||Specialisms | Western
A Brief Synopsis of Western Riding and Events
Western Style Riding got its start on ranches as early as the late 1770's. Much of the equipment was influenced by the early Spanish Vaqueros. A cowboy spent a lot of time horseback, sometimes 12 to 16 hours a day or more, and needed to have comfortable, functional equipment. Much of today's western styles of riding were born of necessity.
The western saddle is one example. We will have an article
devoted to the western saddle a bit later on. The
stirrup leathers of a western saddle are longer so
that the cowboy could fully extend his leg when riding all day long.
The stirrups themselves are larger to support the foot better. The horn
on a western saddle is used to dally or wrap the cowboy's lariat (rope)
around when catching and holding cattle. The tree is very strong to withstand
having cattle tied to the saddle horn.
The western practice of "neck reining" (guiding the horse with one hand) also comes from necessity. A cowboy trying to rope a cow so that it could be doctored or branded, needed to be able to guide his horse with one hand. This would free the other hand to rope with. A good cow horse quickly picked up the idea of moving away from rein pressure on its neck.
Over time contests between ranches become common. Many of the ranch hands would compete to see who was the best at riding bucking horses, roping cattle, etc. and this evolved into the sport of Rodeo, which we will have an article on later. Other contests would see the horses competing. Most all of today's western horse events got started in this way. Listed below is a brief explanation of several western events:
Reining is a contest in which a horse and rider must perform a complex pattern of movements involving circles, spins, slides and turns. The horse and rider work in both fast, large circles and slow, small ones. A horse will do dramatic Sliding Stops, looking like he is almost sitting down. Roll Backs are when the horse stops and lopes back the other direction over his tracks in one smooth movement. Spins get the horse to turn around one hind foot. During a good reining run, the cues to the horse are invisible to the average spectator. The early reining contests had a thread tied between the bit and the reins. The object was to seewho's horse could perform without breaking the thread. Reining has been called the "western dressage", and is always a crowd pleaser. Horses and riders are judged on the obedience of the horse to the riders aids and on accuracy.
In Competitive Trail classes, horses enter the arena separately and work through a series of obstacles, such as gates, patterns of poles which they must also reverse through and other activities. The idea is to simulate in the show ring many obstacles that might be found out on the trail. Horses are judged for their calmness, obedience to the rider's aids and the willingness with which they perform each task set them.
In Cutting the rider goes into a herd of cattle and moves one cow out. He then places the horse between the cow and the rest of the herd. Once the rider drops his hand to the saddle horn the horses job is to prevent the cow from returning back into the herd. During a good cutting contest the cow will try very hard to get back into the herd and the horse will mirror its every move. If the cow stands still, many cutting horses will get low to the ground and tremble waiting for the next move. The ranches of the West prized their cutting horses so much that only top hands were mounted on them.
The Working Cowhorse event is exactly what the name implies, and shows the versatility of a much needed working western horse. There are three portions, reining, cutting, and fence work. A working cow horse has to perform a reining pattern, cut cows, and then show that it can control a cow both in the open and along a fence line. The horse has to move the cow along the fence and then turn it the opposite direction at speed. Then the horse has to take the cow to the center of the arena and circle around the cow both directions, showing control.
Over time, people wanted a way to show how well trained and comfortable to ride their horse was. The horse has to truly be a pleasure to ride. Western pleasure is a showing class in which horses are shown in a group in the arena, performing changes of gait and direction as requested by the judge. Horses are judged for their appearance, style and movement. Pleasure horses move very slowly and smoothly. All on a loose rein, and very subtle cues from the rider. A horse that enjoys pleasure riding will shine in the ring. They will give themselves to the rider 100%, with no sign of resistance. There are many variations of western pleasure, like western riding, and trail. They all show how well trained and pleasurable the horse is to ride.
Everyone wants a pretty horse. Halter competitions probably started about the time many of the horse associations were formed. Halter horses are supposed to represent the breed standard. Conformation is the thing here. "How close does this horse come to the perfect specimen for this particular breed?" Many horses that compete in other events also do well in halter, although some are just halter horses. There are many hours of preparation that go into a properly turned out halter horse.