Why do cowboys ride horses

Western riding

Western riding is a riding discipline. When you hear western riding, you probably have images of campfire romance, cowboys, clinking spurs, silver buckles on the saddle and relaxed horses in your head. Western riding is associated with casual men on casual horses. At least that's how I felt. At first I also thought that western riding was much gentler and more horse-friendly than English riding, after all, there is that famous silver clinking casualness. But it is well known that there are sometimes worlds between theory and practice. But before we answer the question of how horse-friendly western riding really is, I want to explain what it actually is, what everything goes with it, where it comes from and how it works.

According to Wikipedia, western riding is: “The horses have to work as independently as possible and respond to the smallest weight and leg aids. This is where the typical one-handed rein guidance (neck reining) comes about, as the cowboy or vaquero often has to have one hand free. This rein guide is mostly used in connection with a "western curb bit", a bit with different mouthpiece variations. " (www.wikipedia.de)

Western riding is historic. It developed from different riding styles. The Indians play a role in this, as do the Spaniards and Mexicans.

The western riders weren't just cowboys with spurs on their boots. Some of them have trained their horses up to high school. At best, the horse was the partner and guarantor of survival. In the worst case, of course, the horses were partly torn up just like today and exchanged for new ones. It's always been a question of mentality.

There are also different forms and styles. Old Californian riding, for example, or classic European western riding. Then there are various typical tools - such as the bosal or the western bridle. Depending on the riding style and characteristics. Ultimately, however, all disciplines and forms are impulse riding styles.

So you can see that there are different variants and directions in western riding - they all have only one thing in common: the western saddle.

The western saddle

The western saddle is wider and bigger and, frankly, often a bit more comfortable than many English saddles. At least that's how I feel. At the same time, many western saddles are also slightly heavier than most English saddles. So they are not necessarily the easier alternative for the horse.

The riding styles

Western riding is a pulse riding style. English riding is based on the principle of leaning. So the one gives impulses, the other is always there - one could say in a nutshell. Of course there are even more differences between western riding, the English riding style or classic dressage.

They all have in common that a good rider implements every riding style gently and horse-friendly, rides with weight aids and gymnastics should play a role in maintaining health in training - a bad rider, on the other hand, can cause pain to the horse through too rough aids and incorrect influence.

I want to describe and explain all the differences and facts to you in the article. Also the difference to the English riding style and why dressage is not a foreign word in western riding, contrary to all clichés.

Western riding - the story

I am now giving you the story in very shortened form and in very black and white. Otherwise I would just have to write my own book about it. If you want to know more about it, you have to dig through the history books. This should just be a rough and quick overview for you.

Western riding basically started in America. The Spanish immigrants brought their saddles filled with straw and sturdy horses and settled in America.

There were also various elements from the Indian way of riding. They practically lived on horses and usually only steered with their legs.

This ultimately led to western riding - as we know it today. The settlers and cowboys mixed these elements and adapted them to their daily work.

At some point it was simply a work riding style for the tough life on the cattle farms.

  • The cowboys had to be able to steer their horses with one hand and easily spent 16 hours or more in the saddle.
  • So the saddle had to be comfortable.
  • The horses had to be agile to keep the cattle together. So you also needed calmness and courage.
  • This is where typical disciplines such as spin or sliding stop come from - neither of which I would particularly recommend, as they could hit the joints.

It was partly inspired by the Mexicans with Bosal and the Mecate. In addition there were the influences of the Iberian riding style, which also contains a lot of elements of dressage. In contrast to the English riding style (which relies on communication), western riding is based on stimulating aids.

You can find an article comparing both riding styles HERE - English or Western

  • In the Western, the horses should react to weight aids and work independently.
  • The cowboys have developed a one-handed rein guide - so-called neck reining. This means that the rein is put on on one side and opened on the other. This is how the horse is steered.
  • In addition, there were quick turns in order to always be able to drive the cows back in time, which perhaps should escape from the herd. Incidentally, today's spin was developed from these rotations. In my opinion, it is more than unhealthy for the horse's joints and is not necessarily good for the soul either.
  • In order to be able to drive the cows with pinpoint accuracy, horses were also required that can stop with pinpoint accuracy. This then became today's sliding stop - which was unfortunately taught in a cruel way for a long time, in which the rider let the horse run against a wall. Either the horse broke its neck or learned to stop immediately with a jerk of the rein with its forelegs pushed into the ground. Unfortunately, some trainers still use the method today.
  • Jogging is also typically Western. A particularly slow trot. It is also an invention of the cowboys because it is very comfortable to sit on.

What defines the western horse

  • Western horses are usually quarter horses, apaloosas, paints or palominos.
  • They are horses with a height at the withers of up to 160 cm and a rather square-rectangular building.
  • Also so popular because they have a strong bottom, are fast, small and agile. This makes them particularly suitable for the requirements of western riding.
  • In addition, they tend to be breeds that have great composure and are not particularly hot-blooded. Unlike Arabs, for example.

How western riding came to Europe

As far as I know, the horse trainer Jean-Claude Dysli did not establish western riding in Europe until the 20th century. The riding style originally comes from America and was based on the riding style of the cowboys: The horse is acted as little as possible with reins and thighs when riding. The cowboys in the “wild west” would not have had the time or the strength to drive their horse permanently.

From this an impulsive riding style has developed.

The idea: the rider gives an impulse and then the horse should actually stay in the desired gait and direction until a new signal comes. The reins are loose - no support.

In addition, the cowboys had to be able to throw a lasso at any time, so western horses are trained to be ridden with one hand or without reins. Of course with the lightest thigh aids and weight shifts to make the cowboy's long work on the horse easier.


Western riding and giving aids

Impulses! Impulses! Impulses! That's what western riding is all about. The horse receives an impulse and should then keep the desired movement until a new impulse comes. Such an impulse can be a weight aid, thigh aid, rein aid or crop aid.

  • Riding in: The legs and stirrups are briefly loaded and the buttocks are relieved with the horse's back. Both legs are put on and the reins are pushed forward slightly.
  • Step to trot: Exactly like when starting, but with a little more energy and a click as a voice signal
  • Trot to Gallop: Place the outer leg a hand's breadth behind the harness until the horse gallops. At the same time raise your inner hand to free the inner shoulder so that the horse gallops on the correct “hand”. In addition the voice command: "kissing noise"
  • New direction: The weight is easily shifted in the desired direction. Both hands should be kept level with the inner rein moved away from the horse's neck and the outer rein against the neck. Like two doors. One opens, the other closes.
  • Get slower: Shift your weight back a little, sit deeper in the saddle and gently pull both hands back the same distance
  • Stop: Shift your weight deep into the saddle and remove your legs from the horse's body. To do this, take both hands a little bit back to help with the reins and support them with the voice command “Whoa” or “Hoo”.
  • Backward: The horse's back is relieved of the strain by shifting the weight more onto the legs. The rider sits deep in the saddle and drifts easily with both legs on the girth. In addition the voice command "Back"

Western riding - the disciplines

  1. Reining: Comes from “Reins” = “Rein”. This is the most popular discipline here in Europe. This includes various lessons such as the sliding stop, the back up or the spins. The horses often wear special irons for this. There is always a prescribed lesson (= pattern) that must be ridden. Then there is the freestyle reining. The rider can choose which lessons he wants to ride. A bit comparable to the freestyle in the dressage test
  2. Trail: It's about the skill of rider and horse. For example, walking through pasture gates together or taking all directions or crossing wooden bridges. A bit like a wild cross-country ride. In all gaits, of course
  3. Western Pleasure: The discipline is ridden in groups. All gaits from jog to gallop are tested. The judge announces what the rider has to do - above all the attitude of the horse, tact purity, exact riding and fine aids are evaluated
  4. Western Horsemanship: Everything here revolves around the rider's posture. The exam consists of two parts
  5. Versatility Ranch Horse: In this test everything looks at the western horse. This should show what it can do and prove its competence in several disciplines. The horse has to show five different disciplines. Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail, Ranch Cutting, Workin Ranch Horse and Ranch Conformation
  6. Showmanship at Halter: Ground work is required here. The horse has to show what it can do with the halter. In addition, the condition and training of the horse are assessed. The tasks must be completed precisely
  7. Cutting: This is basically the generic term for everything that happens to beef. After tennis and golf, the world’s most prize money is in cutting. The horses come from specially bred cutting lines with a so-called cow sense. So they like to chase the cows. The rider should get the cattle out of the herd - cut it out - that is, "cut" it. He has two and a half minutes for that.

The look of the western rider

Simply put: bootcut jeans, belts, boots and spurs. In addition a cowboy hat and maybe chaps. Lots of fringes, a bit of woven patterns and metal inlays.

What makes a western saddle

The western saddle also looks a bit different than the normal saddle. It has a much wider seat and is rather heavy (I can say from my own experience), but also comfortable to sit on (at least I think). So basically everything is designed so that cowboys can sit comfortably and without much effort in the saddle for hours.

Criticism of western riding

At first I asked whether western riding is really that much more horse-friendly than, for example, the English way of riding. Since I had lessons in an FN stable as a child, riding was a roaring riding instructor for me for a long time, aching arms from pulling on the reins (which the riding instructor likes to call leanings) and thighs constantly beating. Since I couldn't stand handling horses in this way, I had a longer break from riding. Until I wanted to try again. This time it should be different - so I looked for a western trainer. Supposedly long reins, casual language and no cramped posture were the things I expected from them.

The reality was different. I rode horses that were quite heavy on the forehand, the impulsive aids should not necessarily be given gently, but were called in with a lot of shouting. From the riding instructor's point of view, I was always much too gentle anyway - when he climbed up to show me how to do it, I saw tugging reins and jerky aids. I also heard here that the crop should “shred” and floor work was a foreign word for the riding instructor.

To make it short: The reality in many riding stables and at many tournaments is unfortunately not much different in western than in English riding, than in show jumping, than in dressage. Ultimately, it is just a matter of taste what you feel more comfortable with and then it is up to you what you make of the theory.

Because western riding can be very relaxed and gentle, the saddle is comfortable and the riding style does not differ in many ways from other riding styles.

Personally, I have meanwhile arrived at a centered-riding-academic-somehow-a-bit-western riding style meets dressage. But I also have to say that I just can't do that much for myself personally with the concept of leaning and driving aids from the English riding style, because the message to the horse does not correspond to me. But this shouldn't be about my personal opinion, I just want to introduce you to the riding style. So that you can think for yourself what you might and might not like.

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