Yee Haw! A Look at Western Riding Events

By Sharon Rogers
Western Show HorseI love western riding! I like the full out country feel of riding in jeans, boots and a cowboy hat. I love the sturdy feel of a western saddle that was crafted with the idea that I would spend a lot of time riding. There is something very elemental to me about the back to the earth feeling I get when I am riding western, whether it is for recreation or in horse competitions. English riding may have a more elegant look but the American west was built on cowboys riding western style, and I am with them.

Horse shows often have events that are done in either Western or English styles, and they are actually very different from each other. Today I want to talk to you about my favorite, Western riding competitive events. A Western competition may include events such as horsemanship, roping, pleasure, gymkhana and a myriad of others these are my favorites. So I will don my virtual jeans and boots, grab my horse and walk you through some of these awesome exploits. Put on your Stetson and join me!


Horsemanship is one of the events in horse competitions that judges the rider and the horse. The rider is judged by how well she sits in the saddle as well as her ability to control the horse. Balance and proper posture play an important role in the horsemanship category. The horse will be judged based on the smoothness of gait and how responsive it is to the rider. The final outcome of this competition will be a combined score that reflects how well horse and rider communicate and work together. It remains one of my favorites because it highlights the relationship that every rider should have with their horse.


Western horse shows and roping seem to go hand in hand. Cowboys and cowgirls ride hard and rope cattle. Everybody knows that, or at least we see it on the big screen all the time. In reality, real cowboys do use their ropes often. A roping competition allows a rider to showcase an age old talent. Good roping requires a horse who can track the movements of running cattle. When a horse has that knack the rider can focus on the rope and landing it properly so the target can be briefly restrained. Roping requires a horse and rider with total trust in one another. The horse will do it’s job while the rider can focus attention on the steer or calf that needs to be roped.


The pleasure category is just as it sounds. Horse and rider are judged on the pleasure they derive from their activities. The judging requires three different gaits; walk, western trot and western canter done in both directions in the competition arena. Good manners and a high quality gait are the most important aspects of this phase of competition. It is an enjoyable event to participate in because it is natural and easy. You and your horse should enjoy pleasurable riding in and out of the arena.


Gymkhana is a blast. It is a speed competition that is an amazing test of an animal’s agility. Pole bending, barrel racing and stake racing are examples of gymkhana events. A pole bending event will find horse and rider weaving in and out between six poles that are placed very close together. Barrel racing is a series of barrels set in a cloverleaf pattern that the horses have to race around. Stake racing is a figure eight pattern that is run around two poles set in the ground. It takes a skilled horse and rider to compete in gymkhana events and they are exhilarating.

Whatever event you might choose to compete in, or just to sit and watch, Western horse shows are exciting. Underlying the fun and excitement is the history of Western riding and the reminder of days gone by.

Have you hugged your horse today?

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