Horse-Showing Strategies

Tips to make Level 1 western pleasure exhibitors look and feel like a pro.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In western pleasure, your horse should be a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to ride - no matter what your skill level. Journal photo

AQHA judge Louis Hufnagel provides the following tips for beginning western pleasure competitors.

  • Read the rulebook. Any time you have a question about how your horse should look in the show ring, don't depend on fads to tell you - look at the AQHA rulebook.

  • Practice. Many Level 1 exhibitors get scared when their horses go a little too fast, because their balance changes with the rhythm. That's something you need to practice, too: changing rhythms until your whole body is relaxed. It's like any other sport - it takes physical exertion. Your horse won't stay steady in the ring unless you've got him steady at home.

What do judges look for in western pleasure? The AQHA rulebook provides great answers. For even more insight, download the free Competitive Horse Judging Manual.

  • Plan ahead. 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. 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.

  • Be timely. 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 in a line that's pretty tight and you can lope off when they call lope, you have gained points.

Walk. Jog. Lope. It sounds simple enough, but judges are looking for ideals in those gaits. Learn what judges are looking for in western pleasure from the Competitive Horse Judging Manual. Download it today for FREE!

  • Maintain your speed. In a western pleasure class, there are only three speeds: 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. Work on making your horse look good. 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. 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.