Western-style horse riding is a style that is primarily used in the western part of the US. It is easily recognized as the cowboy or rancher style of riding that has little to no similarity with the English style of riding. However, western-style riding has not always been popular, and it has gone through many variations to get to its current form.
In the 1770s, Spanish-Mexican vaqueros (or cowboys) were becoming a larger part of the US, particularly in the west. As western expansion was still several decades off from being a larger movement, the western half of the country was still untouched by the English settlers and others who had taken root in the colonies.
Due to the lack of resources that would have been found in the east, vaqueros had to make do with a minimalist style of riding that prioritized function over fashion. Comfort was also a major priority, as horseback was used for survival, instead of a hobby. One of the functional tack that was developed at the time was the lower, wider stirrup that allowed riders to sit in a more natural position for longer. In addition, the practice of reining a horse with one hand came from the functional need to rope cattle while riding. Cowboys were proud of their abilities, and in time, rodeos were started as a way to see which ranch had the best cowboys.
Over time, different styles of riding came from the traditional western style. In Texas, you would often see ranchers “break” their horses, while in California, it was more popular to use a carefree method that allowed horses to train in their own time. The Texas style has become more popularized in modern times, as breeding and training has become a major industry. Although there are people who use the Californian style, it can take years to reach the levels seen after a much shorter time with the Texan style.
Western horse riding is unique from English style in another way. It has far fewer rules and prioritizes the rider-horse relationship. A western-style rider can choose what kinds of tack they prefer and can tailor that to their horse’s needs. A western-style rider may find it easier to ride for longer periods of time. Western-style riding did not start as an activity for the wealthy and elite, but rather, as a necessity. Although there are different schools of thought around western riding, and in some cases, there are rules that must be followed, western-style riding has continued to focus on the functionality of riding. While there may be shifts in western riding culture in the future, without a doubt this style will maintain its core elements.