There are many types of riding one can pursue. Here are a few of the popular disciplines you may have heard of.
Eventing is an equestrian triathlon, in that it combines three different disciplines in one competition set out over one day (one day event) or three days (three day event). The three disciplines are:
The dressage phase (held first) comprises an exact sequence of movements ridden in an enclosed arena. The test is judged by one or more judges who are looking for balance, rhythm and suppleness and most importantly, obedience of the horse and its harmony with the rider. The challenge is to demonstrate that a supremely fit horse, capable of completing the cross country phase on time, also has the training to perform in a graceful, relaxed and precise manner.
The next phase, cross-country, requires both horse and rider to be in excellent physical shape and to be brave and trusting of each other. This phase consists of approximately 12-20 fences (lower levels), 30-40 at the higher levels, placed on a long outdoor circuit. These fences consist of very solidly built natural objects (telephone poles, stone walls, etc.) as well as various obstacles such as ponds and streams, ditches, drops and banks, and combinations including several jumping efforts based on objects that would commonly occur in the countryside. Horse and rider must complete the course in the correct pattern and in the optimum time (which is at a brisk pace in most competitions).
Show jumping tests the technical jumping skills of the horse and rider, including suppleness, obedience, fitness and athleticism. In this phase, 12-20 fences are set up in a ring. These fences are typically brightly colored and consist of elements that can be knocked down, unlike cross country obstacles. This phase is also timed, with penalties being given for every second over the required time. In addition to normal jumping skills, eventing show jumping tests the fitness and stamina of the horse and rider by generally being held after the cross-country phase.
Wikipedia. “Eventing.” Modified February 19th, 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eventing> . Accessed February 24th, 2009
Hunt-Seat Riding (Hunter/Jumpers)
Hunt-Seat riding challenges a horse and rider to complete a course of 8 or more jumps in a ring. Hunter seat competitions in general are divided into three general horse show categories, hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Show hunters as a group are judged on manners, way of going, and conformation over a straightforward course. Jumpers are judged by how quickly a horse can complete a complex course of jumps with the fewest errors. Equitation riders are judged on the appearance of the rider and the smoothness and overall look of the horse and rider as a team.
Wikipedia. “Hunt Seat.” Modified January 27th, 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunt_seat> . Accessed February 24th, 2009.
Dressage is often referred to as the ballet of horseback. Where riders ask there horses to perform different movements in a pre-determined pattern. Dressage starts at the most basic level where riders are asked to walk, trot and halt their horses – and continues through Grand Prix, where horse and rider perform complex skills such as piaffe and passage. At all levels, the horse is judged on his suppleness, responsiveness, collection, and rhythm.
Western Pleasure is a western style competition at horse shows that 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. The horse is to appear to be a "pleasure" to ride. Horses that are calm, quiet, have collected, soft gaits and the strong muscling required to sustain slow, controlled movement are the most competitive.
Reining is a western riding competition for horses where the riders guide the horses through a precise pattern of circles, spins, and stops. All work is done at the lope and gallop; the fastest of the horse gaits. Reining is often described as a Western form of dressage riding, as it requires the horse to be responsive and in tune with its rider, whose aids should not be easily seen, and judges the horse on its ability to perform a set pattern of movements. The horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely.
Cutting and Penning
Cutting and Penning are equestrian events in the western riding style that involve controlling cattle from horseback. Cutting is where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a calf away from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time. The calf then tries to return to its herdmates; the rider loosens the reins ("puts his hand down" in the parlance) and leaves it entirely to the horse to keep the calf separated, a job the best horses do with relish, savvy, and style. A contestant has 2 ½ minutes to show his horse; typically three cows are cut during a run, although working only two cows is acceptable.
Competitive Penning is a team sport where three riders have from 60 to 75 seconds (depending on the class or the sanctioning of the event) to separate three same-numbered cattle from a herd of 30, and put them into a 16' x 24' pen through a 10' opening, at the opposite end of the arena. The sport features 30 head of cattle, typically yearling beef cattle (mature cows or bulls are not allowed), with numbers affixed to their back, three each of each number 0 through 9. A run starts once the line judge has dropped his flag as the lead rider's horse crosses the foul line. At that time, the announcer gives out a randomly drawn number, such as "Your number is seven". The riders then know that they must cut out the three head of cattle that are wearing the number "7" and push them to the opposite end of the arena, and put them into the pen, and call for time.
Wikipedia. “Western Riding.” Modified February 17, 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_riding>. Accessed February 24th, 2009.