If you are an avid horse rider or are looking to take it up for the first time, there are many different disciplines or sports that you can get involved in. Some of these are more competitive and completed at a professional level with many disciplines often found at the Olympic or Commonwealth Games, while others are more for pleasure. Either way, any of these disciplines are a great way to enjoy horse riding. For the purpose of this article we have excluded Racing as although a commonly known discipline it is not an equine discipline many people take up as a hobby!
Let’s take a closer look at the most common disciplines:
Show Jumping is one of the most competitive disciplines on our list, where riders travel around a course that has jumps set at specific heights and obstacles in the way of the track. In general, the first jumps tend to be the lower heights, while the latter jumps are the most challenging for the horse and rider, often including a change in direction in the run-up to them. The jumps come in a number of different shapes and sizes and are often made up of small cross poles, parallel fences or jokers. If a horse catches any of the jumps with its legs or refuses to jump over them, then there are penalties. The course is timed, with the time penalties added on to give a final result.
Dressage (British Dressage)
The word dressage comes from the French word that translates as ‘training’, and this kind of riding is often incorporated into different horse-riding disciplines. The art of dressage has a number of different levels and steps that include walking, halting, trotting and making shapes with the horse. More advanced dressage, which takes a lot of work, includes extensions, flying lead changes, pirouettes, med gates and lateral work. The aim of dressage is to judge the discipline of the horse and the skill of the rider.
Cross Country Riding
Cross country riding combines aspects of show jumping, but instead of riding around a short course in an arena, the rider enjoys the space of a large field where they travel through the grass, into ditches and through rivers and streams. Instead of man-made pole jumps, the horses are expected to jump over numbered logs that have a larger distance between them. Again, like with show jumping, the easier jumps and manoeuvres are at the start of the course, while the most challenging aspects are towards the end.
Eventing (3-day eventing)
If you are looking for an event that is a mixture of cross-country riding, show-jumping and dressage, look no further than eventing, sometimes called 3-day evenings the competition is carried out across 3 days.
In this discipline, firstly, the riders are judged on their dressage skills to highlight the discipline of the horse and the expertise of the rider. Next, the horse and rider compete on a cross country course where they will be expected to tackle ditches, streams and logs to jump over. Finally, there is a specific show-jumping stage that features a contained course within a ring containing a series of jumps. This will include some tight turns and difficult jumps to complete the competition. As this event is three-fold, it tests both the skill of the rider and the stamina of the horse.
One great horse-riding discipline that many partake in for pleasure is trail riding. This is where horse riders travel either by themselves or in groups through the wild trails that meander through the woods, mountains or fresh meadows. This is relaxed and casual riding rather than a more competitive discipline and is perfect for those looking to relax or for those riders that are more inexperienced. Additionally, riding retired horses in this way is a great way to keep them active and healthy.
Polo is a ball game played on horseback and one of the worlds oldest known team sports. Two teams compete against each other with the objective of using long handled mallets to hit a small ball through the oppositions goal.
You may be familiar with the uniform for this sport as the attire is commonly shown in films and tv and is extremely recognisable. Riders who are hunting wear traditional English jackets and tight breeches combined with long boots ideal for the countryside. Additionally, hunters tend to prefer close contact saddles or an all-purpose variety. Event horses who compete in hunter riding are judged on a number of disciplines, including walking, cantering and trotting, with a lot of the riding at a faster pace than other riding disciplines.
If you are picturing the traditional American cowboy, you may be thinking of rodeo riding. Riders who enjoy this sport wear very recognisable clothing such as rodeo chaps, cowboy shirts and a western-style riding saddle. Within rodeo riding, there are a number of different competitions that are competed by both men and women. It is important to understand the nature of these disciplines and why they exist; although sports these disciplines begun from real-life daily tasks which are required when working on a ranch.
Men generally tend to complete in many of the Rodeo classified disciplines such as bronc riding, cutting, steer wrestling, roping and reining.
A barrel race is where riders follow a clover leaf pattern that takes the horse around three barrels and is a female based discipline at professional level. The ride is timed, and those who complete the track in the fastest time win. This requires much skill as the horse moves at a fast pace, with the rider fighting to stay in the saddle as the horse moves around each barrel.
A bronc rider is a discipline many of us have seen where a rider attempts to stay on a cow or bull for more than 8 seconds and are scored out of 100 for their performance. This is an extremely brutal and fast space discipline which creates significant opinions within the equestrian world.
Reining is a very popular discipline within the Rodeo world as it demonstrates the immense athletic ability of the horse and the rider. Reining is where the extensively trained horse and rider work together to complete an individual pattern around a ring and evolves directly from the abilities many ranch horses need to have to work successfully on a ranch.
A Roper, or Team Roping, is where a rider enters the ring and is timed in how quickly they can capture and restrain a Steer. (A Steer is a young neutered male cow)
Cutting is a Rodeo discipline which involves a rider separating a cow from a heard and Penning is a team based discipline where a group of riders must remove a cow from its heard and move it to a Penn.
Finally there are Rodeo disciplines which involve carriages which are known as Draft Horse Competitions and Carriage Driving. Draft horses is where a team of horses pull a carriage (and weights) around a course with the weight increasing in each round. Carriage Driving is where one, two or four horse teams pull a carriage around a track and are judged on their performance, manners and behaviour.
One of the rarer horse-riding disciplines is Western pleasure. This is where the horses are trained in order to be relaxed walkers, designed for pleasure rides and comes from traditional Western riding in America. Generally, these horses have a straight line across their neck and do most of the work from their back end. The competition judges’ horses on their manner and the ability to complete slow and relaxed walking. Throughout the course, they will be expected to walk, lope and jog at a slow pace. During this competition, the riders themselves are dressed smartly, with shirts and neckties or bolos for the men and glamorous, smart outfits for the women.
As you can see from our list above, there are many types of horse-riding disciplines to either get involved in or enjoy as a spectator. Many of these require much training but are a great, enjoyable pastime. Why not try one out today?