the saddle, which has a substantial tree that provides greater support to horse and rider when working long hours in the saddle. The western saddle features a prominent pommel topped by a horn (a knob used for dallying a lariat after roping an animal), a deep seat and a high cantle. The stirrups are wider and the saddle has rings and ties that allow objects to be attached to the saddle.
Western horses are asked to perform with a loose rein, controlled by one hand. The standard western bridle lacks a noseband and usually consists of a single set of reins attached to a curb bit that has somewhat longer and looser shanks than the curb of an English Weymouth bridle or a Pelham bit.
Two styles of Western reins developed: The long split reins of the Texas tradition, which are completely separated, or the closed-end Romal reins of the California tradition, which have a long single attachment on the ends that can be used as a quirt. Modern rodeo competitors in timed events sometimes use a closed rein without a romal.
Western – Attire: Show events such as Western pleasure use much flashier equipment, unlike the English traditions where clothing and tack is quiet and unobtrusive. Saddles, bits and bridles are ornamented with substantial amounts of silver. The rider may add a jacket or vest, and women's clothing in particular features vivid colors and even, depending on current fads, rhinestones or sequins. Western riders wear a long-sleeved shirt, denim jeans, boots, and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. Cowboy boots, which have pointed toes and higher heels than a traditional riding boot, are designed to prevent the rider's foot from slipping through the stirrup during a fall, preventing the rider from being dragged—most western saddles have no safety bars for the leathers or automatic stirrup release mechanism. A rider may wear protective leather leggings called chaps. Clean, well-fitting work clothing is the usual outfit seen in rodeo, cutting and reining competitions, especially for men, though sometimes both men and women wear brighter colors or finer fabrics for competition than for work.

Western Riding / Show Styles

Cutting: This event highlights the "cow sense" prized in stock horses. The horse and rider select and separate a cow (or steer) out of small herd of 10-20 animals. When the cow tries to return to the herd, the rider relaxes the reins and leaves it entirely to the horse to keep the cow from returning to the herd. Depending on the level of competition, one to three judges award points to each competitor.
Halter or Conformation or Breeding – Classes: The conformation of the horse is judged, with emphasis on the both the movement and build of the horse. The horse is not ridden, but is led, shown in a halter by a handler controlling the horse from the ground using a lead rope.
Halter Showmanship, also called Showmanship at Halter, Youth Showmanship, Showmanship in-hand or Fitting and Showmanship: (Western) In showmanship classes the performance of the handler is judged, as well as the cleanliness and grooming of horse, equipment and handler's attire, with the behavior of the horse also considered part of the handler's responsibility. The competitor is judged on his or her ability to fit and present the halter horse to its best advantage. The horse is taken through a short pattern where the horse and handler must set up the horse correctly at a standstill and exhibit full control while at a walk, jog, turning and in more advanced classes, pivoting and backing up. Clothing of the handlers tend to parallel that of western pleasure competition. Halters are leather ornamented with silver. Showmanship classes are popular at a wide range of levels, from children who do not yet have the skill or confidence to succeed in riding events, to large and competitive classes at the highest levels of national show competition.
Ranch Horse: An event that, depending on breed sanctioning organization, tests multiple categories used by working ranch horses: Ranch riding, which is similar to western pleasure; Ranch trail, testing tasks performed during ranch work, often judged on natural terrain rather than in an arena; Ranch Cutting, judged the same as a cutting event; Working ranch horse, combining Reining, Roping, and working cow horse; and ranch conformation and is judged like a halter class.
Reining: Reining is considered by some the "dressage" of the western riding world, with FEI-recognized status as a new international discipline at the World Equestrian Games, reining requires horse and rider to perform a precise pattern consisting of circles at a lope and gallop with flying changes of lead, rapid "spins" (a turn in one spot on the haunches), "rollbacks" (a rapid turn immediately followed by a gallop in the opposite direction) and the crowd-pleasing sliding stop (executed from a full gallop).
Team Penning: A timed event in which a team of 3 riders must select 3 to 5 marked steers out of a herd and drive them into a small pen. The catch: riders cannot close the gate to the pen till they have corralled all the cattle (and only the intended cattle) inside. The fastest team wins, and teams exceeding a given time limit are disqualified. A related event is Ranch sorting.
Trail Class: In this event, the rider has to maneuver the horse through an obstacle course in a ring. Horses must cross bridges, logs and other obstacles; stand quietly while a rider waves a flapping object around the horse; side pass (to move sideways), often with front and rear feet on either side or a rail; make 90 and 180 degree turns on the forehand or haunches, back up, sometimes while turning, open and close a gate while mounted, and other maneuvers relevant (distantly) to everyday ranch or trail riding. While speed isn't judged, horses have a limited amount of time to complete each obstacle and can be penalized for refusing an obstacle or exceeding the allotted time.
Western Equitation - sometimes called western horsemanship, stock seat equitation, or, in some classes, reining seat equitation:  Western equitation competitions are judged at the walk, jog, and lope in both directions. Riders must sit to the jog and never post.
In a Western equitation class a rider may be asked to perform a test or pattern, used to judge the rider's position and control of the horse. Tests may be as simple as jogging in a circle or backing up, or as complex as a full reining pattern, and may include elements such as transitions from halt to lope or lope to halt, sliding stops, a figure-8 at the lope with simple or flying change of lead, serpentines at the lope with flying changes, the rein back, a 360 degree or greater spin or pivot, and the rollback.
Riders must use a western saddle and a curb bit, and may only use one hand to hold the reins while riding. Two hands are allowed if the horse is ridden in a snaffle bit or hackamore, which are only permitted for use on "junior" horses, defined differently by various breed associations, but usually referring to horses four or five years of age and younger. Horses are not allowed to wear a noseband or cavesson, nor any type of protective boot or bandage, except during some tests that require a reining pattern.
Riders are allowed two different styles of reins:
1) Split reins, which are not attached to one another, and thus the rider is allowed to place one finger between the reins to aid in making adjustments.
2) Romal reins which are joined together and have a romal (a type of long quirt) on the end, which the rider holds in their non-reining hand, with at least 16 inches of slack between the two, and the rider is not allowed to place a finger between the reins.
The correct position for this discipline, as in all forms of riding, is a balanced seat. This is seen when a bystander can run an imaginary straight line that passes through the rider's ear, shoulder, hip, and heel. This means the rider's feet and legs must hang directly in balance so that the heel hits this line, with heels down. The rider should also be sitting as straight as possible, but with their hips under their body, sitting firmly on their seat bones, not sitting on one's crotch with an arched back. The rider should have their weight sunk into their seat and distributed through their legs. The rider's shoulders should be rolled back and their chin up to show that they are looking forward.
Western Riding: Western Riding is a class that judges horses on a pattern, evaluating smooth gaits, flying lead changes, responsiveness to the rider, manners, and disposition.
Western Pleasure: In western pleasure, the rider must show the horse together with other horses in an arena at a walk, jog (a slow, controlled trot), and lope (a slow, controlled canter). In some breed competitions, a judge may ask for an extended canter and/or a hand gallop, and, less often, an extension of the jog. The horse must remain under control on a loose rein, with low head carriage, the rider directing the horse with nearly invisible aids and minimal interference.
Working Cow Horse or Reined Cow Horse: A judged competition that is something of a cross between cutting and reining. A horse and rider team work a single cow in an arena, making the cow move in a directed fashion through several maneuvers.
Open Shows: These are multi-discipline shows where western and English riders compete together.
Breed Shows: As the name suggests these are shows dedicated to specific breeds. The classes are usually structured around that breed.