Extension at All Gaits

AQHA horse-showing judges will be asking for lengthened strides in western pleasure classes in 2013.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In your 2013 western pleasure classes, expect your AQHA judges to ask for lengthened strides in all gaits – walk, jog and lope. That comes straight from the AQHA Judges Seminar December 11-14, 2012, in Dallas, according to AQHA Senior Director of Judges Alex Ross.

“We want exhibitors to start preparing because they are likely to see this throughout the year,” Alex says.

“We’ve requested lengthened strides at (AQHA World Championship shows) for several years, and now we are asking judges to call for the lengthened stride at weekend shows if needed.”

The term “lengthened stride” was suggested by top-100 western pleasure riders attending the western pleasure seminar in 2008 at AQHA in Amarillo.

Every year, AQHA conducts a continuing education seminar limited to approved AQHA judges. The annual seminar covers a different set of classes each year; the 2012 sessions covered western pleasure, ranch pleasure, halter, performance halter and reining.

AQHA Professional Horsemen and judges David Dellin of Purcell, Oklahoma, and Gary Trubee of Fredericktown, Ohio, conducted the western pleasure educational sessions. Here’s a little of what they said:

Judgment Call

“We’ve made the judges well aware that in our (AQHA) rulebook (Rule SHW 408), it states that they can ask for a lengthening of stride at both the walk and the lope, in addition to already asking for the moderate extension of the jog,” David says.

“We’re asking them to ask for that when judges see horses with interrupted walks – a walk with pauses or breaks in the four-beat-rhythm – indistinct jogs lacking correctness or cadence, or horses loping with negative characteristics such as head bobbing, dwelling on the outside front leg or lacking cadence.”

AQHA Professional Horseman and world champion exhibitor Dave Dellin and National Snaffle Bit Association Executive Director Dianne Eppers go through the basics of the expectations in the western pleasure discipline on AQHA's "Showing to Win: Western Pleasure" DVD. Learn how to stay competitive in the show ring with the advice of these AQHA and NSBA judges.

The point is to place a priority on correctness and cadence in the gaits over degree of difficulty in a slow speed.

“As exhibitors, we cannot give up correctness or quality of gait to try to achieve a certain degree of difficulty in a slow rhythm,” David explains. “Be correct in the gait first.

“I think about it in this way: If you’re judging a reiner spinning, if that horse leaps around in its spin, it doesn’t matter how fast he turns, it’s still a negative score because he wasn’t correct in the maneuver. But if he’s correct first, then you can start climbing up the scale of pluses as you add the degree of difficulty in how fast he does it.”

Correct Movement

Gary stresses that asking for the lengthened stride is not about increased speed.

“I hate that word when it comes to a pleasure class,” he says. “It’s about moving forward with flow and pace. We need to change the attitude among many exhibitors so that western pleasure is not a slow contest, it’s a movement contest.

“It’s an event that should be judged on movement and not speed. If you start talking about speed alone, you can go to a truck stop and find anyone to judge it for you.”

Asking for lengthened stride for horses to be more forward is an effort to emphasize correctness of gait.

“One of the biggest negative trends we’ve seen is horses not jogging with a two-beat gait,” David gives as an example. “Some horses are just poor joggers, but there are a lot of horses that could have a positive jog if they had an extra half gear more forward, so their diagonal pairs are really clean. Exhibitors are sacrificing that because they are jogging too slowly.

See how just a small change can alter your entire western pleasure performance. Watch as the same horse is set up in credit-earning and non-credit-earning situations on AQHA's "Showing to Win: Western Pleasure" DVD. Topics covered include over-canting, passing, gait transitions, cadence, consistency, expression and more. Learn about horse judging standards through the eyes of a judge.

“But by our rulebook (rule SHW 331.2.4), just to be average, you first must have a two-beat jog. The quality is assessed and from there – how smooth a jog, confidence and expression, topline – all of those other characteristics come after that.”

Gary adds: “The degree of difficulty is in the horse that’s moving correctly and going at a proper western pleasure speed. Secretariat (TB) was a great mover, but he was too fast for this class.”

What to Expect

Gary listed what judges might do in a class.

“At the beginning of a class, a judge might announce that he/she will ask for lengthened strides in the class.

“You might be asked to enter the ring at an extended jog. I like to do that as a judge because I think it frees a horse up from the first.

“Judges will probably change around their gait calls – that also frees up a horse in his movement.

“And passing is 100 percent acceptable as long as the horse is correct in his movement. I’ve been showing pleasure horses for almost 50 years, and part of the problem has been this stigma about passing. We are asking the judges to change that.”

Gary adds that you could also find yourself showing more in split classes.

“A judge might need to split a class to give exhibitors more room to show their horses,” he says. “You can’t move well in a traffic jam: If you’re driving through downtown Dallas, you’ve always got one foot on the brake and one on the gas. If you’re driving from Dallas to Amarillo, you can keep your foot on the gas the whole way.”

David encourages exhibitors to be confident, too.

“When a judge calls for a lengthened stride in a gait, there might be two or three horses in the pen already moving correctly,” David says. “Those horses don’t need to change.

“If you are exhibiting your horse so that he is performing to the rules, you don’t need to keep asking for more forward and chase your horse up out of a good, balanced position. When a judge calls for the lengthened stride, that’s when you check yourself, ‘Is that what I’m already presenting?’ ”

Big Picture

“I think the class has improved greatly over the past few years,” Gary says, “but there is room for more improvement.

“We need to change attitudes the public has about this class. When you look at what the mass horse media says about it, it’s pretty condemning. If you don’t have a product that the general public wants to get involved in, you’re in trouble.

“If we can clean up the gaits so horses are hitting a two-beat jog and they’re loping down the rail without being over-canted and dwelling on their front ends, to where other horsemen – whether they are reiners or whatever – can look at it and say, ‘That’s a good moving horse,’ that will help.”

Gary adds that the pieces are in place for western pleasure to grow positively.

“Right now, we have the best-bred horses for it, their necks are hung on them right, their hocks are set on them good. We have great trainers.

“And (western pleasure) gives a horse all the basics he needs to go on to western riding, horsemanship, trail, whatever. It is the first class for a horse’s long, productive show career.”