Use and characteristics of Western Horses
A western horse is one that is trained to work western style, rather than a particular breed, and so, in theory, they can be any height or colour. In practice, when riders buy a western horse, they are generally between 14.2 hands (58 inches/147 cm) and 15.2 hands (62 inches/152 cm) high. Taller horses are less suitable as working animals. Smaller animals with knees and hocks closer to the ground are speedy and more agile, making them best suited to the spectacular turns, rollbacks and sliding stops required. For the dedicated western rider, there are specialist breeders or trainers who will sell a western horse of one of the well-known American stock horse breeds such as Quarter Horses and Ponies, Quarabs, Mustangs or Colorado Rangerbreds.
Origin and history of breeding Western Horses
Today, western riding is still a practical form of horsemanship on ranches and it is also popular at shows and events. One of the notable differences between western and English riding styles is the use of dissimilar saddles and bridles. Western saddles developed for riders who needed to spend long hours in the saddle, carrying all their gear with them. These working saddles were deep-seated for safety and comfort. The developments in both western horse breeds and tack in the USA drew on various traditions, as America was a melting pot of people and their equestrian cultures, to which many horse types contributed. Barbs and British running horses are believed to have contributed to the Quarter Horse in the early days, while Mustangs were descended mainly from Spanish stock. Colorado Rangers, or Rangerbreds, had Barb, Arabian and spotted horse ancestry. All these breeds make fine western horses. Two schools of western horsemanship developed: the Texas and the California styles. In Texas horsemanship, cowboys were dependent on small, agile cow ponies, that are sometimes described as “cat-quick”. The rider trusted his mount to think ahead and to pick up on cues immediately. The horses responded to an indirect rein on the neck and went effortlessly in natural head carriage, the only contact with the bit coming when a stop was required. Riding in California was influenced by the Spanish Vacqueros, resulting in a spirited and stylish form of horsemanship. Their horses tended to be tall and elegant, chosen for visual appeal and grace. Training methods were different since Vacquero horses were started in a heavy bosal, a bitless bridle, before being gradually introduced to bits.
Western Horses in equestrianism
Today western horses still participate in practical activities such as cutting cows and tackling hazards on the trail. Cow cutting displays and obstacle courses are popular events. Alternatively, some horses participate in equitation classes where they can display their skill at performing the western gaits of walk, jog and lope. Western horses can also be seen in heritage and history parades.