Ring Strategy: Part 2

Novice western pleasure exhibitors can put these tips to use along the rail.

This is the last half of a two-part series. Need to review Part 1?

Plan Ahead

Showing your horse to the best of your ability means planning ahead and knowing your horse. In the warm-up pen, pay attention to the other horses so that when you enter the ring, you will know whether your horse is slower or faster than the ones in front of you and behind you at the walk, jog and lope.

If your horse cannotjog slowly and the horse in front of you can, you’ll end up passing the horse in front of you. Passing isn’t bad – it’s better to pass than to crowd – but you can set yourself up better if you get behind a horse that jogs faster than yours so you don’t have to make that decision.

If you need to pass, do it, but be smart about it. Plan ahead. Don’t start thinking about passing when you’re six inches from the tail of the horse in front of you. Exhibitors who do that end up suddenly realizing they’re too close and jerking their horse sideways to pass, which slingshots the horse off into the middle of the arena like a Frisbee.

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What you should do is start moving your horse off your leg toward the center of the ring a couple of horse-lengths before you pass the horse in front of you, leaving plenty of room. Then, once you’re past, quietly move your horse back over.

You can also use the corners of the ring to either pass a horse or allow one to pass you.

When a gait is called, you can count, “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two,” but by one-thousand three, you should be in that gait. Don’t poke around on the rail.

The one who has the most room is supposed to go first. If you are a line that’s pretty tight and you can lope off when they call lope, you have gained points.

On the other hand, if you just slingshot your horse, you’ve lost a lot more than you’ve gained, so you’ve got to be smart.

In a western pleasure class, there are only three speeds you can go: too fast, too slow or just right. According to the rulebook, the just-right speed is cadenced and balanced, not just slow. When you’re on the rail, work on keeping a rhythm to effectively show your horse, not someone else’s.

Look Professional

If you watch the professionals in the open classes, they’re just neat and clean, like the rulebook says. They wear clean shirts and ties, nothing fancy.

Some amateur competitors will spend $800 or more on an outfit to wear, when they could have spent that extra money on getting a better horse.

When I judge, I couldn’t tell you what exhibitors are wearing. If someone is wearing something atrocious, I might notice it, but I’m not going to like it. It won’t have any effect on the judging. Look at your rulebook again: It doesn’t say how much shirts have to cost for you to compete in pleasure.

And remember to work on making your horse look good. Here are some things to avoid:

    • If your horse is rough, don’t wear a ponytail that swings around like a helicopter.
    • Pin your number down so it’s not flopping.
    • If your reins are draped so long that they’re swaying and making your horse look rough, they’re too long.
    • If the back of your saddle is bouncing, it doesn’t look smooth.

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Everything from your attire to your equipment should make your horse look as smooth as possible. Western pleasure is about making the horse look good.

Live in Region 5? There’s still time to enter AQHA’s Region 5 Championship July 22-25 in Lexington, Virginia. Go to or call Rick Shiffler at (717) 269-8611.