Equestrian riding disciplines are the different methods and styles of riding you can do with horses. There are many riding disciplines, but the two most popular types of horseback riding are western and English.
The term “Western” means the type of saddle and tack used to ride the horse. Western saddles have a horn on them, and the bridle has a curved bit that goes into the horse’s mouth to guide it with. The leg part of a Western saddle is also longer than some of the other disciplines, and exactly where it is placed depends on where the stirrups fall.
Usually when you ride western style you only use one hand to hold the reins to the horse and mostly guide the horse via your legs and weight, not as much by the bridle bit.
Classes within the Western Riding Disciplines
There are several classes included in Western discipline, these are:
- Reining – Reining is very popular at shows. It is a Western dressage class of competition in which riders lead their horses through a specific group of spins, circles, and stops. It’s all accomplished with the gaits of gallop and lope. It is a western version of dressage riding. Horses must be very tuned to their riders and they are judged based on how well the horses accomplish the patterns.
- Pleasure -Western Pleasure is another form of competition. Horses are evaluated based on their manners and if they have a relaxed form of gait, are calm and if they are also responsive to their rider. This most fits horses which are quiet, have a softer gait and have the muscles needed to keep up with slow and controlled movements.
- Trail – This form of competition isn’t done at the same speed as some of the western disciplines. Horses must be able to do things like open a gate, pass through the gate, close a gate, jog and jump over various poles, go over bridges, back up through poles that are placed parallel, as well as side passing, are all part of the course.
- Horsemanship – This is based on the rider’s skills, how well they communicate to the horse, and not merely properly executing the pattern a judge asks them to accomplish. It’s also based on the rider having a proper seat and the correct posture, as well as some rail work like what’s required in Western pleasure.
- Western Riding – This is an advanced form of dressage where Western discipline is applied with a series of predesigned points for flying lead changes. There is a slalom style course with these flying lead changes in the middle.
- Cutting – This is based on a cowboy’s traditional ranch work where the rider must cut a cow from the herd, bring it out, keep it separate from the herd, and lead it to where it needs to be put.
- Penning – Penning is a team sport involving 3 riders who have about a minute to 75 seconds to get 3 cows out of a herd of 30 cows and get them into a pen which is on the other side of the arena.
- Reined Cow Horse – This is identified as working a cow horse at a breed show. It has 2 sections, reined work and fence work. Fence work is a very dynamic and exciting presentation. The objective is to chase the cow down a fence, block it with the horse, and make it turn the other way.
- Roping – Roping events are timed. This can be calf roping, team roping or single steer roping.
- Barrel Racing – Horse and rider race around a series of barrels in a cloverleaf pattern and are timed and the best time wins.
- Pole Bending – Another timed event, where the horse and rider race around a course of poles weaving back and forth, and then make a sprint towards the end to win.
English riding disciplines are more traditional and refined. Some of these include hunting and jumping, cross-country, dressage, driving, and Saddle Seat riding, as well as racing and polo. They emphasize blending the horse’s movement with a rider, so balance is one vital part of it. For example, in polo, a rider must be able to lean over from the horse to knock the ball with his pole.
English riders wear formal attire and use more formal gear than Western disciplines.
Here are examples of the classes of English disciplines:
- Eventing – Eventing is an equine triathlon featuring dressage, cross country, and show jumping. The dressage judges balance, rhythm, horse obedience, and suppleness while completing the predetermined course patterns, cross country is the horse and rider completing a series of jumps over various types of obstacles, including ponds, fences, stone walls, telephone poles, ditches, streams, etc. The final one is showjumping and tests the horse and rider’s technical skills of jumping.
- Hunt-Seat Riding – This is a challenge consisting of at least 8 jumps inside a ring. Horses are judged on manners and conformation and the riders are judged on how they look and how smoothly they ride. Speed is also a factor.
- Horse Racing—There are several kinds of horse racing such as quarter horse, harness and thoroughbred. The races can involve jockeys riding a horse over a set track or course, and harness racing is where the horses are hooked up to a harness buggy and the riders sit in them behind the horses while they race. Some races involve jumps, others are run over various types of courses, and quarter horse racing is done to see how fast a Quarter Horse can run a quarter of a mile.
- Steeplechase—Steeplechase racing involves a horse race where the horse jumps over several kinds of obstacles during the race.
- Polo — Polo is a team sport where the horses and riders play a game where they must hit a ball with a pole to score points.
Polocrosse is another horse and rider team sport that combines polo and lacrosse.
Australian Stock Saddle Riding
Another type of discipline that isn’t as popular as the Western or English disciplines.
- The Australian Saddle combines characteristics of English and Western. The Australian saddle doesn’t have a horn on it and that lets a rider move along with his or her horse as they go over rough terrain. Plus the saddle has a sort of knee pads to help the rider stay mounted, especially if they stop suddenly or are going downhill. It also has a tall cantle and pommel to keep the rider mounted.
- The Australian saddle stirrup is placed more forward than on a western-style saddle, and the way the rider is seated puts the legs in front of his body. This is thought to be more comfortable, especially if you ride for a long time. However, some think the stirrups are not wide enough and that their leg sometimes can get pinched because the leathers hang outside of the flap on the saddle and lay against the legs.