Pony Club has recently added a new discipline for recognition within their lineup of riding skills. Western riding has been around for a long time. Many people find when learning to ride that the western saddle is more attractive simply because there is a “horn” to hold on to. Others like the comfortable ride the American Quarter Horse offers. Still others are attracted to the flashy show clothes and all that silver on the saddles and bridles. Western is a discipline where finesse is paramount and history plays a major role in attraction to the ride.
Western equitation is one part of the discipline. This is the part where the rider is most important. It is attractive to amateur riders because it allows for colorful show clothes and fancy show horses. As with hunter seat equitation, the judging is on the rider. Much like dressage, the western equitation rider is supposed to sit tall in the saddle, letting their leg drape down the horses’ side in a relaxed position. The rider should not look stiff or rigid, but relaxed and comfortable in the tack. The reins are often just held in one hand, as most western disciplines encourage the use of neck reining when turning the horse. The other arm is bent at the elbow with the hand holding a “phantom rein”. The ideal western equitation rider makes the ride look comfortable but simple.
Another part of western equitation is the pattern. Almost all western equitation classes have a pattern. Depending on the level of rider and horse the pattern can have simple parts such as walking and halting to more advanced parts such loping, circling, turns on the haunches, and rein back. The idea of the pattern is that the rider and horse look in harmony and make the changes of pace and direction look simple, graceful, and fluid.
While the judging is mostly on the rider’s position and the pattern they perform, the rider does want to attract the eye of the judge. This is where dress comes in. The rider must wear chaps, a fitted blouse, western boots, western hat (Pony Club approved helmet), belt and buckle. Most riders choose to make their outfit complement the coat color of their horse. Red would clash with some chestnut horses, but any color looks good with a gray horse. “Bling” is also a big deal. Riders follow the trend of the season/year. Gloves are never worn and the pants worn under the chaps usually match the color of the chaps.
And finally, the horse usually has its mane banded (similar to braiding, but just makes the mane lay flat to one side), he/she has a western equitation saddle that includes silver appointments (not as much as a parade saddle, but enough to attract the eye), and a show bridle (usually matching the show saddle). The saddle pad is usually the same color as some part of the outfit the rider is wearing. The whole ensemble is meant to match and show off the rider sitting on the horse.
If you like riding western and you like fashion then this is the discipline for you. If you like that good ol’ western saddle, but have a need for speed and excitement then tune back in next time when we talk about the exciting western sport of Reining. It’s as exhilarating as eventing with the grace of dressage and the speed of games all wrapped into one.