Horse-Showing Standards, Part 1

Learn why body control is so important in a western pleasure horse.

I ask the same basic things of all of my horses, from within their individual ages and experience levels. I want my horses to relax and “give” both face and body to the signals of my hands and legs.

I’ll often talk about the importance of “steering.” That means how easily and quickly a horse responds to his signals via rein and leg; much of that has to do with how balanced a horse is in his action.

A horse heavy on the forehand can’t respond quickly. I use neck suppling exercises, riding over poles and around cones, and working the flag to help a horse use his hind end more, working up off his forehand.

Control the Rib Cage

If I can control the ribs or barrel of the horse to stay square between my legs, his shoulders are going to stay with it.

So many people worry about the hind legs or the front legs or the head and neck. But to me, the key is where those stirrups hang, in the horse’s rib cage. If I can control the rib cage, I’ve got the horse, because that’s the core of my whole horse.

Learn another way to prepare for your next western pleasure class. Purchase AQHA’s “Showing to Win: Western Pleasure” DVD and discover the judge’s perspective on your favorite class.

If he’s between my legs, then his rib cage is right, and his hips are in line, and his shoulders are in line. Once all that lines up, then the horse will carry himself correctly.

Horses need to be in a certain position to turn; they need to be in a certain position to slide or roll back. With western pleasure, a lot of people don’t realize that horses also have to be in a certain position to have the lift and control the class requires.

It’s not just, “Go pull on the reins and when they slow down you turn loose.” I need to be able to control the horse’s hips and front end and his face, just like you need to with a reiner, a cutting horse or a barrel horse.

I want to line his body up and get it between my legs and the reins.

Keep the Neck Supple

With those horses with their hips too far in (or overcanted), you’ve got to ask yourself, “Is their hip too far in, or is their shoulder falling out?”

Since the mass of the horse’s weight is on the front end, my first thought, when I see it or feel it, is I think his front end is out.

You’ve got to decide which end to “pick on.” I prefer the front because I can kill two birds with one stone. If I get control of the front end, then the rear end is where it’s supposed to be.

If the horse’s hips are too far to the right, he’s going to have a hard time turning to the right, because his left shoulder and their front end is so far out to the left. He’s not going to do a nice turn to the right, he’s going to drop, or fall out, and he’s not going to be in line. The withers are not going to be able to stay under my hand.

Gain another perspective on the western pleasure class by purchasing AQHA’s “Showing to Win: Western Pleasure” DVD. Learn more about your favorite class and be better prepared for your next turn in the show ring.

Most of those horses that are canted over like that have a hard time turning back into their hip. So I do a lot of stretching their head back into their hip.

The more supple a horse is in his neck, the less apt he is to go sideways.

I try to put his front end back in line. That way, he’s more able to pull his head to the inside. I try to get him to touch my leg; when he touches my leg, I turn him loose.

I usually go into the way he’s canted. If the horse is over-canted to the right, then I’m taking his head to the right.

For some horses it works, some horses it doesn’t. Some horses you go in to the way they’re canted, with others you’ve got to go out. Each horse is different; you just have to play around with it.

Next week in Part 2, we’ll discuss what makes a great western pleasure horse.

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

It’s world show season! AQHA members get the pleasure of competing in AQHA events with the goal of qualifying for one of our four world shows. Learn more about showing your American Quarter Horse at