Arabian Horses: Disciplines 


chestnutwithclouds_wv BorderArabian horses are some of the most versatile horses on earth. They excel in a variety of competition disciplines, endurance and racing. Whether you are a competitive rider, a leisurely trail rider or enjoy the thrill of the racetrack, the Arabian horse will capture your heart.  



Arabian Racing

Racing is in the heart and soul of every Arabian horse. Breeders in England recognized this when they selected the Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian and Byerley Turk as the foundation sires for the Thoroughbred racehorse. With its own long history of racing, the athleticism, speed and beauty of this desert horse made it the perfect choice. Keeping this in mind, Arabian racing today makes perfect sense. 

Arabian racing in North America was organized about 1959 and has more than quadrupled in size over the past 10 years. Today's Arabian racehorse has many advantages and opportunities. It runs against other purebred Arabians at a growing number of racetracks across the United States and Canada and compete for an ever-increasing amount of purse money. Bettors have enthusiastically welcomed the breed and enjoy the beauty and heritage of the Arabian horse.

More horses are running in more races each year making Arabian racing the fastest growing segment in the racing industry. In recent years, Arabian horses have won over $4 million in races. As the popularity of this athletic breed continues, prize money is increasing and more tracks around the country are eager to include and expand the use of purebred Arabian horses in their race meets.

Some owners have the perception that horse racing is too expensive for them to participate. But armed with knowledge, growing prize money and increased opportunities for Arabian horses, racing can prove to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for the entire family. The Arabian Jockey Club is committed to ensuring that this growth continues.

For more information visit the Arabian Jockey Club.



The discipline of halter involves a handler showing a horse in limited to no tack, except for a show halter. Emphasis is placed on the type, conformation and beauty of the Arabian horse. Horses are judged on their suitability as a breeding animal, their quality, movement, substance, manners and presence. Halter classes are generally divided by sex, age, and potential discipline or type.



Sport Horse


These classes evaluate a horse’s suitability as a sport horse according to movement, conformation and general impression. Movement of the horse is evaluated looking for horses that push from behind, travel uphill, exhibit good length of stride and move with straight, rhythmic, balanced gaits. Conformation is evaluated in terms of potential trainability, potential performance and predisposition to soundness.


Sport Horse Show Hack

This elegant, harmonious class is essentially a dressage class on the rail, emphasizing straightness, impulsion, elasticity and balanced rhythm at 10 gaits and transitions – the normal, extended and collected walk, trot and canter plus the hand gallop. Horses should be obedient, expressive, and animated with an uphill build to elevate their front end for collected gaits and longer strides.


Sport Horse Under Saddle

In this division, horses are evaluated in performance, manners, conformation, suitability as a working sport horse and quality. The performance at each gait should show quality and suitability for a working sport horse.



The principles of dressage are found as far back as 400 B.C. in a book written by the Greek statesman and general, Xenophon. The word "dressage" comes from a French term meaning training. Today, Dressage is both an equine discipline and a training method to prepare the horse for other equine sports.


According to the United States Dressage Federation "Dressage develops the horse's physique and suppleness and improves the horse's three natural gaits, making it a pleasure to ride. Dressage is considered 'classical training' because it uses gymnastic exercises, a series of movements and figures, which have been studied and developed for centuries. When done systematically and correctly, the exercises will cause the horse to be supple on both sides and to respond willingly and obediently, moving freely forward with pure gaits and an even tempo."


There are several levels of Dressage, including Training, First, Second, Third, Fourth, The FEI Levels, Prix St. George, Intermediate I, Intermediate II and Grand Prix.


Western Dressage

Western Dressage was born out of a revolution in old west horsemanship, including light hands and subtle cues. A melding of disciplines, Western Dressage takes classical Dressage techniques and marries them with the traditions of Western Horsemanship. The athleticism of Working Western horses and the artistry and fluidity of Dressage horses are melded together to create a vision of partnership between horse and rider - a partnership seen in Working Western arenas and Dressage arenas alike.


For more information visit the Western Dressage Association of America.


Country English Pleasure

The horse’s attitude towards his or her work is paramount in this discipline. Horses must give the distinct appearance of being a pleasure to ride at the walk, trot and canter. A quiet, responsive mouth is also important. Horses should have excellent attitudes, manners, performance, quality, conformation and suitability of the horse to rider.



English Pleasure

In this discipline, horses demonstrate a snappy, animated movement in saddle seat tack and attire at the walk, normal trot, strong trot, canter and hand gallop. All gaits are performed with willingness and obvious ease, cadence, balance and smoothness. These fine horses combine their athleticism with grace and style typical of the Arabian horse.




Park horses are the spectacular strutting performers of the show ring. Every step is in perfect form and cadence, appearing to be a dance executed with the airy elegance unique to the Arabian. Their talented riders encourage style, presence, finish, balance and cadence in their horses. Emphasis is placed on performance, presence, quality, manners and conformation.



Hunter Pleasure

This is a pleasure discipline for the horse that can cover ground easily and with a long, low, efficient stride, while wearing hunter-style tack. Horses’ heads are carried lower and perform gaits in a longer lower frame than the English Pleasure horses. Hunter pleasure is one of the most popular styles of riding and horses are evaluated based on their manners, performance, suitability as a hunter, quality and conformation.


Western Pleasure

This pleasure discipline has its roots in the old west, when cowboys rode their horses from sunup to sunset. Horses demonstrate a calm, willing, obedient attitude and have smooth, soft gaits that the rider can sit all day. Horses should be pleasant- moving but cover ground efficiently, softly and obediently, while looking content, happy and willing to do the job at hand.



Mounted Native Costume

The beautiful costumes in this discipline are representative of those used by ancient Bedouins when they charged across the desert sands to engage their enemy in battle. Horses are shown at the walk, canter and hand gallop.  The beauty of the Arabian horse and the colorful heritage of the costumes make this one of the most exciting and popular disciplines.



Ladies Side Saddle

Sidesaddle classes have roots in the styles and traditions of an earlier day. Ladies sit elegantly aside their horses and their well-trained mounts should have a balanced, steady gait and respond obediently to the cues given. A sidesaddle horse gives the distinct impression that he is a comfortable mount with a good ground-covering walk, a comfortable trot and easy flowing canter.



English Show Hack

English Show Hack combines the precision of dressage with the brilliance of the Arabian horse. Dating back to the mid-1800s, when style and dress accompanied the affluence of the Industrial Revolution, this discipline has roots in the classical movements of the collected and extended gaits. All movements are natural and demonstrate the elegance and versatility of the Arabian horse.





Drivers skillfully maneuver their horses through various gaits performed with fluid motion that is brilliant and eye appealing.  The beautiful combination of an Arabian horse and elegant fine harness equipment makes this discipline a crowd favorite.


Country Pleasure

This driving discipline shows Arabian horses moving smoothly, showing their quiet willingness to their skilled drivers. The horse and driver are to perform at the walk and two different trots – normal and strong trot.


Informal Combination

Informal combination is the ultimate in pleasure horse performance. These willing horses will perform both in harness for pleasure driving and under saddle for English pleasure, displaying their style and grace and their beautiful, flowing gaits. Horses are to be the epitome of obedience and manners, with a balanced, fluid motion that appears to be pleasant for the driver.


Carriage Pleasure Driving

This division of driving is considered a Sport Horse discipline and has several categories, including: Working, Reinsmanship, Turnout, Pick Your Route, Pleasure Carriage Obstacle Driving, Drive & Ride, and Gamblers Choice.


Working Western


The purpose of cutting is to separate one calf from the herd and then prevent it from returning. It is the horse’s job to prevent the calf from rejoining the herd. Once this has been done, the rider lays down the reins and hangs on, as the horse takes over and works on his own to keep the calf from the herd. The horse maneuvers back and forth, nose to nose with the calf, anticipating every move. Each rider is given two and one-half minutes to demonstrate his horse’s ability on as many calves as he chooses to work. The Arabian’s speed, agility, intelligence and athletic ability are spotlighted through a cutting class.


For more information visit the Arabian Cutting Horse Association.



This western style highlights the agility and willingness of these horses to be guided by their riders, demonstrating difficult movements necessary in working cattle. The rider controls each maneuver of quick spins, straight sliding stops and lead changes, which are assessed by judges. Judging is based on smoothness, finesse, quickness, attitude and authority.


For more information visit the Arabian Reining Horse Association.



Horse and rider negotiate natural obstacles that simulate real-life trail hazards in this discipline. A good trail horse negotiates through an entire course efficiently, in a timely manner and without excessive hesitation. Ultimately, the ideal trail horse is skillful, eye appealing, confident and gives the impression of being sure, safe and a pleasure to ride.


English Trail

English Trail is similar in concept to the Western Trail, however, there are distinct differences in tack and attire.  Obstacles are adjusted for English horses allowing not only for a longer stride, but also to show the ability of the horse to lengthen and collect in or between Canter overs and trot overs.  The English Trail horse is judged similarly to the Western Trail horse and should appear skillful, eye appealing, confident, and leaves one with the impression of being sure, safe and a pleasure to ride over a course of obstacles.  One might consider the English Trail Horse as a horse that historically would have been suitable to be taken on a fox hunt.


Ranch Riding

A Horse in this class should look like a pleasure to ride while being used as a means of conveyance from performing one ranch task to another. The horse should reflect the versatility, attitude and movement of a working ranch horse riding outside the confines of an arena.


Working Cow Horse

A horse in this event will possess “cow sense,” meaning he can figure out, with minimum help from the rider, how to get a cow moved from one place to another in the arena.


Reined Cow Horse

This discipline combines two of the fastest growing segments of the breed. Horse and rider must compete in both reining and working cow as well as this discipline to be named the winner of a class.


Ranch Sorting

In this sport, two riders are required to move a herd of ten cattle in numerical order from one pen into a completely separate, adjoining pen in less than sixty seconds. The sport evolved from common ranch work, where cattle were separated for the purposes of branding, doctoring and transport.


Herd Work

This discipline is similar to regular Cutting but allows more direction from the rider.  “The contestant approaches the herd without hesitation or reluctance on the part of the horse.  The horse enters the herd deep enough to show the ability to make a cut and works the cow quietly and alertly causing little disturbance to the herd or the animal brought out.  Credit is given for driving cattle, clearing the herd by a sufficient distance and setting up a cow while holding it in a working position near the center of the arena.”



Gymkhana is a speed event that consists of pattern racing and timed games for riders and horses. Often emphasizing participation by children, a variety of activities are ridden, including barrel racing, keyhole races, pole pending, flag races and more.




Working Hunter

Working hunter classes are composed of two over fences sections, in which each horse will jump two courses of fences and then an under saddle phase.



Jumping involves a horse and rider navigating a course of jumps, set in a specific order. Jumpers are not evaluated on form and manner, but only on their ability to jump a clean round or pick up as few penalty points as possible, within a specified time limit.


Hunter Hack

Hunter hack classes are based on performance, manners and soundness, and exhibitors, walk, trot, canter and gallop before jumping just two obstacles.




Equitation classes span a variety of disciplines and riders are judged primarily on their riding skill and style. Riders are expected to be good matches with the horse and ride in an effective and beautiful manner.




Handlers exhibit their showmanship and presentation skills. Ideally the showman's performance consists of a poised, confident, approriately attired exhibitor leading a well-groomed and conditioned horse that quickly and efficiently performs the requested patter with promptness, smoothness and precision.





Designed for Youth riders under the age of 10, these classes span many disciplines including western pleasure, hunter pleasure and saddleseat. Young riders only compete at the walk and trot.




Distance Disciplines


Endurance rides are governed by the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC). Rides vary in distance between 50 and 100 miles in a single day and the horse with the fastest time is the winner providing the horse meets the 'fit to continue' criteria as determined by a veterinary judge. One of the most famous endurance ride is the Tevis Cup. During a 100-mile, 24 hour endurance ride, Tevis Cup participants race through the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.


Competitive Trail

Competitive Trail Rides are sanctioned by several different groups in the US and Canada. Horses are evaluated before the ride by the ride veterinarian on soundness, physical condition and way of going. Trail courtesy, safety, and manners are key elements along with the ability to care for a horse during and after a long day on the trail. Speed is not the primary objective, rather strategy is the key as a minimum and maximum time will be given to cover a set distance. Rides can be 1-3 days in length, averaging 20-40 miles per day, at 4-7 mph depending on the sanctioning organization. Many offer novice or introductory rides of 12-15 miles to get you started.


Ride & Tie

In this discipline two riders with one horse travel on a pre-marked trail in a running and riding pattern. Horses must pass a metabolic and physical standard at veterinary checks during and within one hour of finishing the trail. Distances can range from 10 to 40 miles in one day.


Mounted Orienteering

Competitive Mounted Orienteering is a timed event. The object is to find 5 - 10 markers using the provided map and a compass. Riders compete either individually or in teams of 2 - 6, riding at their own pace.