On the International Trail

An Introduction to Ranch Riding

Oklahoma State University instructors lead an introduction to AQHA's ranch riding class during the AQHA International Horsemanship Camp in Ireland.

Scroll down for more photos from the 2016 AQHA International Horsemanship Camp in Ireland. (Credit: Kelsey Stangebye)

Oklahoma State University and I arrived at the beautiful Drumcoura Equestrian Centre in Ireland, which is owned by Ron and Fiona Weisz. As we have traveled through Europe and have met AQHA international members, there has been extensive interest and enthusiasm toward learning about one of the fastest growing AQHA classes: ranch riding.

Beginning with a lecture and then followed with a riding demonstration, the Oklahoma State University instructors offered an overview of the ranch riding class and noted some of its unique components by referring to the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations

According to the AQHA Rulebook, a few keys exhibitors need to know in ranch riding: 

  • In the AQHA ranch riding class, the horse is shown individually in pattern work and is judged on the precision of the pattern maneuvers and the horse's movements.
  • The horse should simulate a horse riding and working outside the confines of an arena.
  • The horse should execute the maneuvers at a forward ground-covering pace.
  • As for rein length, the rider should have light rein contact. The instructors specifically noted that the horse should not be shown on a draped rein.
  • Additionally, a horse may not be entered in a western pleasure and ranch riding class at the same horse show. This rule applies to all AQHA divisions (youth, amateur, Select and open). 

A few notes on horse presentation and equipment: 

  • Tail extensions are not allowed.
  • The horse's mane cannot be braided or branded. 
  • The horse's hooves cannot have black polish. 
  • Silver plating on saddles and bridles is discouraged.  
  • Clipping the inside of the horse's ear is discouraged. 
  • The rulebook encourages the use a breast collar and/or a rear cinch. 

As for rider presentation, the instructors advised riders that they should not wear any bling on their show clothes. The show clothing should be well-fitted and workman-like. Chaps are not required for the class. However, chinks are quite popular to wear for the class. 

Some other notes instructors offered about ranch riding: 

  • The rulebook encourages the use of natural logs in the class. 
  • The exhibitor may post at the trot. 
  • The exhibitor may touch or hold the saddle horn. 

Tip: the instructors noted that there is a growing trend of riders standing up in their stirrups for the extended trot.

Maneuvers to Practice 

The instructors generally explained that riders will be penalized for having their horse overbridled, draped reins and being too slow per gait. Transitions are extensive in ranch riding, so the riders practiced transitions from the extended lope to extended trot etc., the sidepass and spins, as well as riding over natural logs and practicing the lead change. The lead changes can be flying or simple (in the simple, the lead change must be within three strides or less). 

Finally, the instructors encouraged the rider to read more about the specific rules for the class by referring to the AQHA Rulebook, so they can be prepared to partake in this exciting class!