The discipline of Western is as broad in spectrum as the vast
plains of the Old West from which it originates. There are
a multitude of classes from which to choose, from Western
pleasure to trail to working cow horse, but all classes share the
same heritage in the working ranch horse of America’s past.
Horses are shown in Western stock saddles, often trimmed in
silver, and riders don familiar-looking Western attire (although
it can be somewhat more reminiscent of the cowboys and
cowgirls of TV fame than that of the working ranch hand’s
simple and plain clothing). Still, the roots are there. The
leather chaps originally designed to protect a cowboy’s legs
while riding and working and also to keep his clothing from
tangling with the tumbleweed, bramble and other brush encountered
on the trail, are still worn in today’s show ring.
And, of course, the iconic broad-brimmed cowboy hat remains
relatively unchanged from its 1800s predecessor.
The duties of the modern competition Western horse also remind
us of the daily tasks required of a working ranch horse, from
picking his way through a timber-covered or thickly-brushed
countryside as demonstrated today by the modern trail horse’s
precise maneuvering through an intricately-structured course
of obstacles, to swiftly maneuvering and corralling a wayward
steer or calf at branding time as demonstrated by the modern
day working cow horse as he deftly sorts a steer from the
herd and then drives it through several compulsory moves in
a timed run. Although the American stock breeds (Quarter
Horses, Paints, etc.) have long been considered favorites for
this discipline, there are Western classes custom-tailored for
virtually every breed. And, since there’s a little cowboy in all
of us, no one will have any trouble finding a class suited to
his or her specific interests or level of riding. The thrill of the
Old West is alive and well in the equestrian discipline of Western.
To learn more, visit the United States Equestrian Federation at usef.org.