Western Games – a heated discussion
Nothing is more likely to start a heated discussion in Western Riding circles than to walk up to a Reining specialist and ask why their horse doesn’t do Barrel Racing or Pole Bending. You’ll be told that allowing the Reining horse to enter in Western Games will ruin it. But it’s just not true.
The only reason a Reiner would have any difficulty is because it’s never been allowed to do anything else.
Western Games are a way of letting off a bit of steam at the same time as developing the characteristics required for a good working cow horse. Reining, Western Pleasure and Trail all show singular aspects of the Western Horse to good effect, but why ignore its other notable features as well: which is to say, its nimble footedness and outright speed?
Barrel Racing is the short answer you will get from anyone if you ask what they mean by “western games”. It epitomises everything people generally expect from western riding. Fast action, nimble footwork and confident horsemanship. It’s the first thing an “English” rider wants to try when they get on a western horse. Of course, it ignores the other qualities we admire. But, if you want to see a properly versatile western horse, watch him cover a barrel racing course and then perform quietly around a Western Riding pattern. It’s what it’s all about.
Pole Bending is Barrel Racing’s junior partner on the list of Western Games. I was a successful hurdler as a youth athlete and it’s probably the 1-2-3 beat of the paces between flying lead changes on a pole bending course that chime for me today. More than Barrel Racing it requires intense concentration. That and 10 flying lead changes performed at the fastest lope your horse can manage. For me, its the Western Games class that beats them all.
The Keyhole Race is another Western Games favourite. It’s fast (a good time is about 8 seconds), it requires accuracy to within fractions of an inch and it’s showy. You need to gallop your horse down a track that’s only four feet wide (and at about 40 mph, that’s narrow!) into a ring that’s only twenty feet in diameter, stop him, turn him and gallop back out the way you came. One touch on the sawdust marking the keyhole and you’re out.
For a Flag Race all you need is two 45 gallon drums 40 yards apart. Plus a nice big flag on a longish pole. One of the drums is open ended to take a flag on a pole which the rider collects. He then gallops round the far drum with it and puts back in the drum. A good horse will do that in about 10 seconds. What could be simpler? Well, you’ll have to read all about on the flag race page for that!