5 Exercises for Versatility Ranch Horse Training

5 Exercises for Versatility Ranch Horse Training

What to do with a horse when you can’t ride? Try these exercises – all you need is your horse and a hay bale.


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By Andrea Caudill for The American Quarter Horse Journal

If weather has you waylaid to the point that you and your horse are stuck indoors, you can still work on things that will ultimately help your Versatility Ranch Horse be more trained, and help perfect and polish your skills so that when show season rolls around, you are ready to score big in the pen.

Try some of these exercises suggested by AQHA Professional Horseman and judge Fielding “Bozo” Rogers” of Gainesville, Texas, all of which can be done in a confined area, such as a covered pen or barn aisle, with everyday items at hand.

Keep in mind that these exercises should all be first introduced to the horse in a safe, open place. Only after the horse has learned them should you use a more confined area like a barn aisle to practice polishing the skills. The confined area that you choose to work in should likewise be safe and free of hazards.

1. Hobbling

Hobbling is a maneuver found in ranch trail courses.

  • For a horse that already knows how to hobble, practicing is just a refresher.

  • When teaching a horse to hobble, do so in a safe area with soft ground, wrap the horse’s ankles for protection and use quick-release hobbles.

  • After the horse is hobbled, stand back and tell the horse “Whoa” to instill stillness.

2. Conformation Setup

Ranch horse conformation is on the Versatility Ranch Horse menu. Practicing your setup can help you in the show ring.

  • Teach the horse to square his feet – set him up next to a wall to keep his hip from swinging.

  • After the horse is close, leave him, reward him and let him learn to patiently wait on you.

  • Increase the difficulty by moving around the horse while asking the horse to remain still.

3. Stand for Mounting

Standing for mounting or dismounting is a practical, as well as a judged, skill. (You can incur penalties in ranch trail if the horse moves when you are re-mounting.)

  • Practice with a hay bale, using the bale as a mounting block.

  • Ask the horse to maneuver to the bale.

  • Reward the horse for standing quietly as you mount.

  • Reward the horse for continuing to stand still after you settle onto its back.

4. Rope

Roping is a key skill for a Versatility Ranch Horse. The horse must accept the rope swinging and touching it all over.

  • The most simple way to practice is to just swing a rope around your horse so he learns how to be still and accept the action.  

  • Now rope the bale of hay. (Roping a hay bale is actually a better simulation for roping a cow around the neck, as you would in ranch cow work, as opposed to roping a horned-dummy.)

  • Move the horse, then return to roping the dummy hay bale.

5. Sack Out

This is good practice for carrying a slicker in a ranch trail class, or more practically, when the weather warms and you need to remove your coat.

  • Let your horse walk straight to a jacket hanging on the fence.

  • Let him accept the jacket and praise him when he relaxes.

  • When you put the jacket, or slicker on, keep your hand on the reins so you can control him, then switch and look for the other arm.

  • Make sure the horse stays standing until you say it’s time to move on.

The Guide to Versatility Ranch Horse is a must-have for any VRH competitor. The e-book is free to AQHA members! Download your copy.

Guide to Versatility Ranch Horse cover