Having just returned from the 25th anniversary of the Western Equestrian Society Nationals, this month’s article is dedicated to those western riding enthusiasts who attended and supported the Society that changed the face of Western riding in Great Britain.
There is no doubt that the growth of western riding, the Quarter Horse and Paint Horse Associations, and British Reining Horse Association would never have been so prolific, save for the efforts WES has made and continues to make. The many trainers and instructors would not be around, and the enthusiasm to ride western would not be so buoyant if it wasn't for WES members putting the “1860s cowboy movie ghost” to rest.
If ever there was a good advertisement for the western way of riding, then it was here at the WES Nationals. The standard was high, with one knowledgeable source commenting that it was higher than some shows attended by people who consider WES to be of a lower standard.
Anyone who watched Phil Armitage's freestyle reining, without spurs, bridle or saddle, and with only a piece of baler twine around the horse’s neck, would agree. This served as one of the best demonstrations of the western horse and the reining competitive division to grace the UK.
Furthermore, the way the youth riders and their horses coped with the thunder, lightning and torrential rain was impressive. The way riders and horses kept the show going by negotiating the "river" between the covered warm-up area and the show arena was terrific. It was also a great testament to the training that so many riders and horses had invested, especially in the youth classes, that they attempted and succeeded in many disciplines. God bless the all-around horse, putting fun back into the sport.
WES, at one point, became the best sales platform for quarter horses. The argument was simple: Go out and show the horse to be better at a discipline than any other. With the Paints and other breeds training to higher standards, the competition becomes healthy again! A few years ago, a Haflinger won the European Championship at trail at Americana, and to hear the crowd go nuts watching Marcus Schopher mark a 72 ½ in a major Italian reining show on the same breed was something special.
To the WES members at the show: You made everyone proud to be associated with the Western horse. Whether as riders, stewards, ring crew, management or others, you should take a bow. Thank you for affording me the honour of judging it. I enjoyed every moment. I sincerely hope the Breed show, and British Reining champs turn out to be as good. My only wish is that they would have given more than one week between the two major shows, for the sake of competitors and the welfare of the horses. Maybe next year, AQHA UK?
Onwards and upwards!