Have you ever wondered what are ALL of the competitive western horse events out there?

Today, at Rafter 3 Horse Development we will discuss the various competitive western events you can enter your horse in.

Whether you are looking for a new avenue of competition, a new challenge, or starting in a discipline as a beginning rider, this list will give you a great idea of all the wonderful events and competitions you can participate in!


Competitive Western Events

Next, let’s discuss each of these events briefly!

I will provide some information and a video related to each of these events so you can get a great idea of what is involved within each event.

If you are trying to match one of your horses to a discipline and need guidance, feel free to contact Makala or Jamie at Rafter3horsedevelopment@gmail.com and we would be pleased to help you!



Horsemanship is a generally considered a competitive, pattern event that has risen in popularity in AQHA, APHA, Appaloosa, and AHA breed shows.

You are judged on your form, correctness, pattern presentation, and even your horses collection and precision.

Patterns can range from very basic to extremely intricate including multiple flying lead changes, circles, squaring corners, transitions, backing, props, and much more!

Here is an article that shows examples of different patterns from the 2018 AQHA Youth World Show

Western Pleasure

Western pleasure is another event that is widely popular in most breed shows. It is judged on a few factors. As the names states “Western pleasure” you are judged on how pleasurable the ride looks, the horses movement, collection, and consistency.


Reining is a fun and thrilling competitive western horse event that showcases the maneuverability and athleticism or ranch type horses, but within a show pen.

The horse and rider teams performs rollbacks, sliding stops, extremely fast spins, and transitions in circles along with flying lead changes and other maneuvers.


It is said that cutting is a sport of anticipation.

This is entirely true because cutting is letting a trained cowhorse read and adjust their movements to the cow.

Many times, people will refer this to “having cow sense” or being “cowey.” Today’s Cutting runs last around two and a half minutes and demonstrate the horses ability to handle cattle.

AQHA has this to say about the amazing equestrian event of cutting:

“Cutting pits a horse against a cow in a battle of wills. Horse and rider must move quietly into a herd of cattle, cut one cow from the herd, drive it to the center of the arena and “hold” it away from the herd. The horse is scored on its ability to keep the cow from returning to the herd, cow sense, attentiveness and courage. There is a 2-1/2-minute time limit.

The ideal picture of a cutting horse is one of polished concentration and split-second response to the action of the cow. Once he lowers his hand, the rider’s role seems diminished, and it can look like the horse is working completely on his own. In reality, that illusion comes from a harmony of movement and a blending of responses between horse and rider.”


Roping is a thrilling competitive western horse event that involves a steer or cow, horse and rider team, and a rope. There are a few different types of roping. They are:

According to Topend Sports, they define roping as:

“Roping (Rodeo Event)

It is based on the routine tasks of capturing calves and adult cattle performed by cowboys as part of their job.

The objective of the sport is to throw a rope with a loop around the head, horns or legs, based on the size and age of the animal, and prevent it from moving.”

Working Cow Horse

Working Cow Horse is a competitive western event that combines reining and cow work. AQHA.com describes WCH as:

“Combines reining ability and cow sense. This event tests the American Quarter Horse’s skills that are applicable to ranch work. The competition consists of two parts: prescribed reined work and actual cow work. Judging is based on good manners, smoothness, cow sense and ease of reining. During the cow working phase of the exhibitor’s run, one cow is turned into the arena. The horse is required to hold the cow on the end of the arena, make at least one turn each direction along the fence, and circle the cow both directions.”

If you have ever wanted to do both reining and cow horse work, this event is for you!

Western Riding

Western Riding is a unique competitive western horse event that is primarily performed at the lope, showcasing the horse’s ability to properly and correctly execute flying lead changes.

The event begins usually by jogging over a pole and then transitioning up to the lope and executing the changes and pylons.


Competitive western trail events are highly competitive and elaborate obstacles courses showcasing the horse’s maneuverability and willingness.

These patterns usually consist of transitions, stops, spins, backing into chutes, loping and jogging over poles and in patterns, opening/ closing gates, and so much more.

Practically, anything that you can think of can or could be incorporated into these events.

Depending on the breed or competition type, you will be judged differently. If you are attending the AQHA shows, you are going to be judged on precision, quality of gate, if your horse ticks a pole or not, and if they look like a pleasurable ride during the competition whereas if you are at other competitive trail riding events they may be judged on speed or other quality efforts.

Trail is one of the most fun and challenging western events that everyone can enjoy no matter what level you are riding at!


Gymkhana is a fun and competitive events of “games on horseback.”

Usually, these events are timed. Oftentimes these events are called playdays and are especially designed for beginners or children.

They are very fun events and you can even win a small amount of money depending on the event you attend.

Team Penning

The United States Team Penning Association (USTPA) has this to say on their website about team penning.

“In Penning, teams of three horse and rider combinations use their combined athleticism, horsemanship and general “cowiness” to humanely separate particular cows and herd them into the penning area in under 60 seconds. Time is of the essence in Penning and Sorting, making this challenging sport even more exciting as the clock ticks. In seconds, the most skilled horses and riders can find their specified cow, separate it from the herd and move it to the penning area without ever touching the animal. Penning and Sorting offer participants the opportunity to incorporate all of their working cow horse skills in a fast-paced, fun, team-oriented competition while embracing the roots of the western lifestyle.”

Team penning is an exceptionally rewarding, challenging, and fun equestrian sport and competitive western horse event.


Rodeo consists of many different events, some take place on horseback as competitive western horse events and some involve other animals such as bull riding. We have a few articles that cover indepth about Rodeo events and life on the road going to rodeos. Check them out here!

Rodeo- Life On The Road

Rodeo 101: Become A Rodeo Expert

Tie-Down Roping

Team Roping

NFR Guide: Making Your Barrel Racing Dreams a Reality

The competitive events that make up rodeo are:


Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is a timed competitive western horse event that is a multi-factored, blood-pumping event involving barrels, speed, pattern work, and maneuverability.

The horse and rider team will run as quickly and accurately as they can around a clover-leaf pattern that is pre-set.

Originally, barrel racing started as a women’s-only event, but anyone can compete in certain barrel racing events today. 

Barrel racing is much more than just hopping on and going fast! If you want to learn more, we have plenty of resources here.


Barrel Racing Book
Competitive western horse events- Barrel racing (CHECK OUT OUR BOOKS ON AMAZON!)

Visit also: Rafter 3 Horse Development YOUTUBE!

Mounted shooting

Mounted shooting another one of the funnest western events out there. You get to either shoot a gun or bow off horseback. There are many non competitive and competitive mounted shooting or mounted archery events.

The CMSA or Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association says this about the event:

“Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association® is the Fastest Growing Equestrian Sport in the Nation. Mounted contestants compete in this fast action timed event using two .45 caliber single action revolvers each loaded with five rounds of specially prepared blank ammunition. The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association “C.M.S.A.” has a variety of levels of competition for everyone, ranging from novice levels to the seasoned professional.”

Final Thoughts On Competitive Western Horse Events

All of these western events are both fun and highly competitive, providing the ability to learn, grow, and get better year after year.

Picking the right event to compete in can be tricky, but this list of competitive western horse events should give you a good idea of what events you really like, which ones you think you and your horse would be most suited too, and what your initial goals are.

If you need help with finding the right event for you and your horse, be sure to reach out and ask one of the Rafter 3 Horse Development trainers! Have a great day and we hope that this article was informative and helpful.