Western riding

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Western riding is a riding style that is based on the working style of the cowboys . It has its origins in Spanish work riding, riding the vaquero .

Western rider


Western riding has its origins in America. For the cowboys it was part of everyday life to sit in the saddle for up to 16 hours. That is why they needed a stamina horse with easy gaits so that they could withstand the whole day in the saddle. The aids are designed in such a way that you can ask everything from the horse with as little effort as possible. The fact that you ride one-handed in western riding is because the cowboys needed one hand to hold the lasso .

Western horse

The western horses are specially bred for the requirements of this riding style , but it can also be any breed. Horses with a height at the withers of up to 160 cm and a "rectangular frame" are preferred. The rectangular frame results from the desired long hips and large shoulders of the western horse with a rather short back. Well-known horse breeds for western riding are Quarter Horses , Paint Horses or Appaloosas . All other horse and pony breeds can also be trained and ridden in western style. In Europe, the Haflinger horses in particular have made a good name for themselves in western riding as the "Alpenquarter" (a tongue-in-cheek affectionate term among western riders) and the Freiberg horses . The style is also suitable for mules . In addition, western horses are specialized in escaping the pressure exerted by the rider.


The typical western saddle with saddle horn, wide seat and high rear edge ( cantle ) and with long comfortable stirrups is comfortable for rider and horse even when working in the saddle for days and offers great safety even when making quick turns. The reins are usually open so that they don't get tangled up on the horn. As teeth one is often Curb bits used (comparable to that in the English riding style used Curb ). It is ridden with one hand. Only advanced riders on well trained horses use the curb bit. At EMU tournaments it is mandatory from performance class II. Horses between the ages of four and six are excluded. The training of the horse called the snaffle bit (jointed bit - snaffle ) used; it is ridden with both hands. Even beginners always learn western riding with the Snaffle Bit. Bitless bridles such as the Western Hackamore (consisting of Bosal, Mecate and the Bridle) or the Sidepull (comparable to the Lindel ) are often found . In competitive sport mechanical Hackamore or Sidepull are prohibited.

Riding style

From simple riding in the basic gaits to high school - in the English riding style: dressage - there is also a wide range of skills in western riding, influenced by the Iberian riding style, which can be described as the origin of every riding art. In contrast to the English riding style, western horses are trained to react to an impulse - for example, help to push forward - and then to stay at this pace without further influence from the rider. In the English riding style, on the other hand, even after the help to change the tempo, the thighs, cross and reins continue to act permanently. As part of the First Western Rider Union (EMU), there is a training scale as a target.

The horses have to work independently and react to the smallest weight and leg aids. This is where the typical one-handed rein guidance ( neck reining ) comes about , as the cowboy or vaquero often has to have one hand free. This reins guide is mostly used in conjunction with a "Western curb " ( curb bit ), a bit with different mouthpiece variations.

Spectacular stops ( sliding stop ), where the horse almost “sits” with the hindquarters on the ground and continues to run with the front legs, or quick spins around the hindquarters, combined with a rodeo-like atmosphere and cowboy clothing, characterize the image of western riding. However, there are also rules here as to how rider and horse must be equipped in a tournament. That varies from discipline to discipline. Hat, jeans and boots are always included. Just like with other riding styles, it is also important to get a solid training in western riding and to improve your skills permanently. As with any other riding style, this means primarily practicing basic elements and not riding show highlights , which, if ridden incorrectly, can quickly damage the horse's health.

Many western horses have gaits that are comfortable to sit on. Particularly slow and flat variants of the three "normal" basic gaits are shown in the Pleasure tournament . Since western riding has adopted many elements from work on horseback, the focus of all movements is to enable both the horse and the rider to perform the required exercise for as long as possible - ideally the whole day. There are also special gaited horse breeds, such as the Tennessee Walking Horse or the Missouri Fox Trotter .



Sliding stop

Reining ( reins , bridle ' ) is the currently most popular discipline in Europe, it is referred to as the Dressage Western riding style, with lots of fast-paced lessons in precise execution. This discipline is ridden at a gallop, mixed with tempo changes, rotations ( spins ), stops ( sliding stops ) and backwards ( back up ). In order to be able to practice this discipline correctly, the horses have special horseshoes (sliding irons) and the ground must also be suitable. A prescribed task ( pattern ) is to be ridden by heart. Reining has been officially recognized as an FEI discipline since April 2000 and is part of the World Equestrian Games.

Freestyle reining

The Freestyle Reining is particularly popular in the USA and a crowd puller. It is up to the rider who or what he wants to interpret. He has to choose a suitable music and acquire his own pattern. The Freestyle Reining can be compared to the freestyle in dressage. In contrast to the dressage freestyle, the interpretation of the chosen topic is often freer and looser, so it is not uncommon to wear a suitable costume. Freestyle reins that are ridden without a saddle or bridle are also allowed. Maneuvers coordinated with the music and perfectly executed from the range of prescribed maneuvers must be performed in the freestyle, which is up to four minutes long.


Skill tasks are required on the trail, such as B. to go through pasture gates without dismounting, which requires controlled, exact movement of the horse in all directions (backwards, sideways), or crossing wooden bridges, whereby the horse's serenity and trust in the rider become visible. It simulates all possible and impossible situations that a rider in the field (on a trail , trail ride ' to meet). It is important that the horse moves calmly, independently and smoothly through the obstacles without great interference from the rider, but that it can still be directed to the centimeter at any time. The exam usually consists of six obstacles. Always present is the gate, crossing over at least four poles (walking, trot or gallop, on a straight or curved line) and an obstacle that has to be crossed backwards (L, U or similar). The distances between the bars and the obstacles are regulated. The pace between the obstacles is also given. As with reining, the scoring starts at 70 points. Error points are deducted from this, e.g. B. for attaching to bars. The horse's manner on the obstacle (calm, head position, attention) is also included in the assessment.

Western pleasure

Western Pleasure is ridden in groups, in which the three basic gaits walk (step), jog (trot) and lope (gallop) as well as backward pointing and possibly also the extended trot on the appropriately loose reins and on both hands are required. As the name suggests: it should be a pleasure. The judge tells what the riders must do. Pleasure tests differ in the individual specifications of the judge. The transitions should be carried out exactly, whereby the aids should be as fine as possible. This makes it seem very effortless for the audience, but requires a high level of concentration from rider and horse. Above all, the purity of the gaits (rhythm), the posture of the horse and the rideability of the transitions are assessed. Trot ( jog ) and gallop (lope) should be ridden at a slow pace and as softly as possible. The overall image of rider and horse is also assessed here.

Western horsemanship

In this competition, the rider's performance is judged. Among other things, the aids and posture of the rider during the individual lesson are evaluated. The required task must be performed very precisely, which also requires enormous control of the horse. There are no spectacular, but very demanding maneuvers that are put on horse and rider. The exam consists of two parts, 80% of which is included in the evaluation. In the first part, the rider completes a mostly short, but all the more precise individual task, which is also called a pattern. The second part, the Railwork , of which 20% is included in the rating, corresponds to a pleasure test. The judge can determine whether he allows all participants to take part in the pleasure. In contrast to a pleasure test, however, the rider is still assessed here. If the rider makes a mistake, he gets fewer points for this task or none at all.

Western riding

In western riding, precise flying changes of canter are required, which should be ridden smoothly and on an appropriately loose rein. This discipline is considered one of the most difficult. It is a task ("pattern") to ride according to the rule book, whereby above all precision is required when changing canter between the pylons.

Versatility Ranch Horse

This discipline was launched a few years ago by the AQHA to show the all-round capabilities of the western horse. At the Versatility Ranch Horse, horses are shown in the following five disciplines: Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail, Ranch Cutting, Working Ranch Horse and Ranch Conformation.

Showmanship at Halter

Showmanship at Halter is a discipline in which riding is not in the foreground, but correct groundwork as a training standard. It is offered in all performance classes (EMU). Only the participant will be assessed as he presents his horse on the halter. Of course, a well-trained, calm horse has a positive impact on the overall rating. In addition to the correct positioning of the horse and the precise completion of the required task, the condition of the horse, equipment and clothing are also part of the evaluation. Originally, this test was intended to prepare inexperienced exhibitors for the holder test. You can now qualify for the German championship of the EMU.


The owner classes of the breeding associations represent a pure breeding show for the western horse breeds . The exterior and thus whether the presented horse corresponds to the breeding goals of the association is assessed. The exams take place unsaddled in the hand (on the halter = holder ). The horses are trotted forward and then judged while standing.

The classes are divided according to age (foals, yearlings, two-year-olds, three-year-olds, older horses) and according to the gender of the horses, i.e. there are separate classes for stallions, geldings and mares. In addition, classes in the various performance classes of the exhibitors are advertised (young people, amateur and open).


Cutting at the PCCHA Futurity 2015
Video: Cutting at the Equita'Lyon

The disciplines in which cattle are worked are called cutting, working cowhorse and team penning. These are also common in Europe - especially cutting and working cowhorse. Cutting is the third most rewarded sport in the world in terms of prize money (after tennis and golf). Cattle classes are expensive for those who practice, because the riders have to have cutting machines (= mechanical cow) or even a whole herd of cattle available for training, so that the horses stay “fresh” and in training. In addition, the prize money in Europe is far from being at the level of the USA. The cattle discipline cutting is a classic crowd puller. The rider has to "cut out" a cow from a herd (hence cutting = to cut ) and prevent it from following its natural herd instinct to return to the rest of the herd. The rider has 2½ minutes to show his horse's skills on cattle. He can work as many cattle as he wants, but is only allowed to stop working a cattle if it does not want to move at all or if it turns the other way around. The rider is not allowed to give any more visible help when the cow is separated from the herd and has to put the rein hand on the horse's neck. Because of their decades of breeding as ranch work horses, the western horse breeds have a natural instinct for cattle work, the so-called cow sense . The horse works completely independently on the cattle. The horses follow the cattle's movements almost like cats to prevent them from running back to the herd. Each rider determines a team that can help him with his work. Two cornermen or stove holders and two turnbackmen . The team of helpers is mostly recruited from the participants and thus actually from competitors. The work of the helper team is not assessed.

Working cowhorse

This cattle discipline is ridden in two parts. In the first part, horse and rider show their skills in a reining pattern, ie "dry work", in the technical jargon dry work . In the second part, “fence work” is required. Here he must first hold a cow on the short side (boxing), then turn it twice against the long side (gang). The conclusion is the circling of the cattle on each hand in the middle of the lane (with the horse changing canter). The horse's cow sense is particularly in demand here.

Team Penning

Within a time limit of 1½ minutes needs a team (three tabs) (which are marked with colors or numbers) to three discard cattle from the herd and into a pen ( pen lock). When starting or crossing the timeline (center line), the specific color or number that is to be sorted out by the team is named. No more than four cattle are allowed to pass the center line of the arena, otherwise you are disqualified. The team that manages the most cattle (no more than three) wins. If several people manage to do this, the team that did it in the shortest time wins.

Ranch sorting

Similar to penning. However, ten cattle are numbered from 0 to 9 with spray paint (non-toxic). The ring announcer then calls up an arbitrary sequence of numbers, according to the judges' instructions, when the timeline (center line), this time in the middle of the hall or riding arena, which has been narrowed by panels to about three meters, is crossed. The cattle must then be driven into the pen in precisely this order. It's about time again at most 2:30 minutes. The team (two riders) that makes it the fastest wins. If no team makes it in the allotted time, the team that has made the most cattle wins.

Hunter under saddle

The rider should demonstrate a willing, easy-to-ride horse with extensive gaits. The horse is presented in English saddle and bridle, appropriate clothing is required from the rider. The judge evaluates the horse with 80%, stamina and conformation with 20%.

Hunter Under Saddle, similar to Western Pleasure, requires the three basic gaits Walk, Trot and Canter , but at an increased speed. There are also two jumps to be completed in the Hunter Hack class.

Barrel race

Distance in feet

With the Barrel Race has one through three oil barrels ( barrels as quickly as possible by riding labeled) triangle. The barrel race is rode on rodeos by women as well as men. From a flying start, the barrels are circled in the order left barrel, right barrel, rear barrel or right barrel, left barrel, rear barrel. The barrels may be touched, but not knocked over. Knocking over costs five penalty seconds each. Barrel Race is named as the most popular discipline in tournament sport in the USA.

Pole bending

In pole bending, six poles are set up at a distance of 21 feet, which you have to ride through as a slalom. Knocking over a pole is punished with a time penalty, omitting a pole with disqualification. Flying starts are allowed.

Pleasure driving

There is even a class where the horse is harnessed in front of a sulky ( pleasure driving ), but this class is extremely rare in Germany.

The gait required is walk and trot at two different speeds (road gait and park gait) on both hands.


Superhorse is a mixture within a pattern that consists of elements from the disciplines trail, reining, western riding and pleasure.

This discipline is only offered by EMU and SWRA; At VWB there is the Western Combination, which is structured in a similar way to the Superhorse.


Western equestrian sport in Germany has been part of the Erste Westernreiter Union Deutschland e. V. (EMU), which at the federal level belongs to the German Equestrian Association (FN) as a free affiliated association. At the state level, the western rider regional groups are united in 15 state associations.


  • Ute Tietje: Lexicon of Western Riding. Practical knowledge from A – Z. Buffalo, Verden / Aller 2010, ISBN 978-3-9813009-3-2 .

Web links

Commons : Western Riding  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files