AQHA Competition Classes

Learn more about the different classes you can show in with your American Quarter Horse.

Karey Franz and Nuchex N DiamondsThose who love the American Quarter Horse know that “Excellence That Shows” is not some empty phrase – it’s a fact. Perhaps nowhere else is the breed’s versatility, heritage and work ethic more apparent than in the show arena. Nor is it more apparent why America’s Horse is favored worldwide. AQHA-approved shows offer something for everyone.

Show events or classes are divided into three basic categories: Western, English and Halter. Western and English classes feature performance competition: a wide variety of athletic contests ranging from jumping to western pleasure and pleasure driving to team roping. Halter classes provide competition for horses based on conformation which reward excellence in balance, structural correctness, breed and sex characteristics and degree of muscling.

Class Types

Places Classes

In classes that are placed, a computer converts the five judges placings into numerical values. The high and low values are eliminated, and the three remaining numerical values are added to determine the class results.

Scored Classes
In scored classes, the high and low scores are discarded, and the remaining three scores are added. Scores in scored classes are unofficial until judges score sheets are verified.

Timed Classes

Timed classes are placed according to the run with the best (or fastest) time.


Western Pleasure

One of the most popular AQHA show events is western pleasure. Contestants compete simultaneously, traveling the perimeter of the arena, and at the discretion of the judge, are asked to walk, jog, lope and reverse the direction of the horse. Horses are evaluated on quality of movement while staying quiet and calm, traveling on a loose rein.

Darcy Reeve and A Certain Vino 2011 amateur western riding world championsWestern Riding

Judges the abilities of the American Quarter Horse to change leads precisely, easily and simultaneously, using both hind and front legs. Following one of four patterns consisting of a log and a series of pylons, the horse and rider must change gaits – from a walk to a jog or a lope – throughout the course. Reward is given to the horse that changes fluidly and precisely between the middle of the pylons within the pattern.

Western Horsemanship

Designed to test the horsemanship abilities of youth and amateur riders using western tack. Divided into two sections, riders first follow a prescribed pattern of maneuvers at a walk, trot or lope. Finalists ride as a group around the perimeter of the arena. Judging focuses on the rider’s body position, seat in the saddle and ability to control the horse.


The trail class tests the maneuverability of an American Quarter Horse through an obstacle course. Mandatory obstacles include one in which the rider will open, pass through and close a gate. Scoring is based on the horse’s willingness, ease and grace in negotiating the course. The other two mandatory obstacles are riding over at least four logs or poles and one backing obstacle.


Judges the horse on movements, mastery of a prescribed maneuver and attitude as he is guided through one of 11 AQHA patterns. The horse is required to perform a number of stops, spins, rollbacks, lead changes and circles at a lope. The horse should be willing to be guided with little or no resistance.


Puts an American Quarter 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.

Working Cow Horse

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 part, 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.

Isaac Fontenot and Matataris RapperTie-Down Roping
Tests a horse’s ability to follow a calf at great speed, giving the rider the best opportunity to catch the calf. The horse is judged on how quietly he waits for the calf to be released; how well he runs to the calf; how he rates his speed and position so that the rider can rope the calf; and how well the horse stops and works the end of the rope, keeping the slack out but not dragging the calf. There is a one minute time limit for all roping events.

Breakaway Roping

A timed competition, rather than a scored event, for amateur and youth contestants. In breakaway roping, the rope is attached to the saddle horn with a heavy string allowing it to break when a legal catch is made. All other calf roping rules apply.

Dally Team Roping

A judged (instead of a timed) competition where the heading and heeling horses are entered and judged individually. There is a one minute time limit with each roper being allowed two loops from one rope.

Dally Team Roping - Heading

The heading horse is judged on the rate of speed to the steer, ability to match the steer’s speed and favorably position the roper to catch. The horse also is judged on his ability to check, turn and set the steer in position for the heeler.

Dally Team Roping - Heeling

The heeling horse is judged on the ease with which he turns, rates to the steer, and positions the heeler to catch one or both heels. A run is complete when the heeler has dallied and the header and heeler have faced with the steer between the two.

Team penning world champions at the 2011 Adequan Select WorldTeam Penning

A timed event in which a team of three riders must sort three specifically numbered head of cattle from a herd and pen them at the other end of the arena within 90 seconds. All cattle, except the ones being penned must be kept on one side of the starting line (often called the “cattle side”) until time is called.

Stake Race

An event for youth exhibitors only, the stake race is a timed competition consisting of markers set on either side of a center line. Contestants are given a running start to complete a figure eight pattern. They must cross the center line between upright markers, head to either the right or left of the first pole, make a 180 degree turn, head to the second pole, turn around it in the opposite direction and then to the center line to stop the clock.

Barrel Racing

An exciting race against the clock in which exhibitors follow a course consisting of three barrels in a triangular “cloverleaf” pattern. Riders choose to circle either the right or left barrel first, race to the opposite barrel and complete the course after circling the third barrel and racing down the center of the three barrels to stop the timer. Knocking over a barrel carries a five second penalty.

Pole Bending

A timed event in which the speed and agility of the horse are tested as horse and rider twice weave through a course of six poles spaced 21 feet apart, twice circling end poles before turning and racing to the finish line. The pattern must be followed exactly. A five-second penalty is added for each pole knocked down.

Fielding Versatility Ranch Horse

The Versatility Ranch Horse competition is the newest AQHA-approved class. The competition demonstrates the versatility of the working ranch horse in five categories - ranch riding, ranch trail, ranch cutting, working ranch horse and ranch conformation. To be eligible for points in the Versatility Ranch competition one rider/one horse must enter all five classes. Credits will be applied per class according to the placing received based on the number of horses competing in that particular class. AQHA points are awarded based on the total earned credits that determine the final placing. There is an open division for horses shown by the recorded owner or by immediate family members or shown by a full-time employee (six months or more). A Youth division also is offered to exhibitors 18 years of age or younger (age as of January 1) as long as they are the recorded owner or exhibit a horse owned by his or her immediate family members. Youth exhibitors may show horses owned by a ranch where the exhibitor's family is a full time employee (for six months or more). The Versatility Ranch Horse competition promotes the athletic ability and versatility of the horse.


Hunt Seat Equitation

Tests an amateur or youth’s ability to ride–not the performance of the horse. As in western horsemanship, contestants work a predetermined pattern consisting of maneuvers such as changing gaits; travel in a figure-8 pattern; backing up as well as posting on correct diagonal and counter-cantering. Top riders return to be judged as they travel the perimeter of the arena performing gait changes at the judge’s discretion. Emphasis is placed on ability to sit correctly, hold the correct riding posture and control the horse on a precise pattern.

Air Ride Equipped and AQHA Professional Horseman Keith Miller of Reidsville, North Carolina; owned by The Wilhelm Family Trust of Chalfont, PennsylvaniaHunter Under Saddle

A preliminary class for English riding disciplines in which judges evaluate a hunter-type American Quarter Horse on the flat, at a walk, trot and canter. Emphasis is placed on smoothness of gait, free-flowing stride and willingness to perform. Exhibitors must wear traditional English attire.

Hunter Hack

A transitional English class between hunter under saddle and working hunter. Horses are required to jump two fences then put on the rail to walk, trot and canter both directions in the ring. Emphasis is on manner and way of going on the flat and style over fences.

Pleasure Driving

English rail class tests the horse’s ability to pull a two-wheeled cart and driver along the perimeter of the arena. The horse is exhibited at a walk and two speeds of trot called park gait and road gait. The horse is judged on straight and free movement, manners, and a bright expression while staying under the driver’s control at all times. Horses must not break into a canter at any time.

Green Working Hunter

An event designed for horses in their first year of showing over fences or those which have not earned more than 10 AQHA points in working hunter or jumping classes. Rules are the same as those in working hunter except the fences are not as demanding.

Working Hunter

An event which demonstrates the gracefulness of the American Quarter Horse as it maneuvers a course consisting of at least four obstacles but must jump a minimum of eight fences. Manners, style of jumping, flow of strides, balance and keeping an even hunter pace are factors in the judges’ scoring.


Jumping is a true test of a horse’s athletic ability to perform over fences. Jumping consists of at least four obstacles and a minimum of eight jumps. Scores are based on time and penalty faults. Faults are assessed when a horse refuses to jump, knocks down an obstacle, or causes an obstacle to be knocked down. Horses completing the course without faults return to compete in a timed “jump-off” to determine final placings.

Hannah Elizabeth Bedwell, Ball Ground, Georgia, showed her American Quarter Horse Regal To A Te to the equitation over fences world championship at the 2011 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show.Equitation Over Fences

Designed for amateur and youth competitors, this event tests the rider’s seat, hands and ability to control and show an American Quarter Horse over fences. The course consists of at least four obstacles with a minimum of six jumps required. Jumping faults of the horse are not to be considered unless it is the result of the rider’s ability.



Evaluates conformation of the American Quarter Horse as a breed. Halter classes are divided by age and sex. Horses are shown with a leather halter and are traveled before judges so that lameness and quality of movement can be evaluated. Horses are judged on balance, structural correctness, breed and sex characteristics and degree of muscling. Of these, balance is the most important.

Showmanship at Halter

A class for youth and amateur exhibitors only, it is designed to judge the showmanship skills of the exhibitors. Judges evaluate the grooming and fitting of the horse, and expertise of the exhibitor in presenting the horse. Each exhibitor is required to perform a pattern designed by the Judge with emphasis on preciseness of pattern and degree of confidence exhibited by the showman.

Equestrians with Disabilities

Walk and Trot Hunt Seat Equitation on the Flat

This English class is designed where exhibitors work in groups of eight or less. Riders compete on the rail at a walk and trot both ways of the ring, line up and complete an individual workout. Riders will remain in the ring throughout the individual workouts. Horses will be shown at three gaits - walk, trot and extended trot. The judge will ask rider/horse to walk from line up to first marker, then trot serpentine around markers. From the last serpentine marker, they will be asked to extend the trot down the rail to marker on the wall, stop then walk back and line up. Judges are not permitted to alter the mandatory workout in any manner.

Walk and Jog Western Horsemanship

All exhibitors must work in groups of eight or less. Riders will compete on the rail at a walk and jog both ways of the ring, line up and complete an individual workout. Riders will remain in the ring throughout the individual workouts. Horses will be shown at two gaits - walk and jog. Exhibitors will be asked to walk from place in line around first marker to second marker, then take up a jog and continue around third marker back to second marker. Finally, riders will be asked to stop and back four steps, then walk back and line up. Judges are not permitted to alter the mandatory workout in any manner.

Walk and Jog Trail Horse

This class will be judged on the performance of the horse and rider while maneuvering five obstacles. Riders are to work individually. There will be no rail work. Judges will assign a point value to each obstacle and points will be added to or subtracted from this score, based on the horse and rider's performance over that obstacle. An obstacle missed, refused, or taken out of order will result in a score of zero for that obstacle but will not disqualify entry.