Choosing a Discipline

ArticleHow to - CareersThursday 19 January 2012

If you have just started riding, you may just be happy to be on a horse.  But, eventually you will probably want to specialize your riding.  To do this, you need to understand the different disciplines of riding, and decide which best suits your interests.

To begin with, there are two basic types of riding: English and Western.  English riders ride in a small saddle which gives the rider a lot of contact with the horses.  If you are interested in jumping, you would need to learn to ride English.  Western riders ride in a large saddle with a horn at the front.  If you are interested in the types of events you see at rodeos, you would need to learn to ride Western.

In English riding there are several disciplines.  Each discipline has its own pros and cons, but fortunately, many are interchangeable if you decide to switch later in life.  Here are some of the most common English disciplines:

-  Hunter – Hunter riders ride their horses over fences in the show ring.  The horses are judged for how nice and smooth their rounds are, and for how well they jump the jumps.  Generally the jumps are not excessively high and the courses are easy to learn.
-   Jumper – Jumpers are the speed events of the jumping world.  The jumps are bigger and brighter than hunter jumps and the horses are judged on how quickly and cleanly they can jump the jumps.
-   Dressage – When riding dressage, you strive to perfect your riding so that you and the horse become as one.  You ask the horse to perform a variety of paces and movements around the ring according to a test that you memorize.  There is no jumping in dressage.
-   Eventing – An event rider not only must be good at dressage, but must also manage the jumper ring.  Additionally, the horses and riders must compete over a cross-country course of obstacles.  
-  The Hunt – Field hunting is quite different than riding a show hunter.  Field hunters follow the hounds to chase fox across the countryside.  Usually riders join a hunt club and participate in hunts with that club.
-  Pleasure Riding – There is riding for pleasure, and pleasure riding for show.  Some breeds are very competitive in the English pleasure ring.  Many pleasure riders, though, only ride horses for their own enjoyment, hacking along roads or fields rather than worrying about competition.
-  Saddle Seat – Saddle seat riding is generally limited to specific breeds, but can be quite popular.  The horses are trained to step lively and show off their gaits while the rider sits upright, working the horse in the classic, old Park style.

Western riding also has a range of disciplines.

-  Pleasure – This is what many people think of when they think of a Western rider.  A Pleasure rider can be a show rider, or just someone who rides for their enjoyment.  Western pleasure is very competitive, and requires a specific type of horse and way of going.

-  Reining – Reining is the Western equivalent of dressage.  Horses are required to do movements such as sliding stops and roll backs.  A well trained reining pair can be fascinating to watch.
-  Working Cattle – There are a range of Western events that specifically work with cattle.  Cutting and Team Penning are some of the more popular events.
-  Gaming – One of the most fun Western disciplines is gaming.  Many gaming horses are specialists, and work best at their specific events.  Some popular Western games include barrel racing, pole bending and the keyhole race.
-  Competitive Trail – Competitive trail has horses working through trail classes where horses negotiate a series of obstacles to complete their course.

Another discipline that is not English or Western is Endurance riding.  Endurance riders use whatever tack is most comfortable for the purpose to take their horses on long treks across the countryside.  It can be highly competitive, and is tons of fun at the lower levels for riders of all kinds.

No matter what discipline you choose, be aware that you can always learn a new one later in life.  All disciplines take time and effort to learn, and all have their loyal followers.  Take your time and try anything that interests you.  Nothing prevents you from enjoying them all, if you have the time and the interest.

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