My first opinion of Western riding was based on my perspective from being an English rider for many years. And it was not a very kind opinion, I must admit. In my mind, this style of horseback riding was very easy and basically meant for people that didn't know how to ride.

On a side note, I did think that the Western riding boots, or cowboy boots and cowboy hats were pretty snazzy-looking though!

Then I sat on a really well-trained Western horse. I can't say I rode him because it was more like I made him nuts for 30 minutes. Until the trainer started yelling at me to "Leave 'im alone! Quit pickin' at 'im"!!! What a humbling experience!

Then I went to a very prestigious dressage show and saw a reining demonstration and the rest is history. I sold the hunter, bought a quarter horse and was humbled yet again when I started working with a reining trainer. And I never went back - not true - I did show my friend's English horse as a favour one more time; won the class and THEN never went back.


The origins of this form of riding came from the needs of the cowboys.

The horse most suited for it had to be compact, comfortable to ride, easily trained and capable of riding long hours over varied terrain and capable of short burst of speed to chase cattle straying from the herd.

The equipment of both the cowboy and the horse was specially suited to the job - from the Western riding boots offering comfort, support and style to the Western saddle which was designed to distribute weight more evenly over the horse's back - an important feature when balancing the weight of a roped cow. The western saddle is very comfortable, making it ideal for trail riding and long hours in the saddle.

I think one of the things that attracts many people to Western riding is the thought of the Old West and the freedom the cowboy represents in the movies and television.

They envision Western trail riding through beautiful surroundings and experiencing nature from atop a horse

Western trail riding is very popular all over North America. For many people, attending a dude ranch or a Western trail riding stable with hourly rentals is their first introduction to horses and Western riding.

From there a new hobby is launched and the horse crazy passion begins!

As novice adult riders just taking up the sport, or for experienced riders who haven't ridden since they were kids, Western riding is appealing. These riders have no desire to jump and they understand that the gaits of a Western horse are slower.

Not having to jump and going a little slower is a huge plus for many adults and the reason they love Western style horseback riding.

For some, the goal is to simply achieve a level of riding where they feel safe being out with their horse just enjoying themselves on a leisurely hack through the woods. They don't want to compete for ribbons but they want to do things correctly and feel safe, in control and independent.


There are so many benefits to horseback riding, whether it be in the show arena or on the trails. Of course there's the companionship of the horse, but there's also the combined physical, mental and emotional stimulation.

Western riding develops body awareness, balance, coordination and it really stimulates your brain. In addition, it provides the opportunity of camaraderie with other horse lovers.


For those who like to be challenged both physically and mentally on horseback, the higher levels of Western riding deliver and then some!

Like any sport, the ability to learn and improve is limitless. In many ways over the last 20 years Western riding has evolved to become more like dressage.

The similarities and intricacies between the two disciplines are many - independent control over your horse's hip, ribcage and shoulder; a forward moving, well balanced horse - all these and many more are shared by both Western and dressage riding enthusiasts. However, self-carriage is what sets the two apart.

The well-trained Western horse maintains his self-carriage by themselves, with very little help from the rider. This horse carries himself in a collected frame without the constant hold and drive of the rider.

There is nothing that feels quite like sitting on a well-trained western horse and achieving that level of communication and partnership - being truly in tune with your horse! Even the untrained eye can appreciate the partnership that must exist between horse and rider to attain this level of communication and trust.

It offers many avenues for those who enjoy the thrill of competition. There are many different riding disciplines to explore and many different levels of competition.

For many people their only concept of Western riding is the rodeo and events such as barrel racing, calf roping or bronc riding. But the flash and the speed of the rodeo is only one small aspect of the competitive side of this form of riding!

There is the attentiveness and obedience of the WESTERN TRAIL HORSE where horse and rider must negotiate a complex pattern over obstacles. The horse is judged on the performance of the pattern over the obstacles with an emphasis on manners, responsiveness to the rider and the quality of their movement.

The WESTERN PLEASURE CLASS demonstrates the balanced, flowing and effortless movement of an ideal Western horse. On a loose rein horse and rider demonstrate control and responsiveness as well as the quality of movement.

In an event actually called WESTERN RIDING, horses are judged on the quality of their gaits, flying lead changes at the lope, response to the riders cues, manners and precision.

Perhaps the most exciting of the disciplines and considered to be the most advanced is REINING. It's considered by many to be the riding equivalent of the English discipline of DRESSAGE.

In reining, the athletic ability and willingness of the horse are judged while he's performing patterns that consist of specific maneuvers.

During this riding competition, riders guide their horses through a precise pattern of circles, stops spins and spins and stops.

Pattern work is done at the lope, and gallop. The horse is required to be extremely responsive to the rider. According to the rules of judging for the NRHA, "the horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely."

The western style of horseback riding has so much to offer people of any age and every level of expertise. It's fun, challenging and a rewarding experience for both the rider and the horse.

If you'd like more information on Western Riding, please contact me here.

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