By Christine Hamilton and Tara MatslerThe American Quarter Horse JournalDecember 16, 2013
"Passing is 100 percent acceptable," says AQHA judge Gary Trubee, an AQHA Professional Horseman from Fredericktown, Ohio. (Journal photo)
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the February 2013 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal and has been updated to reflect current events.
Across the western pleasure industry, judges are asking exhibitors to lengthen their horses’ strides.
The drive for lengthened strides across the board started in December 2012, at the annual AQHA Judges Seminar. There, AQHA Senior Director of Judges Alex Ross instructed AQHA judges to call for extension at all gaits in western pleasure classes – from big circuit events to small weekend shows. And at the 2013 AQHA World Championship Show, especially, the change was evident as riders exhibited their horses with balance and self-carriage with flow and forward movement.
At the inaugural Industry Show Summit in December in Irving, Texas, AQHA and the American Paint Horse and National Snaffle Bit associations received input from professional horsemen, judges, amateurs, show managers and up-and-coming horse trainers in candid forums. The show summit also offered those in the trenches the chance to understand what the associations are instructing their judges to look for in a western pleasure class winner. The associations will be working together to ensure that western pleasure standards are the same across the board, which will help exhibitors and horses showing across association lines to maintain consistency in their training.
Western pleasure and lengthened strides were further discussed December 9-10 at the annual AQHA Judges Seminar, also in Irving.
The term “lengthened stride” was suggested by top-100 western pleasure riders attending the western pleasure summit in 2007 at AQHA in Amarillo.
For insight on what lengthened strides look like in the western pleasure show pen, the Journal went to AQHA Professional Horsemen and judges David Dellin of Purcell, Oklahoma, and Gary Trubee of Fredericktown, Ohio. Here’s a little of what they said.
“As exhibitors, we cannot give up correctness or quality of gait to try to achieve a certain degree of difficulty in a slow rhythm,” David explains. “Be correct in the gait first.
“I think about it this way: If you’re judging a reiner spinning, if that horse leaps around in its spin, it doesn’t matter how fast he turns, it’s still a negative score because he wasn’t correct in the maneuver. But if he’s correct first, then you can start climbing up the scale of pluses as you add the degree of difficulty in how fast he does it.
“We’ve made the judges well aware that in our (AQHA) rulebook, (Rule SHW408), it states that they can ask for a lengthening of the stride at both the walk and the lope, in addition to already asking for the moderate extension of the jog,” David says.
“We’re asking them to ask for that when judges see horses with interrupted walks – a walk with pauses or breaks in the four-beat-rhythm – indistinct jogs lacking correctness or cadence, or horses loping with negative characteristics such as head bobbing, dwelling on the outside front leg or lacking cadence.”
The point is to place a priority on correctness and cadence in the gaits over degree of difficulty in a slow speed.
Go through the eyes of AQHA judge and world champion exhibitor Dave Dellin to learn more on western pleasure class expectations in the "Showing to Win: Western Pleasure" DVD.
Gary stresses that asking for the lengthened stride is not about increased speed.
“I hate that word when it comes to a pleasure class,” he says. “It’s about moving forward with flow and pace. We need to change the attitude among many exhibitors so that western pleasure is not a slow contest, it’s a movement contest.
“It’s an event that should be judged on movement and not speed. If you start talking about speed alone, you can go to a truck stop and find anyone to judge it for you.”
Asking for lengthened strides or for horses to be more forward is an effort to emphasize correctness of gait.
“One of the biggest negative trends we’ve seen is horses not jogging with a two-beat gait,” David gives as an example. “Some horses are just poor joggers, but there are a lot of horses that could have a positive jog if they had an extra half gear more forward, so their diagonal pairs are really clean. Exhibitors are sacrificing that because they are jogging too slowly.
“But by our rulebook, (Rule SHW331.2.4), in order just to be average, you must first have a two-beat jog. The quality is assessed from there – how smooth a jog, confidence and expression, topline – all of those other characteristics come after that.”
Gary adds: “The degree of difficulty is in the horse that’s moving correctly and going at a proper western pleasure speed. Secretariat (TB) was a great mover, but he was too fast for this class.”
What to Expect
Gary listed what judges might do in a class.
“At the beginning of a class, a judge might announce that he/she will ask for lengthened strides in the class.
“You might be asked to enter the ring at an extended jog. I like to do that as a judge because I think it frees a horse up from the first.
“Judges will probably change around their gait calls – that also frees up a horse in his movement.
“And passing is 100 percent acceptable as long as the horse is correct in his movement. I’ve been showing pleasure horses for almost 50 years, and part of our problem has been this stigma about passing. We are asking the judges to change that.”
Gary adds that you could also find yourself showing more in split classes.
“A judge might need to split a class to give exhibitors more room to show their horses,” he says. “You can’t move well in a traffic jam: If you’re driving through downtown Dallas, you’ve always got one foot on the brake and one on the gas. If you’re driving from Dallas to Amarillo, you can keep your foot on the gas the whole way.”
David encourages exhibitors to be confident, too.
“When a judge calls for a lengthened stride in a gait, there might be two or three horses in the pen already moving correctly,” David says. “Those horses don’t need to change.
“If you are exhibiting your horse so that he is performing to the rules, you don’t need to keep asking for more forward and chase your horse up out of a good, balanced position. When a judge calls for a lengthened stride, that’s when you check yourself, ‘Is that what I’m already presenting?’ ”
Get the lowdown on western pleasure cadence and rhythm, plus consistency of performance with AQHA judges Dave Dellin and Dianne Eppers in "Showing to Win: Western Pleasure."
“I think the class has improved greatly over the past few years,” Gary says, “but there is room for more improvement.
“We need to change attitudes the public has about this class. When you look at what the mass horse media says about it, it’s pretty condemning. If you don’t have a product that the general public wants to get involved in, you’re in trouble.
“If we can clean up the gaits so horses are hitting a two-beat jog and they’re loping down the rail without being over-canted and dwelling on their front ends, to where other horsemen – whether they are reiners or whatever – can look at it and say, ‘That’s a good-moving horse,’ that will help.”
Gary adds that the pieces are in place for western pleasure to grow positively.
“Right now, we have the best-bred horses for it, their necks are hung on them right, their hocks are set on them good. We have great trainers.
“And (western pleasure) gives a horse all the basics he needs to go on to the western riding, horsemanship, trail, whatever. It is the first class for a horse’s long, productive show career.”
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