THE VERSATILE HORSE

~ Western Riding every which way

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05.03.13

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Western Games Nothing is more likely to start a heated discussion in Western Riding circles than to walk up to a Reining specialist and ask why their horse doesn’t do Barrel Racing or Pole Bending.  You will be told that allowing the Reining Horse to run a Barrel Race will ruin it. But it’s just not true.


The only reason a reining horse would have any difficulty is because it’s never been allowed to do anything else. Western Games are a way of letting off a bit of steam. Reining, Western Pleasure and Trail all show singular aspects of the Western Horse to good effect, but why ignore its other notable features as well: which is to say, its nimble footedness and outright speed?


Barrel Racing

Mention Western Riding to most people and they’ll either ask: “Isn’t that Reining?” or “Isn’t that Barrel Racing?”.  

Barrel racing is a multi-million dollar professional sport in America and the reasons for that are obvious.

It’s fast, spectacular and uncomplicated.

The horse that is the fastest  (a good time is  about 17 seconds) around the clover leaf pattern of barrels (without knocking any of them over!) wins the prize.  

And wherever in the World you have a meeting of  western horses trained to versatility, you’ll find a Barrel Racing competition high on the agenda.

Pole Bending

Pole Bending is a class that, very often, runs in conjunction with a Barrel Racing competition.

It’s not hard to see why because it requires the same qualities of nimbleness and restrained attack that epitomise the versatile horse and  that are needed in a race around barrels.

A good time is about 20 seconds.


Flag Race

Get a flag and pole out of a barrel, race with it 50 yards, round another barrel and gallop back putting the flag back in the barrel where it came from about 8 seconds earlier!

Sounds like a piece of cake but it’s amazing how a horse can find a flapping flag sitting in a barrel something to avoid.

But when your horse will do this and then go and put up a good show in a reining class, you know you’ve got a  versatile horse…

Sack Roping

Whilst this may sound a bit like a poor man’s version of the real thing, it’s still the best way to get your western horse familiar with a thrown rope.


It’s a good example of a game meeting the more serious side of western  riding.


A  sack filled with sawdust or similar to a weight of approximately 20 lbs is placed 50 yards from the start line.

The competitor races to  the sack, ropes it and races back back to the start line. What could be simpler?!


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