Western Style: Not Just a Horse Racing Style – It’s a Lifestyle!

November 4, 2021

What Is Western?

Western is a different path, a different methodology, a different philosophy, and different commands and methods of influence. And yet, the difference between Western and traditional riding (which, for the most part, is widespread throughout Europe) isn’t so significant. After all, a horse is a horse. They all react the same way.

A horse doesn’t know if it’s preparing for Western riding or not. Whether it’ll succumb to the pressure of the leg or respond with opposition depends on what it’s been taught. Any horse will twirl its tail if you annoy it; they’ll pull their mouths if you pull on the reins too much and hurt them, and so on. None of these depends on whether it’s performing in a Western riding or classic riding.

Western riding style is relatively young, but rapidly gaining popularity as a kind of equestrian sport. А distinctive feature of which style is a special romanticism and democracy, and the relationship between a rider and a horse is based on mutual respect and trust. A Western horse is bred as a reliable partner in the daily work of a cowboy on a ranch. Therefore, it’s largely a cooperative and thinking animal, trained to work with minimal influence from the rider.

Western fans are attracted by the riding style itself: relaxed, harmonious, and truly enjoyable. You can get acquainted with the rest of the riding styles and just watch the spectacular races and tvg breeders cup picks.

Now let’s delve deeper into the Western subspecies:


Trail is the most popular discipline today. It takes the pattern of overcoming obstacles that a cowboy encounters in his daily work on a ranch.

Opening and closing gates, passing between poles that simulate a narrow passage, sitting on poles, turning in a confined space, side movements, passing over the bridge, transferring objects from one place to another, and etcetera.

The obstacles must be passed at different gaits, depending on the scheme. This discipline assesses the horse’s cooperation with the rider, the horse’s gown, and its attentiveness to obstacles and the rider’s commands.


Pleasure is a legacy of horse trading. The history of this type of competition is rooted in the past when, in a similar way, cowboys showed their horses to buyers.

This group discipline is somewhat similar to shift driving. The referee stands in the center of the arena, giving commands to the riders moving around him to change direction or gait. He plays the role of a buyer choosing the most sensitive and pleasant horse to ride.

Participants move with a step, jog (shortened trot), loop (shortened gallop), perform transitions, and stop. The best horse is considered to be the one that walks in a relaxed manner, in a relaxed collection. Also, for an observer, the horse works completely independently, without any visible participation of the rider.


In this discipline, the rider is judged by his position and the ability to barely notice the horse’s control at different gaits when passing a given pattern. The competition consists of two parts – a small circuit, which each pair performs individually, and a group player.

The routines are usually marked with markers (cones); the horse must respond to the rider’s minimum action, and the rider must sit freely and relaxed. Horseship requires jewelry precision from both the rider and the horse. Even a half-meter error when completing a circuit can significantly reduce the chances of winning.

Ranch Riding

The essence of this discipline is to demonstrate the versatility, calmness, and agility of a workhorse. The performance should simulate cross-country movement while unlocking the workhorse’s capabilities. Horses in this class must exhibit a desire to move forward, an ease of speeding up / down under the rider’s control, and quality and efficiency of movement. Light contact with the reins is encouraged and the horse must not be shown on fully released reins.

The class includes elements such as stride, trot, and canter in both directions. Extended trot and extended canter in at least one direction. Stops and downsides. Also, there may be three additional elements on the diagram: side pass (movement with a step strictly to the side, without moving forward), turns of 360 degrees or more, changes of legs at a canter (simple or flying), passing the pole (s) at a walk, trot, gallop.

The paces must be in accordance with generally accepted rules. All transitions should be made at the designated location, smoothly and with ease. One of five regulated schemes can be chosen for the show.


Reining is considered cowboy dressage. This is the most spectacular Western sport. Almost all elements are performed at a gallop. The performance lasts no more than three minutes, but gives the audience an unforgettable drive.

In reining, fans are part of the show, cheering on their favorite riders with whistles and shouts, responding favorably to every beautifully executed element of the ride. It’s the most popular Western discipline in Europe and America. The aim of the competition is to show a perfectly driven maneuverable horse.

Reining schemes consist of 7 exercises:

  • large fast compasses (circles) and small slow compasses
  • canter lead change
  • spin – a fast 360 degree spin around the horse’s inner hind leg
  • run down – acceleration before stopping
  • an abrupt stop or a sliding stop (sliding stop) – the horse slides a few meters on its hindlegs, while the forelegs continue to trot. Sliding stop is an element of the show and it’s optional
  • roll back – a turn in a jump, 180 degrees after a stop
  • upsetting – usually done very quickly and at least 10 steps


Showmanship is a competition discipline where the work of a person with a horse on the ground is assessed. Participants are presented with a diagram with various elements. Each couple is challenged to demonstrate harmonious and confident performance.

The difference between showmanship as a competition discipline and brood is that the handler doesn’t show the horse, but his skills in controlling the horse on the ground.

Photo: Image by Melanie Hartshorn

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