Early Horse Shows

There have been some significant horse-showing rule changes through the years.

Summer is horse show season in the American Quarter Horse industry, and with weekend shows all over the country every week, along with the Regional Championships, the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Show and the Adequan Select World Show, it’s easy to see that showing horses is a big part of our industry. And it has been since the very beginning. Most of you probably know that when AQHA started registering horses, No. 1 was reserved for the horse who was named grand champion stallion at the 1941 Fort Worth Stock Show. That, of course, was Wimpy P-1.

But in every type of competition, and horse shows are no exception, a lot of time is spent writing rules. That’s why it’s kind of fun sometimes to look back at some of the events when there weren’t so many rules. Or at least when the rules were different from what they are today.

For instance, working cow horse was one of the first horse show classes approved by AQHA, but the class as held in the late ’40s and early ’50s bears very little resemblance to what we have today.

The reined portion of the class did involve a couple of rollbacks and a sliding stop, but there were no lead changes and no spins, and one of the factors stressed in the class was speed. When the horse made his run down the arena, before going into his rollbacks, he was to be going fast. The speed at which the horse performed the pattern was considered in the judging.

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The conclusion of the reined work pattern involved a sliding stop, and according to the AQHA handbook, “Horses will then back at least 20 feet, jump out forward and proceed to a point in full view of the judges, where they will come to a stand. From this point, they will make a 90-degree ‘bustaway’ turn to the right and then to the left, and once more come to a stop.”

Throughout the class, each contestant was required to rein with his left hand and carry a rope with his right, but no cattle were used in the judging. When he finished the reined work, the contestant rode his horse to a “heavy sack filled with sand,” and an attendant placed the loop of his rope around the sack. The rider then had to dally and drag the sack at least 25 feet.

The horse was then turned under the rope, while the rider worked the rope over and around the horse’s head and croup to show that the animal was not rope shy. Then the rope was tied to the saddle horn, and the horse backed until the rope was tight. At that point, the rider dismounted, walked down the rope to the sack and sat on it.

Then there was the instance in 1966, during the western pleasure class at two different shows in Colorado, where the judge sifted part of the entries and asked the finalists to unsaddle and show their horses bareback. The western pleasure finalists were required to perform a series of rollbacks, figure 8s and sliding stops. And at one of the shows, he held a 20-minute work-off between two contestants to determine second and third placings.

Only one complaint was registered with the Association, and that from a contestant whose horse was eliminated in the first sift. The show manager responded to AQHA, “I thought the judge did a good job in a tough class.”

And the contestants today think they have it tough.