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; yet 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.