Ranch Classes Explained

Ranch Classes Explained

This helpful guide outlines the difference between AQHA ranch-horse classes.

2018 VRH champions (Credit: Ranch Horse Journal)

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There are a variety of ranch-horse classes offered at AQHA events, and which event you should enter can sometimes be confusing. 

This guide will help clarify these classes to allow you to select the best fit for you. This is just an overview, and exhibitors should read and understand the complete rules published in the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations. 

Ranch Riding

This class measures a horse’s ability to be a pleasure to ride while being used as a conveyance from performing one ranch task to another. The horse and rider are asked to perform a pattern that includes changes of gait, extension of gait, crossing logs and lead changes. All maneuvers should be performed as if the horse were being used on a ranch, and the horse should demonstrate a high level of training, relaxation and quality of movement in all gaits. 

A horse cannot cross enter western pleasure and ranch riding at the same show, regardless of division. A ranch riding and a Versatility Ranch Horse ranch riding class can be held concurrently. Ranch riding is a stand-alone class, and points earned in this class will count toward AQHA awards (year-end high-points, register of merit, superior, etc). 

Continue learning about ranch riding or visit www.aqha.com/events to find upcoming ranch riding classes near you. 

Ranch Trail

The horse and rider performing in a ranch trail class are asked to maneuver through six to nine obstacles that resemble the things that would be encountered during everyday riding on a ranch. The horse will be asked to walk, trot and lope during the pattern, and mandatory obstacles include riding over obstacles (such as logs), passing through a gate, backing, riding over a bridge, sidepassing and dragging (open and amateur only). The horse is judged on a natural ranch horse appearance, and credit is given for a horse that performs the pattern smoothly, with willingness and efficiency.   

Horses cannot cross enter trail and ranch trail, or trail and Versatility Ranch Horse trail, regardless of division. Ranch trail is a stand-alone class, and points earned in this class will count toward AQHA awards (year-end high-points, register of merit, superior, etc). 

Continue learning about ranch trail or visit www.aqha.com/events to find upcoming ranch trail classes near you. 

Versatility Ranch Horse 

This set of six classes is intended to show the versatility and ability of a ranch-type American Quarter Horse. This set of classes can be offered as a group to award a VRH all-around title, or the classes can be held individually. Divisions offered include open, cowboy, amateur, limited amateur, youth and limited youth. 

While exhibitors can show in individual VRH classes, this set of classes is intended to promote the versatile horse. Hence, points earned in the individual VRH classes only count toward qualification within the ranch division, and do not count for any other AQHA awards, such as year-end high-points, registers of merit or superiors, and do not affect leveling. Only points earned in the VRH all-around will count toward these AQHA show awards. 

  • VRH Ranch Trail – This class demonstrates a horse’s ability to maneuver a set of six to nine obstacles resembling what the horse and rider would encounter during everyday ranch work. The horse and rider team is judged on correctness, efficiency and the quality of performance. The horse should maintain the natural appearance of a ranch horse at all times. 
  • VRH Ranch Riding  - This class measures a horse’s ability to be a pleasure to ride while being used as a conveyance from performing one ranch task to another. The horse and rider are asked to perform a pattern that includes changes of gait, extension of gait, crossing logs and lead changes. All maneuvers should be performed as if the horse were being used on a ranch, and the horse should demonstrate a high level of training, relaxation and quality of movement in all gaits. 
  •  VRH Ranch Reining – In this class, a horse is evaluated on its maneuverability as it performs a set pattern that includes circles, lead changes, spins and stops. 
  • VRH Ranch Cutting – A horse’s ability to separate and work a cow out of the herd is judged in VRH cutting. With the help of two turnback riders and two herd holders, an exhibitor will cut two cows out of a herd one at a time and demonstrate the horse’s ability to hold them. The rider is allowed to cue with the reins.
  • VRH Ranch Cow Work – The horse must demonstrate its natural ability to work a cow in a specified pattern that varies depending on division. Exhibitors in the open, amateur, cowboy and youth divisions are given three minutes to box the cow, turn it both directions on the fence and then rope it. Amateurs and youth are allowed to circle the cow both directions in lieu of roping. Limited-division riders will be asked to box the cow, drive it down the fence, box the cow at the other end of the arena and then drive the cow back up the fence to complete their pattern. 
  •  VRH Ranch Conformation – This class is intended to preserve the American Quarter Horse type by selecting a well-mannered individual in order based on their resemblance to the breed ideal. 

Continue learning about Versatility Ranch Horse or visit www.aqha.com/events to find upcoming VRH classes or events near you. 

AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenge

AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenges are open only to horses enrolled in the AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder program, as they are the products of AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders. Once fully enrolled, these horses can compete for a lifetime in Ranching Heritage Challenges. Divisions include open, limited open, cowboy, amateur, limited amateur, youth and limited youth, as well as Level 1 classes. These classes can be held concurrently with VRH cow horse, cutting or ranch riding classes. 

No points are awarded, but monetary payouts are distributed. 

  • Working ranch horse – The horse runs a reining pattern, followed by cow work that includes boxing the cow, turning it both directions on the fence and roping the cow. Amateurs and youth are allowed to circle the cow instead of roping. 
  • Limited working ranch horse (box-drive-box-drive) – Exhibitors perform a reining pattern, followed by cow work that includes boxing the cow, driving it down the fence, boxing the cow at the other end of the arena and then driving it back down the fence to complete the pattern.
  • Ranch cutting – A horse’s ability to separate and work a cow out of the herd is judged in ranch cutting. With the help of two turnback riders and two herd holders, an exhibitor will cut two cows out of a herd one at a time and demonstrate the horse’s ability to hold them. The rider is allowed to cue with the reins.
  •  Ranch riding – This class measures a horse’s ability to be a pleasure to ride while being used as a conveyance from performing one ranch task to another. The horse and rider are asked to perform a pattern that includes changes of gait, extension of gait, crossing logs and lead changes. All maneuvers should be performed as if the horse were being used on a ranch, and the horse should demonstrate a high level of training, relaxation and quality of movement in all gaits. 
  • Team roping – Traditional heading and heeling, the placings for which are based on a combination of time and score.
  • Barrel racing – The horse runs a traditional barrel pattern. Class placings are based on time. 

Continue learning about Ranching Heritage Challenges or visit www.aqha.com/events to find upcoming RHC classes near you.