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Ranching Evolution

A little history and a look at the current offerings in AQHA ranch-horse competition.
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No bling. No fancy clothes. Those were the tenets of the first AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse classes that debuted 16 years ago.

Exhibitors were looking for something different from the usual AQHA show classes. So a task force comprised of ranchers, exhibitors, judges and representatives from other ranch horse organizations developed the five-class VRH shows, and at each VRH show, exhibitors competed in ranch riding, ranch trail, ranch cutting, working ranch horse and ranch conformation.

The classes harkened back to a day when an American Quarter Horse would show in halter in the morning and do all of the other classes – cutting, western pleasure, etc. – through the rest of the day.

Since then, AQHA has added a hugely popular standalone ranch riding class, as well as AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenges that are open to all AQHA Ranching Heritage-bred horses.

Versatility Ranch Horse

AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse events debuted in 2002. The five-class VRH shows required exhibitors to compete in five classes: ranch riding, ranch trail, ranch cutting, working ranch horse and ranch conformation. In 2014, AQHA reworked VRH, creating six classes: VRH ranch riding, VRH ranch trail, VRH ranch reining, VRH ranch cow work, VRH ranch cutting and VRH ranch conformation. Exhibitors can compete in the open, amateur, limited amateur, youth, limited youth and cowboy (for working ranch cowboys; the rider of the horse must be the owner, family member or employee of the ranch that owns the horse) divisions in any one of the classes; exhibitors are not required to compete in all six classes. However, to be considered for an all-around award, exhibitors must show in three categories, including ranch conformation; either ranch cutting or ranch cow work; and either ranch riding, ranch trail or ranch reining.

Watch the best in the business compete for class championships and all-around divisional world championships at the 2018 Zoetis Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships, June 13-17 in Guthrie, Oklahoma. More information is at

Ranch Riding

Formerly known as ranch horse pleasure, ranch riding is offered to youth, amateur and open exhibitors.

The class debuted as a world championship class at the 2012 AQHA World Championship Show. In 2013, the class was offered at the Built Ford Tough AQHYA, Adequan® Select, amateur and open world championship shows.

The purpose of the class is to measure the ability of the horse to be a pleasure to ride while being used as a means of conveyance from performing one ranch task to another, according to the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations.

“The horse should reflect the versatility, attitude and movement of a working ranch horse riding outside the confines of an arena. The horse should be well-trained, relaxed, quiet, soft and cadenced at all gaits. The ideal ranch horse will travel with forward movement and demonstrate an obvious lengthening of stride at extended gaits.”

In the fastest-growing, most popular class at most AQHA shows, exhibitors can expect to move through several gaits as they, for example, cross or sidepass over a set of logs, open and walk through a gate or back through a narrow passage between hay bales. There are several set patterns for this class, however, a judge can create a ranch riding pattern of his or her own.

Ranching Heritage Challenges

To compete in Zoetis AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenges, a horse must have been bred by an AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder.

The goal of the Ranching Heritage Breeders program is to recognize AQHA’s ranching members who have continued to maintain the ranching tradition by raising American Quarter Horses for use in working cattle, and to increase demand for ranch horses.

The money-added challenges consist of working ranch horse, limited working ranch horse and ranch riding in six divisions: open, cowboy, amateur, Level 1 amateur, youth and Level 1 youth. Some Challenges also feature barrel racing and team roping.

Of the six Ranching Heritage Challenges scheduled for 2018, four remain:

  • August 29-30: Colorado State Fair, Pueblo

  • September 16: Tri-State Fair, Amarillo, Texas

  • October 14 (tentative): National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity, Fort Worth, Texas

  • October 17: Northern International Livestock Exposition, Billings, Montana

You can read more about this program and find a list of AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders at

Watch now>>

See what judges are looking for in ranch riding in a video from AQHA Media. Judge Chele McGauly talks us through the 2017 world championship-winning run in senior ranch riding.