At the Summit County Fair I got to watch an impressive group of kids and their horses compete in something called Versatility. It's a competition across many aspects of horsemanship and riding including courses or classes in English and Western, all of which culminates in barrel racing. Friends of our family had a daughter competing so I was invited to come and shoot some photographs.
I had a blast hanging out around the barn and talking to some of the people there and watching the kids compete. The competition itself is several hours long - competitors start in western dress, enter the arena as a group then walk their horse through a course one at a time to illustrate control of the horse and how well the animal follows their lead. Then they change to English. Literally they change, in the arena. Each rider has two grooms who bring in a wheel barrow full of gear to switch from western to English - saddles and whatever for the horse and a full change of costume for the rider. Right in the arena both the girls and the horses get a make over of sorts.
So, from western to English it gets a little more formal. I prefer Western but there was something about the posture of both rider and horse when riding English that was very cool. Controlled horses, smaller saddles, boots, jackets and helmets have a sophisticated look that makes for great photographs.
After English came Western Pleasure. This is the style I think of when I think about riding horseback - western saddles, relaxed horses allowed more freedom, large hats and brightly colored costumes. After Western came barrel racing where the real personalities and training of the horses and riders could come out. The English horses aren't generally allowed to turn and run full out so they don't fare as well but a couple of the classic western-trained horses clearly loved it. When turned loose their ability to accelerate was amazing.
Between classes with grooms in the arena helping the kids and horses change I felt a little funny walking around with a camera - they literally changed clothes. They had shorts and stuff on underneath but I wasn't comfortable shooting pictures during this part at all. So I got the clouds and a bit of the crowd instead :-). I will have a bunch of action pictures to share shortly. I'll update this post when they're online.