|PART 1| Different disciplines and knowing what is right for your child

When our kids enter the competition world, the choices of disciplines range from the English style of riding like dressage, show jumping, combined training and eventing to the western style of western dressage, western pleasure, cutting, reining, team penning and barrel racing. And then not to forget, the sporting events and competitive trail rides and endurance. In Australia we also have the stockman challenges, campdrafting and polo cross. Then there is of course the working equitation and mountain trail. And finally, polo and vaulting. Did I forget anything???

Endless choices are often confusing and overwhelming for a parent. They often ask themselves:

  • What horse should we buy?
  • What saddle do we need?
  • Which coach is the right one?

Most kids enter the disciplines that their friends competing in, or what the pony club promotes first and therefore the discipline they start out with might not be where they end up in. I just thought I mention that before you go out and visit the tack shop!

Now, let’s have a look at all the disciplines first, in case you are not familiar with what they are and the differences between them. As we add more parts to this series, I will give you my personal view and experience on how you can navigate your way through the competition scene without breaking the bank.

The English type disciplines are generally dressage, show jumping, combined training and eventing.

The origin of dressage comes from the military, and it’s based on accuracy and discipline. The training is focused on the horse being in the riders control all the time by listening, always responding and being obedient to the rider.

Now the word obedient is one that not every rider chooses when talking about them and their horse, because it seems harsh and dominant. I will still use this word in this context because understanding the origin of dressage and the connection to the military, obedience is a correct description.

When on the battlefield you need a horse to be obedient at all times to make it out alive. The horse must listen and respond, it has to be focused on the rider at all times and cannot negatively react to its environment. A horse that spooks, shies and disobeys its rider would get them both killed in a battle scenario.

This is why a shy and a spook is being penalised in a dressage test. The horse is expected to perform a string of movements while totally focused on the rider.

Of course there is a lot more to it when we get deeper into this topic but I think for now this explanation will do.

Show Jumping is the jumping of obstacles in a dressage kind of way. What I mean is that in show jumping there is a lot of discipline and obedience as well. It is not the actual jumping of the fences that is the difficulty but rather the navigation in between the fences. This is where the skill is. Keeping horses straight, balanced and adjustable allows them to jump the fences more accurately and therefore with less penalties.

Combined training is dressage and show jumping together. Riders have to ride a dressage test and do a show jumping round where they receive points for both.

Eventing is a combination dressage, show jumping and cross country. The cross country course is jumping natural obstacles in a wide, open space. This phase is mostly about trust and bravery as well as accuracy.

These three disciplines go very well together where one builds onto the next. I am a strong believer that a rider who wants to do dressage should also learn to jump and a rider who wants to jump should also do dressage. But I will get into the details a bit more in another article.

The Western type disciplines are western dressage, western pleasure, cutting, reining and barrel racing.

The western dressage is based on similar principles like the English dressage, but the movements and patterns are more related to the patterns and movements needed in the working cow horse. These are horses who are used on farms working with livestock.

Western pleasure is different. This is more focused on the horse demonstrating that it is a pleasure to ride, showing smooth and often low movements that are easy to sit for the rider. The main focus here is not necessarily the training of the horse for the horses advancement but rather the comfort and enjoyment of the rider.

Cutting is when you use a horse to separate individual cows from the heard. This is another very practical working horse competition that serves a purpose of training horses to perform important tasks on farms. The competitions are there to show off their skills and compete against others in tasks that are done every day.

Reining is a competition where horses are performing cow horse patterns like spins, roll backs, slides…..

Team Penning is a group of three riders working with a mob of cows. The task is to separate three cows from the herd and move them into a pen. Easily said but not so easily done!

Barrel Racing is another competition based on speed and agility. Here the horse has to make its way around three drums in the fastest way possible. Balance, speed and adjustability are super important here.

Sporting events are a combination of english and western events with dressage and show jumping as well as barrel racing, pole bending and many other patterns that can be found in other disciplines. It’s a good introduction to everything.

Competitive trail riding is generally a trail ride with tasks. The riders often ride in pairs or groups and have to complete tasks or find and solve clues. It is a very fun and social competition that does not require specific skills as such but more so trust and connection between horses and riders.  

Endurance rides are long distance riders.

They generally start at 20km and go up to 160km. The horse needs to be extremely fit, sound and mentally prepared for such a ride. (as does the rider) It’s the ultra-marathon in the horse sport.

In Australia we have Stockman Challenges. Here we have a range of patterns and exercises, challenges required by a stockhorse in their everyday work on a farm. There are games like exercises including opening and closing gates, leading a horse whilst riding another and a dressage like pattern.

Polo Cross is played in Australia and referred to as the ‘poor man’s polo’. It’s a team sport and instead of hitting a ball with a mallet, the ball is thrown and caught with a net. It’s a fast and a tough game.

Working Equitation comes from Spain and is a combination of a dressage test and an obstacle course. The obstacle course can be done in a walk or in a trot and canter, depending on the rider’s skill. Different from the working cow classes this is based on the old tradition of bull fighting and the obstacles and patterns reflect this.

Mountain trails are manmade challenges that a horse might encounter out on the open trails. These often include hills and small narrow tracks, water crossings and so on. It’s like an indoor BMX trail for horses.

Polo is a ball game on horseback and one of the oldest known team sports. Riders use a mallet to hit the ball and pass it from player to player. There are two opposite teams playing against each other, trying to score goals.

Vaulting is gymnastic on horseback. An excellent way to start riding as it develops balance and coordination in the rider that is second to none. The horse is lunged and canters on a circle while the riders sit on the horse bare back with only a roller to hold on to. There are a range of gymnastic exercises ranging from standing on the horse to somersaulting off the horse and lots of other exercises in between. You need a very special horse to do this with.

As you can see, there is plenty of choice. We look at each one more closely as we make our way through the disciplines. You can read Part 2 now.