Equestrians with Disabilities

AQHA's guidelines, rules and eligibility for showing.

The Equestrians with Disabilities AQHA-approved competition is open to people with physical or mental disabilities and love competing with the American Quarter Horse. AQHA teams with alliance partner Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International to provide these opportunities.


To compete in AQHA-approved Equestrians with Disabilities competitions, two forms must first be completed. The two forms – AQHA membership, diagnosis and adaptive equipment – have been packaged for your convenience.

Download the AQHA membership application for Equestrians with Disabilities.


AQHA and AQHYA members have a type of competition that offers people with certain mental and physical challenges the thrill of showing an American Quarter Horse. It provides an arena for everyone to enjoy the rewards of hard work, determination and perseverance. This program allows you to show in AQHA EWD classes and earn points for year-end, high-point awards, along with the satisfaction of a job well done.

There are 20 classes

  • Showmanship – Walk Only; Showmanship- Walk, Jog/Trot; Showmanship; 
  • Supported Walk-Trot Classes are Hunt Seat Equitation on the Flat; Hunter Under Saddle; Trail; Western Horsemanship; Western Pleasure
  • Independent Walk, Jog/Trot Classes are Hunt Seat Equitation on the Flat; Hunter Under Saddle; Trail; Western Horsemanship; Western Pleasure; Para-Reining
  • Independent Walk, Jog/Trot, Lope/Canter Classes are Hunt Seat Equitation on the Flat; Hunter Under Saddle; Trail; Western Horsemanship; Western Pleasure; Para-Reining

Visit www.aqha.com/showschedule to find upcoming AQHA-approved Equestrians with Disabilities competitions.

The Equestrians with Disabilities competition is the result of several years of letters, calls, meetings and task forces to develop a program to meet the needs of competitors. Representatives from PATH, Special Olympics and therapeutic riding centers, along with several individuals, provided input and guidance to create the classes, rules and guidelines.

This competition is just like any other AQHA show event, with exhibitors earning awards and recognition, all while enjoying their American Quarter Horse. 


  • Each exhibitor must have a current individual membership in American Quarter Horse Association or American Quarter Horse Youth Association. 
  • Neither the exhibitor nor their immediate family is required to own the horse.  However the owner(s) must be AQHA members in order to compete.  The exhibitor must present the registration certificate or photocopy as required by show management. Only geldings or mares may be shown - stallions are not allowed. 
  • In order to be participate, an exhibitor must have a medically diagnosed condition that causes a permanent impairment that can be measured objectively. Examples of conditions, diseases or disorders that may lead to permanent impairment are: paresis, amputation (partial to full joint), ankylosis, upper motor neuron lesions, vision impairment, and intellectual disability. Eligible conditions include: amputation, arthrogryposis, Asperger syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, Batten disease, cerebrovascular accident (stroke), cerebellar ataxia, cerebral palsy, Coffin-Lowry syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, dwarfism, fragile X syndrome, Friedreich’s ataxia, Guillain-Barre syndrome, hearing impairment, Hunter syndrome, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, mental retardation, microcephaly, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, post-polio syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Rett syndrome, spina bifida, spinal cord injury, Tourette syndrome, traumatic brain injury, trisomy disorders and visual impairment.
  • All horses when ridden must wear a halter in a manner that does not interfere with reining of the horse.  A halter must be on the horse either over or under the bridle for use by the handler if needed. All exhibitors should be able to hold reins.
  • Exhibitors are allowed to ride with one or two hands at any time during the class and hold the saddle with either hand without penalty.
  • An exhibitor may show more than one horse in individually worked classes as outlined in the rulebook however, but horses cannot be shown by more than one exhibitor in the same EWD class.

Tack, Equipment and Attire

Special adaptive equipment may be used where appropriate and be suitable for the horse.

  • A snaffle bit, curb bit or bosal/hackamore may be used no matter the age of the horse. Acceptable adaptive equipment includes but is not limited to: audio communications, bareback pads, boot adaptations, dowel reins, hand holds (flexible and/or rigid), laces to tie stirrups or leathers to girth or cinch, ladder reins, loop reins, rein handles, rein handle tethers, rubber bands, saddle blocks, wedges, cushions, safety stirrups, seat savers, surcingles, whips (one or two). Other equipment will be considered upon request. 
  • All exhibitors must wear a properly fitted and fastened with harness, ASTM approved protective helmet. A western hat may be affixed over the helmet in western events. Equipment should conform to the riding ability of the competitor and be suitable for the horse.  Proper attire is required as set forth in the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations.

Find a Competition

AQHA’s online show calendar is a great resource to find upcoming AQHA shows. Here’s how to use it: 

  • Visit www.aqha.com/showschedule.
  • Choose a month. 
  • Search by state, province or country for upcoming shows. 
  • Shows will be listed by location and broken down into the following categories: Equestrians with Disabilities, regular, split/combined, double judged/double points, special events, all-Novice, alliance events, Versatility Ranch Horse, AQHA regional championships and dressage.
  • Introductory shows will be denoted on the show schedule.
  • A list of shows offering Rookie classes can also be found at www.aqha.com/showschedule

Handlers and Side Walkers

  • One handler is required per entry to facilitate the safety of the exhibitor. The handler must be 16 years of age or older. The handler must have a lead line without a chain in their hand. The supported exhibitor must have a leader and may need the assistance of one or two side walkers.
  • Handlers shall stand quietly in a designated area, not obscuring the judge’s line of vision, unless their assistance is required and requested by the judge or ring steward in the event of a safety issue.  The handler may either take a position behind, beside or in front their respective exhibitor’s horse or quietly walk forward and snap onto the horse’s halter after the exhibitor’s pattern is completed or the class has come in to line up. 
  • A blind or deaf exhibitor may have an assistant who communicates via verbal or sign language or cue cards to the competitor so they may hear the judge’s directives or pattern instructions. This assistant will be outside the ring and their position known to the judge and ring steward. 

Judging Criteria

Classes are judged or scored in concert with the existing rules found in the AQHA Handbook.  


USA Reining, together with the United States Para-Equestrian Association, as well as founding partners AQHA and the National Reining Horse Association, are thrilled to present the introduction of reining into the para-equestrian movement by way of para-reining. Learn more about the para-reining program at www.usa-reining.com.