What does “western riding” actually mean? Our comprehensive guide gives you an insight into the popular riding style from the USA.
Origin of Western Riding
Western riding originated in the “Wild West” of America. Millions of bison roamed the grasslands of the endless prairies of the American West. However, when they were nearly wiped out and their numbers drastically decreased, ranchers began raising beef cattle on the endless prairies. In order to provide care and control for these animals, quite a few miles had to be traveled. Without a suitable horse, this would have been almost impossible.
Which horse breeds are suitable for western riding?
Whether the horse had a great gait, what color or pedigree the horse had, these were characteristics that did not interest any rancher at the time. Since the cowboy carried the lasso in one hand, he needed a horse that he could handle easily and closely with one hand in all gaits. Thus, certain qualities of a horse were enormously important in a cowboy’s daily work: nerve, endurance, speed, agility, sure-footedness, motivation. These characteristics were and are found especially in Quarter Horses and Appaloosas.
What is the difference between English dressage and Western riding?
There are many differences between English and Western. One of the most significant is the communication between horse and rider. In the English style of riding, the emphasis is on leaning. This means the rider is in constant contact with the horse. Western riding, on the other hand, is pure impulse riding. Thus, a Western horse usually reacts to the smallest impulse cues, for example, it trots as desired and then remains independently in this gait until the next impulse follows. This made it easier to work on horseback for hours, not only for the riders, but also for the animals, which now did not have to be permanently highly concentrated. The impulse aids are given mainly by weight shifting, thigh aids, voice and as little reins as possible.
Western riding today
In the meantime, Western riding has become a certain way of life among many riders. The enormous versatility with a well-trained western horse appeals to many horse people. Whether slow or fast, pinpoint and precise, with as little impact as possible, in western riding every rider finds what he is looking for.
The different disciplines in western riding
As in dressage or show jumping, there are also tournaments in western riding.
The most popular disciplines are probably the following:
Reining requires a carefully trained horse that willingly performs rapid maneuvers such as sliding stops (sliding full stops on the hindquarters from a full gallop), spins (quick 360-degree turns), and roll-backs (180-degree turns on the hindquarters). The individual elements of reining are tasks that the horse originally had to master when working with cattle.
The goal of the discipline Ranch Riding is to present a horse that is willing to stand at the aids and is easy to control even at higher gaits.
In addition to extended trot and lope, other compulsory maneuvers such as side-pass, canter changes and riding over poles are required to show the versatility and rideability of a good ranch horse. A light rein connection is desired.
Horsemanship focuses on the performance of the rider. Among other things, the rider’s aids and posture during the individual lessons are evaluated. The required individual task must be executed very precisely, which also requires enormous control of the horse. The maneuvers required are not spectacular, but must be meticulously executed.
In this skill test, the horses must overcome at least six obstacles. In the trail, nerves of steel, trust of the rider in the horse and trust of the horse in the rider are required. For example, the rider must open a gate and ride through it in such a way that a herd of imaginary cattle would not have the slightest opportunity to pass through the open gate as well. Another obstacle is the bridge, which the horse has to cross carefully but willingly. Also, poles lying on the ground, which can be imagined as undergrowth in the forest, must be crossed without touching them in the different gaits. Another exercise is to back the horse through a tight pole-L or pole-U. The good trail horse should approach any obstacle, no matter how strange, intrepidly and deliberately, test it, and then negotiate it without delay.
Horses are presented in a group on the track, with faster horses allowed to overtake on the inside. Horses are judged positively if they move forward smoothly and lightly on an appropriately loose rein with a relaxed head and neck posture appropriate to their conformation. The horse should move calmly in all gaits, but with under-stepping hindquarters, as well as tactfully and evenly. It should make a friendly and willing impression.
At the end of the test, the horse is required to walk backwards smoothly and straight with minimal aids.
Equipment for the rider
At competitions, the clothing varies depending on the discipline. In Trail or Pleasure, a lot of bling-bling is common. There is hardly too much here. In Reining or Ranch Riding, a plaid top and boot jeans or appropriate chaps are often seen.
In every discipline the wearing of a hat is obligatory, youngsters wear a helmet.
Equipment for the horse
Horses are also dressed up properly for a show. The judges like to see the pad (comparable to the saddle pad in English) and the gaiters or bandages color-coordinated with the rider’s clothing.
In leisure time, of course, this is completely unnecessary. Important are a suitable western saddle, a high-quality pad, bridle and leg protection.
Conclusion about western riding
If you enjoy variety with your horse, if you feel comfortable with jeans and cowboy boots, if you want impulse riding with a horse that thinks with you, then Western riding is definitely the right thing to do. Depending on the level of training of horse and rider, there are no limits in “western dressage”. Travers, Renvers and Co. are ridden at a high level. Unfortunately, as with any other riding style, you will also find black sheep among the riders in the western scene, who primarily see a piece of sports equipment in their horse. There unfortunately only the sporty success counts and not rarely horses with young years are already “turned over the clock”. Especially in reining, one must not forget how much ligaments and tendons, indeed the whole horse is under enormous stress. Here, training with heart and mind is the be-all and end-all. So keep your eyes open when choosing a good trainer, with whose help you can have a loyal, motivated and healthy horse at your side for many years.
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