Western Riding

In the horse world, we know that the West was really won with the help of our dear horses.

Western riding is one of the most loved styles of horseback riding, and we think it’s pretty amazing ourselves!  This intuitive riding style has multiple different types of riding and competition, but they all center around the same general feel:  intuitive, yet in control.

What Is Western Riding?

Western riding is a style of horseback riding based around historical ranching and warfare traditions dating even back to colonial times through the times of the cowboy in the American West.  In this time period, battle and daily work on the range, created a style of riding where the horse is highly intuitive, yet still in control of the horse.  You needed your hands free to maneuver weapons or equipment, which is why Western riding today is not as reliant on your hands as other horse riding styles.

Western riding today, though dynamic, requires a rider to understand the mood and state of their horse, and to carefully control each step their horse makes.  It involves training horses to neck reign:  changing the direction with light pressure of a rein against a horse’s neck.  Horses also have a lot of independence to use their natural instincts in this style of riding.  Western riding involves training a horse to be highly responsive with very light rein contact.

What Types of Horses Compete In Western Riding?

Quarter Horse

The most common horse breed you will see competing in Western Riding is the Quarter Horse, often known as the Golden Retriever of the equestrian world for their gentle temperament.  These horses are very muscular, quick moving, excellent sprinters, and extremely obedient.  The breed gets its name because they were the fastest when it came to racing a quarter mile.  They are the first American pure breed, originating from 17th century Spanish horses.  The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) holds many events, shows, and races exclusively for the Quarter Horse.

Paint Horses

You’ll see paint horses in western riding quite frequently as well.  The American Paint Horse is a great horse breed for its color, markings, and is extremely intelligent.  The Paint Horse has long been used in performance competitions as a show horse.  The American Paint Horse Association holds events, shows, and races for this breed.


The Appaloosa breed is well-known for it’s speckled markings.  It is best known as a stock horse and can be found in a number of western disciplines.  However, you might also see it in other equestrian activities outside of western riding.

How Can I Compete In Western Riding?

Western Riding has numerous categories to compete in, all with their own specialties and unique skills to master.  All of the Western categories are consistent in that they originate from cowboy riding of the great American West time period.  You’ll notice that most of the competition categories fit what you’d picture a cowboy to do on a ranch in the 1800’s.

You can learn more about all of these categories in more depth:

  • Western Performance
  • Pleasure
  • Trail
  • Western Riding
  • Halter
  • Working Cow
  • Raining
  • Heading
  • Heeling
  • Calf Roping
  • Team Penning
  • GymKhana
  • Rodeo

Bling It On

Western riding is a FUN style of competition riding because you can get creative.  Western show attire is all about drawing attention. Saddles, bits and bridles are ornamented with substantial amounts of silver. You’ll see vivid colors, rhinestones, and sequins on women’s clothing and jackets.  Everything from hats and chaps to spurs and belt buckles to scarf pins and bolo ties are all ornamented and color-coordinated. If you enjoy having some colorful fun with your horseback riding, this is the style for you!

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