Monday, November 23, 2009

Western Riding ~ It's Not What You Think!

What do you ordinarily think of when you hear the term “Western Riding”? More than likely, you envision a simple scene of a horse decked out in a Western saddle and bridle. Right? Wrong! Well, in a way...they do wear the tack.

Some folks call the Western Riding class a poor man’s Reining, however what it really is might be more like Dressage under Western appointments. Sort of.

During a Western Riding class you must negotiate a simple pattern of directional changes and with them, flying lead changes. Below I’ve included copies of the four basic USEF patterns, though patterns approved by the AQHA, APHA, ApHC, PtHA and other associations may vary somewhat (which is why it’s always a good idea to consult your rule book!).

As you can see on Pattern 1 (which has long been the most commonly used), you begin your pattern by walking into the arena and almost immediately pick up the jog, then cue your horse into a jog and just after the pole you ask for a lope. Continuing around the corner at a lope you then perform a series of serpentines through a set of cones with a flying change of lead in the middle of each distance between cones. The other patterns have basic variations on the same theme.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s far easier than it looks.

First, you have to make sure your horse is well schooled in those lead changes, because you’ll get drastically knocked in points if your horse scotches or attempts a simple change of lead. The idea here is nice, smooth flying changes and an even manner. Go back and re-read the feature here on flying changes if you need more assistance! Convenient link: Whoa! Stopping & Spinning To Win...And Flying Lead Changes Too!.

Then you need to be sure you have a smooth enough mover to win in the Pleasure classes, because movement and style are also major factors. One of the first considerations in judging a Western Riding class is quality of the horse’s gaits. Also important are manners and how well the horse responds to the rider. Both light contact (Which can be a misnomer -- I’ll go into more detail with my thoughts on that in the future!) and a “reasonably” loose rein are acceptable, as long as you can communicate well with your horse. In addition, when crossing the log (or pole) in each pattern, the horse should cross at both the jog and the lope without breaking gait or “radically” changing stride (wording directly from the rule book).

On the patterns show above, those small circles denote markers, generally orange cones, between which the lead changes should occur. A uniform distance of 30-50 feet is set between each marker down the side line with five markers, depending on the horses entered. On that count, for instance, if at an Arabian show, you can generally use a shorter distance, versus larger Quarter Horses with big doses of Thoroughbred blood. There should be a width of 50-80 feet on all patterns and the markers should be set a minimum distance of 15 feet from each rail.

Classes are scored using a points system, where between +1.5 and -1.5 are added to or deducted from an average score of 70 for each maneuver. There are also separate points penalties assessed for a number of things. Many open or schooling shows won’t necessarily announce scores, even if the judge bases his or her placings on those scores.

Included in penalties are deducting five points for things like failure to change leads at the proper place, cross cantering and blatant minor disobediences such as kicking out or bucking. Three points will be deducted for not performing specific gaits called for or not stopping at the appropriate place, breaking gait or executing a simple change of lead as opposed to a flying lead change and a few other faults. For hitting or rolling the log, being out of the correct lead for more than one stride on either side of the center point between each marker, among others, you will lose one point and one half point will be subtracted from your score for touching the log, the horse’s hind legs skipping during a lead change or a ‘non-simultaneous’ lead change.

The following results in disqualification: Illegal equipment, willful abuse of the horse, going off course, knocking over one or more markers, missing the log entirely, a major refusal by the horse to perform any required part of the pattern, a major disobedience such as rearing, a rider schooling the horse and the horse failing to change leads four or more times during the pattern (which also applies to four or more simple lead changes).

Credit for the overall performance shall be given to the horse and rider team for performing all lead changes simultaneously in the front and back, changing leads at the center point between markers, keeping an even pace throughout the pattern, performing an accurate and smooth pattern, the horse proving to be guided and controlled with the reins and legs easily as well as exhibiting good manners and a good disposition.

Conversely, things such as gaping at the mouth, raising the head excessively, anticipating and performing early lead changes, stumbling or getting any extraordinary or unnecessary aid from the rider (like too much talking to the horse, excessive petting of the horse and any unnecessary spurring, hitting with the reins or jerking of the reins).

Often the Western Riding class will be included in the list of qualifying classes for year end or daily All Around High Point awards at both the open shows and some breed circuits (most notably the APHA and AQHA), so if you’re looking to compete with the “do it all” exhibitors and your horses, be sure to add Western Riding to your repertoire.

As you can see, this is a fairly complicated class with rather specific guidelines on how to perform the patterns and how you’ll be judged. It is a fun class and can be an interesting departure for your Pleasure horse who might be bored with the same old ring-around-the-rosey events.

Try it at the next show where it’s offered, you never know, you may like it (and I know your horse will have a great time doing it)!



  1. Western Riding has been around for years and is a joy to watch when ridden by a "pro" on a well schooled youngster, especially. Horses seem to enjoy the change of pace -- it IS like doing cavalletti with a flatwork horse. The pleasure horses' interest level increases and they have a whole new view of "schooling."

    Good entry!

  2. Thanks!! This subject came up in an email a while back, someone did not know what the WR class was, so I figured a post discussing it might be neat.

    I love the class and wish it was offered more often. Just for giggles next year I may stick my Dressage gelding in a WR class...which should be fun! :)


Blog comments are moderated ~ Please be patient!
Your comments will appear as soon as possible! :)