AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse Competition

The versatility ranch horse competition offers a variety of classes.

The Versatility Ranch Horse competition promotes the athletic ability and versatility of the horse and is demonstrated in five categories - ranch riding, ranch trail, ranch cutting, working ranch horse and ranch conformation. There are divisions for open, amateur, novice amateur and youth.  For complete rules and regulations, refer to the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations.

The Classes

Ranch Riding

This class shows the horse's ability to move at a working speed with a rider. Horses will be shown at three gaits ­- walk, trot and lope - in each direction of the arena. Horses also will be asked to change directions while on the rail, stop and back. A horse will be given credit for traveling with his head held in a normal position, ears alert and moving at a natural speed for the gait requested. Credit also will be given for making a smooth transition between the gaits, for keeping the correct lead and for maintaining the gait until the judge asks for a change. A rider must show his horse with only one hand on the reins, unless the horse is 5 years old or younger and is being shown in a snaffle bit or hackamore (bosal).

Ranch riding and ranch trail will be shown back to back.  Each exhibitor will perform the trail obstacle course and then Ranch Trail

This class contains a course with a minimum of six obstacles and is designed to show a horse's ability and willingness to perform several tasks that might be asked of him during the course of a normal day's ranch work. Whenever possible, realistic or natural obstacles are encouraged and the course is encouraged to be set outside of an arena using the natural terrain of the land. The horse will be judged on three gaits - walk, trot and lope - performed between the six obstacles to be determined when the judge chooses the pattern. A horse will be rewarded with higher credit for performing these gaits on the correct lead and with an alert attitude. Mandatory obstacles include opening, passing through and closing a gate and dragging a log either in a straight line or around a set pattern. The third mandatory obstacle requires the horse to remain quiet while the rider dismounts, removes the bit completely from the horse's mouth and rebridles, and then picks up all four of the horse's feet. Some optional obstacles include crossing a water hazard, being hobbled or ground tied and crossing a bridge.

Ranch Cutting

A single numbered cow is cut from the herd and the horse must demonstrate its ability to work the cow with the assistance of two turn-back riders and two herdholders.  When satisfied that the horse has proven its cutting ability, the horse and rider must then pen the cow at the far end of the arena. For Open and Amateur, the number of designated cattle will equal the number of entries and the number of non-numbered cattle will also equal the number of entries. 

Open and Amateur contestants will have two minutes to work two required head, but has the option of working the full two minutes. Exhibitors must work their designed cow and one additional non-numbered cow within the time limit.  Novice Amateur and Youth competitors will have a one and half minute time limit.  Exhibitors must work their designated cow but has the option of working the full minute and a half. Horses will not be penalized for reining during the cutting portion and should display the horse's natural cow ability.

Working Ranch Horse
This class combines the ability of the working ranch horse to rein, handle cattle and put its rider in the position to rope and stop a cow. The class is to be judged in three sections ­ reining, cow work and roping ­ with scores from each section added together for the final score of the class. Each contestant will perform individually. A maximum of six minutes is allowed to complete the class. When the six-minute time limit has expired, the exhibitor will be required to exit the arena.

Reining pattern: One of two approved patterns will be used for this class. Maneuvers include at least one circle in both directions, a change of leads in each direction, at least one 360-degree turn in each direction, a rollback in each direction, stop and back.

Working the cow: After the exhibitor has completed his reining pattern, he will call for the cow to be turned into the arena. Upon receiving the cow, the contestant shall hold the cow on the prescribed end of the arena for a sufficient amount of time to demonstrate the ability of the horse to contain the cow.  After a reasonable amount of time, the contestant shall take the cow down the fence, making at least one turn each way on the fence.

Roping: The exhibitor must then rope the cow and bring it to a stop. The horse is judged on his ability to trail, rate and stop the cow. There is to be no dragging and the exhibitor is allowed only two throws. Ropes cannot be tied to the saddle horn. It's not necessary for the exhibitor to catch in order to receive a score. However, if there is no catch, a five-point penalty will be subtracted from the roping score.  Also, if the rope falls off the saddle during the class it would be considered equipment failure and result in a socre of zero.

Ranch Conformation

The goal of the ranch conformation class is to preserve American Quarter Horse type by selecting well-mannered horses based on their resemblance to the breed ideal. Horses should have a positive combination of balance, structural correctness and movement with appropriate breed and sex characteristics, along with adequate muscling. Horses are to be shown in a good working halter (rope, braided, nylon or plain leather). Horses will walk to the judge one at a time then trot straight to a cone. At the cone, the horse will continue trotting, turn to the left and trot toward the left wall or fence of the arena. After trotting, horses will be lined up head to tail for individual inspection by the judge. The judge shall inspect each horse from both sides, front and rear. The ranch conformation class will be held after the conclusion of the other four events. All sexes will be shown together as one class.

Ranch Division: Stallions, mares and geldings
Youth Division: Mares and geldings


Open Ranch

This division is for horses shown by the recorded owner or by immediate family members as outlined in the AQHA Official Handbook, or for horses shown by a full-time employee (six months more) and/or children of the ranch which owns the horse and/or for all horses, regardless of ownership or trainer.


Horses shown by exhibitors who fulfill the amateur requirements under Rule 403, amateur eligibility. The novice amateur division will not be shown concurrently with the open division.  Novice Amateur entries will not be counted and are not eligible for placing in the amateur and open division.  Novice Amateurs may show in the amateur and/or open classes as an additional entry.


Exhibitors 18 years of age or younger (age as of January 1) may show in this division. The exhibitor must be the recorded owner of the horse shown or show a horse owned by his or her immediate family members. The exhibitor may show horses owned by a ranch where the exhibitor’s family is a full time employee (for six months or more).

Example of Earning AQHA Points and Credit Distribution

AQHA points will be awarded based on the final placing of all eligible horses. To be eligible for points in the Versatility Ranch Horse 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. Horses competing and placing in the top nine will be awarded one credit for each horse or contestant placing below them, plus one credit. Total credits will not exceed nine credits for first place.