Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Rein in a different riding discipline

Western-style demonstration gives riders and instructors chance to push sport into mainstream

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Riders, have you ever fancied trying something different? Instructors, are you interested in offering your pupils the chance to experience a new discipline? Well now's your chance.

The first ever National Reining and Western Show takes place this Saturday, November 5, at the Mullingar Equestrian Centre, Co Westmeath.

Western riding is a sport that has been growing in popularity in Ireland for some time, with pockets of western enthusiasts located across the country.

However, Horse Sport Ireland's voluntary reining and western committee, led by chairman Declan McArdle, Teagasc's equine specialist, is now focused on bringing western riding into the mainstream.

As Declan explains, western riding evolved from the ranching and warfare traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors, with equipment and riding styles that evolved to meet the needs of the working cowboy.

"Cowboys needed to work long hours in the saddle over rough terrain, sometimes needing to rope cattle with a lariat or lasso," he says. "So the western saddle has been designed to be comfortable enough for long hours in the saddle and carry extra equipment to facilitate the long working days."

The riding style, too, has evolved from the working requirements of a cowboy.

"Because of the necessity to control the horse with one hand and use a lariat with the other, western horses were trained to neck rein -- that is, to change direction with light pressure of a rein against the horse's neck," says Declan. "Horses were also trained to exercise a certain degree of independence in using their natural instincts to follow the movements of a cow, so a riding style developed that emphasised a deep, secure seat, and training methods encouraged a horse to be responsive on very light rein contact."

Also Read

This weekend's National Show will feature nine different classes for western riders, including western showmanship, western pleasure, western trail, western riding, barrel racing, pole bending, western horsemanship, halter classes and reining competitions.

Reining is often described as the western equivalent of dressage, since it requires the horse to be responsive and in tune with its rider, whose aids should not be easily seen.


Horses are judged on their ability to perform a set pattern of movements, including circles, spins and stops. All work is done at the lope -- a slow, relaxed version of the canter -- and gallop. Reining became an FEI discipline in 2000 and last year Ireland's first international reiner, Ollie Galligan, competed at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, USA.

Western showmanship and halter classes could be compared to showing classes, but in showmanship categories the judging is based on the handler's ability and the horse's turnout (not conformation), while in the halter class it is the horse's conformation that is being judged.

In western horsemanship classes, riders are judged on their seat, hands and ability to control and show the horse.

Western pleasure evaluates horses on manners and suitability of the horse for a relaxed but collected gait cadence and relatively slow speed of gait, along with calm and responsive disposition.

For the trail class, each horse and rider must negotiate a series of obstacles placed on the arena surface. The horse is marked on its attitude on approaching and dealing with each element of the course. Obstacles include a gate, walking, jogging or loping over poles and backing between them or around cones.

Declan believes the growth in popularity of western riding offers Irish riders the chance to try something different, especially as the sport will suit riders who no longer wish to jump.

To this end, the HSI committee has run a number of demonstration weekends and clinics with top western riders and coaches, including world reining champion Tom Foran, who demonstrated the similarities between reining and dressage with dressage rider Anne Marie Dunphy.

Irish reiner Ollie Galligan, Kildare-based barrel racer Giustina Macari and Level 4 coach Bruce Lawrence also held clinics and demonstrations of their sport.

This year, for the first time, western classes were included in two agricultural shows -- Tullamore and Iverk -- which were both sponsored by the HSI.

Last month, 12 people enrolled on an Equestrian Skillnet course to become western riding instructors and this Friday, those 12 will sit their Western Equestrian Society (WES) Level 1 and 2 exams.

To gain Horse Sport Ireland approval and freelance insurance as a western riding instructor, an individual needs to achieve WES Level 2, occupational first aid, child protection and be CRB checked.

To gain Association of Irish Riding Establishments (AIRE) approval, the individual would also need a minimum of BHS Stage 2 Care or the BHS Assistant Ride Leader qualification.

Declan urges anyone with an interest in finding out more about western riding to go along to this Saturday's National Show at Mullingar Equestrian Centre or contact Aileen Cartwright in the western and reining section of the HSI on 045 854530 or acartwright@

Indo Farming