angle-left Why I Decided to Try Ranch Riding

Why I Decided to Try Ranch Riding

"What is a good ranch riding horse?" This amateur exhibitor decided to find out for herself.

Sara Gugelmeyer and Colonels Miss Chic compete in ranch riding at the 2013 AQHA World Show (Credit: Journal)

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published in The American Quarter Horse Journal after ranch riding, then called ranch horse pleasure or ranch pleasure, debuted in 2011. The author, AQHA amateur competitor Sara Gugelmeyer, has since earned AQHA reserve world championships in ranch riding and Versatility Ranch Horse.


By Sara Gugelmeyer

"What is a good ranch riding horse?"

That’s a question people have been asking around the American Quarter Horse community since the addition of the new AQHA class. Nobody knows for sure. The fun part, though, is there are also a lot of people entering to see whether they’ve got one, including me.

As a youth, I showed in all-around events and then transitioned to working cow horse. I showed in horsemanship and reining on the varsity level in college, and then recently returned to the horse show world with a Versatility Ranch/working cow horse as a young amateur. Since my husband and I ranch for a living, that’s the kind of horse that most appealed to me.

Honestly, I hadn’t been going much to AQHA shows, outside of Versatility Ranch Horse events. But the ranch riding class got my attention. I knew this was something I wanted to try.

When it was first announced, there was not a lot of information available. There were some comments about it being sort of like the ranch riding class in Versatility Ranch Horse classes, but isn’t it just a big horsemanship pattern?

I scoured the Journal looking for shows that offered ranch riding. I heard about one in March in Wichita, Kansas, that was offering cow horse also, which was an added bonus for me and my husband, who shows cow horse, as well.

I read with fervor “A New Pleasure” in the February 2012 Journal, which gave some more information, and I was intrigued when (former) AQHA Senior Director of Judges Alex Ross described the ideal winner of the class as a working horse that’s also a pleasure to ride. I thought that would likely appeal to a lot of new types of exhibitors.

Once my new AQHA rulebook arrived, I headed out to give the patterns a try. My horse, Colonels Miss Chic, and I have competed in ranch riding as part of Versatility Ranch Horse competitions, but this wasn’t quite as easy as I had originally envisioned.

“Chic” was not accustomed to doing a single spin each way, and after a couple times of asking for speed, she was getting anxious. Too much practicing fast-to-slow-to-fast lopes and she was feeling a little on the muscle. The sidepass in the middle of the pen was throwing us for a loop as well: She was expecting spins there.

OK, I told myself, maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. I started breaking the patterns into pieces – an old horsemanship tip – and just practicing each maneuver individually with a lot more success. I worried about putting them together once I had mastered each part.

Next, I needed to determine how to best show my horse. After all, they’re looking for a good mover, too, right? I checked out the scorecard and saw penalties for being too slow, overbridled, out of frame and draped rein. Alex also stressed that forward movement was going to be very important. I tried some different bridles to see which one my horse responded to best and might help me stay away from those penalties.

As we loaded the trailer for our trip to Wichita, I was feeling ready.

Ten entries in the class impressed me. Clearly, I was right about this class interesting others. Most of the other players were reiners or cow horses that were already at the show, but a few hauled in just for this class.

As I warmed up Chic, I started practicing the maneuvers and, of course, she wasn’t responding exactly as she did at home. The bridle I had planned to show her in now seemed to be a bit much. Good thing I brought another.

The pattern included trot-over logs. She had been practicing them well at home, and I felt confident she wouldn’t tick any. But ticking didn’t seem like the issue when I saw the poles the show management had placed in the pen. Yikes! They were freshly painted bright-white logs. They appeared to be glowing.

Add that to the fact that they already had cattle penned on the end for the cow horse class to follow, and I knew there was no convincing Chic that this was just a horsemanship class. Sure enough, she thought the poles might get her, and she couldn’t resist sizing up the cattle as we passed, but we got through it and ended up second under both judges.

The next day, I was relieved that the judges chose the pattern with the sidepass instead of the logs. This should be easy, right? However, this pattern had the spins and sidepass in the middle of the pen, much like a reining or cow horse pattern. She didn’t miss the correlation. When I asked her to spin, she anticipated doing more than one, and they weren’t as smooth and pretty as I had hoped. Second and fifth were my placings that day, but I still managed to win the circuit.

In retrospect, while it was a lot of fun and different from any other class offered at an AQHA show, it was a challenge. For me, the class proved to be an excellent test of how solid my horse is, or in some parts, isn’t.

The ranch riding class is a fun challenge for a lot of different types of people with a lot of different types of horses.