"It is possible for horses to be trained in both disciplines and with a little investment one could offer a more attractive package to clients."
For those unfamiliar with Western riding (including yours truly), Declan explains a bit more about the style.
"Those of an older generation may think of John Wayne and cowboy movies, others may think it's just riding out in the west," he laughs.
The real explanation is that western riding is a style of horseback riding which evolved from the ranching and warfare traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors.
Both the equipment and riding style evolved to meet the working needs of the cowboy in the American West.
"The cowboys needed to work long hours in the saddle over rough terrain and sometimes needed to rope cattle," he says.
"Because of the necessity to control the horse with one hand and use a lariat (rope) with the other, Western horses were trained to neck rein, this allowed the rider to change direction with light pressure of a rein against the horse's neck."
The Western saddle is designed to be comfortable when ridden in for many hours and includes a saddle 'horn', located near the pommel, which allowed the cowboys to control cattle by roping them.
Despite appearances, Declan says Western riding is very similar to the traditional English riding style, aside from the obvious differences in tack.
"Like all equine disciplines, the rider must have a balanced and secure seat. In both disciplines the rider must be in harmony with the horse in order for the horse to perform to his or her best potential," he says.
"Again, similar to English riding, the horse must be sensitive to the rider's aids. Both disciplines are looking for the horse to be supple through the back, engaged in its hindquarters, and light in the forehand," he adds.
Western riding has evolved into many different disciplines since the cowboy days, each of which is based on the requirements of the working ranch horse.
Just as English riders compete in dressage, show jumping and eventing, Western riders can choose from a range of competitions to suit their individual preference and horse.
The following are just some of the Western classes:
• Western Trail
This class requires horse and rider to 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 (slow trot) or loping (slow canter) over poles and backing between poles or around cones.
In this class, it is the handler that is being judged. Conformation of the horse is not taken into account although grooming, condition and trim is.
The majority of the points are gained from leading the horse, posing the horse for inspection, and the general manner in which the competitor presents their charge for inspection.
Riders are judged on seat, hands, ability to control and show the horse. Riders perform the same pattern in the class, similar to a dressage test.
A good pleasure horse has a flowing stride of a reasonable length in keeping with his conformation.
He should cover a reasonable amount of ground with little effort. He should be shown on a reasonably loose rein, but still have light contact and some control.
He should be responsive, yet smooth, in transitions when called for. Maximum credit should be given to the flowing, balanced and willing horse that gives the appearance of being fit and a pleasure to ride.
Reining would be considered the Western form of dressage. Each contestant individually performs the required pattern -- containing spins (a turn in one spot on the haunches), rollback (a rapid turn immediately followed by a gallop in the opposite direction), stops, circles, flying changes and a backup.
To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be willfully guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely -- any movement on his own must be considered a lack of control.
Credit is given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness, and authority in performing the various maneuvers while using controlled speed. Dutch dressage rider and three-time gold medallist Anky van Grunsven showed the world just how similar dressage and reining are by donning a sparkly orange custom-designed shirt for a reining class at the FEI World Reining Championships in 2010.
• Western Riding:
The class is designed to show the calm, easy paces of the horse and its ability to be correctly balanced at all times, contestants again individually perform the pattern set out by the judge.
The horse is judged on quality of gaits, changes of leads, response to the rider, manners, disposition, and intelligence.
Credit is given for the emphasis placed on smoothness, even cadence of gaits (ie starting and finishing the pattern with the same cadence), and the horse's ability to change leads precisely and easily.
A series of Western and reining events has been scheduled for the summer months and for more information on reining and western riding, contact Aileen Cartwright at Horse Sport Ireland on 045 854530.