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Barrell racing tests the horse’s athletic ability and the rider’s horsemanship skills. The team runs a cloverleaf pattern around three preset barrels in the fastest time possible. While both sexes compete at youth and amateur levels, at collegiate and professional levels the competitors are mainly women.
This event involves a horse, cowboy, and their guns negotiating a course filled with targets. The cowboys use two 0.45 caliber single action revolvers firing blanks at balloons mounted on posts in various patterns. Each revolver is loaded with five blanks. The rounds are timed and there are ten balloons. There is a five second penalty for each missed balloon and a ten second penalty for not running the course correctly.
Cowboy Polo is traditional polo with a cowboy twist. Usually played in a rodeo arena, there are two teams of five equipped with western saddles and tack. Players use mallets with fiberglass shafts and rubber heads to move a large medicine ball down the pitch. The teams of attackers and defenders compete to hit the ball through the opposition's goal. The most points at the end of regulation wins.
Cutting is a true test of a ranch horse’s athleticism and ability to handle cattle. The horse and rider work together in a two-and-a-half-minute run to make two “cuts” from a herd. One cut comes from deep inside the herd. The other from the edges. Once the cow is cut out, it is the horse’s sole responsibility to keep the cow from returning to the herd. The team’s style and savviness in maintaining the cut are judged on a scale of 60 to 80, with 70 being an average score.
The history of Gymkhana (which translates to “games on horseback”) is very deep – being traced back to ancient Eastern civilizations. During a Gymkhana event, horse and rider teams compete against each other to see how fast they can run through a set course of obstacles. There are several types of games that include poles, barrels, cones, balloons, and other challenges. The fastest time is the winner.
A Mounted Drill Team is a group of horses and riders that perform choreographed maneuvers to music in uniform – not dissimilar to a marching band. While teams perform for audiences as entertainment, there are also drill team competitions. When in competition, a team is judged on spacing and alignment, timing and coordination, originality, difficulty, attractiveness of patterns, speed, horsemanship, uniformity, manners of the animals, music, and crowd appeal.
O-Mok-See is akin to a relay race on horseback. The name comes from the Blackfeet Indian word meaning “riding big dance.” Its evolution from a tribal and family-fun event has evolved into a formal western riding sport. Four teams race simultaneously against each other and the clock – testing their speed, finesse, and skill. At the end of the lane is the turning line, where sometimes another teammate switches for the second leg of the race.
In a Ranch Sorting event, a team of two riders on horseback race against the clock to cut out the correctly numbered cattle and sort them into the correct pen, while keeping the other cattle back. There are ten calves at the end of one of the two pens. The teams must move the cattle from one pen to the other in numerical order, starting with a random number that is called by the judge. The fastest time wins. If a calf gets from one pen to the other out of order, the team is disqualified.
Reining events are designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch-type horse within an arena. The horse and rider perform twelve specific patterns, exhibiting compulsory movements that include small slow circles, large fast circles, flying changes of lead, rollbacks, dizzyingly quick 360-degree spins, and the hallmark sliding stops. Scoring is based on smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness, and authority.
Roping events are one of the western disciplines that the public is most familiar with. Roping demonstrates one of the most exciting aspects of the working cowboy. Simulating the need to capture cattle, competitors are tasked to lasso the cow over the head, on the horns, and/or around the hind legs before securing the animal as the event dictates. The fastest time wins. There are three different roping events:
During a Team Penning event, a team of two riders on horseback have sixty to ninety seconds to cut and sort three identified cattle from a herd of thirty. The three calves must be put in a pen at the other side of the arena while the other twenty-seven are kept back. The fastest time wins.
During a Trail Horse Show, horses and riders equipped in western attire and tack are judged on how they negotiate a course of obstacles that represent challenges they would encounter on a nature trail. The courses are designed to focus heavily on the horse’s agility and manners. The judges decide how well the horse performed three specific gaits while navigating the challenges.
Western Dressage is traditional dressage with a cowboy twist. Equipped with western attire and tack, the horse and rider work in synchrony to perform a series of prescribed motions. The judges scoring is based on usefulness, rideability, willingness, safety, pure gaits, lightness, calmness, and steadiness.
Western Horsemanship competitions are designed to evaluate the horse and rider’s ability to execute a set of prescribed riding maneuvers and gaits with precision and smoothness. Along with judgement of the horse’s ability, the rider is critiqued on their poise, balance, and a functionally correct body position throughout. Rounds are scored from 0-100, with a score in the 70s representing a good performance.
In a Western Pleasure event, the horse is simply judged on how much of a pleasure it is to ride. Judges evaluate the horse on its manners and relaxed movements. The best horses are calm, quiet, have soft yet precise gaits, and strong muscles required to maintain slow and controlled movements.
A Western Riding Horse Show is an event that incorporates elements of multiple western sports. The horse and rider complete a course that incorporates elements of both reining and trail classes. The horses are judged on the quality of their gaits, lead changes, responsiveness to the rider, manners, and disposition. The smoother the better.
During a Working Cow Horse event, horses are tasked to cut a single cow from a herd and work it throughout the arena. The horse and rider team are judged on the performance of specific maneuvers exemplifying their control of the cow. These maneuvers include circling the cow, turning it in a specified manner, and performing a reining pattern. The winner of the event is the horse that demonstrates the best cutting ability and is the most accurate, timely, and responsive to the tasks at hand.
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