If I’m honest, sometimes I need a break from horses; writing about them all week, every week and with nine of my own to contend with, any normal person would perhaps spend her time off at the spa, or walking in the Mournes, or shopping in Dublin. But no. In the last few weeks, I’ve still spent my spare time with the four-legged ones and have, in all fairness, had a ball.
A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for an Irish Quarter Horse Association Western clinic with the incredibly talented Crysta Brown. The clinic was held at the stunning Ashbrooke Equestrian in Co Fermanagh.
Not only does Crysta hold the 2022 APHA Honor Roll Championship in Barrel Racing and 2022 WRHA World Champion in Open Ranch Trail, she is also a dedicated instructor and talented horse problem solver.
Western riding evolved from ranching and welfare traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors. It’s mostly associated these days with the working needs of cowboys, you know, like you see in Yellowstone.
I’ve seen any number of eyes roll amongst riders of other disciplines at the mention of Western riding and I think it comes from a sort of ‘Heartland syndrome’ - an idea that it’s all floofing about with carrot sticks, but what I have found is something very different to that. I can safely say I’m keen, and as an enthusiastic if somewhat inconsistent beginner, both the riding and the groundwork I’m learning from my local instructor Fiona Butchart, and at the clinic from Crysta, only has me keener.
There’s something incredibly positive about Western, to me it’s refreshingly horse-forward. Far from fluffy as its tv reputation may present, this horsemanship skill takes time, but more importantly it gives time to the horses; asking not forcing, building a genuine partnership.
Fessing up, patience is not my strong point, but I’m harnessing some new-found patience through Western horsemanship: repeating the small things correctly pays great dividends when my ever so slightly (very) thran mare chooses to participate in the turns, the backing up, the following.
There are also the great people involved in Western equestrianism. In my experience they are the most open, generous and friendly bunch, genuinely welcoming and endlessly patient. The Irish Quarter Horse Association has some fantastic initiatives supported by Horse Sport Ireland too which can help your riding and ground skills as well as your horse.
Whether you ride for pleasure or competition, whether you own a Quarter Horse, a Thoroughbred, or any other breed, in my experience so far, the principles of Western horsemanship can help develop a deeper understanding of your horse and yourself – I’m only at the start of my Western journey, but I can definitely attest to that. Whip-crack-away I say!