Striding Right in Ranch Horse Pleasure

Try these 10 tips for lengthening and collecting your horse’s stride at the walk, trot and lope in the AQHA ranch horse pleasure class.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

(Credit: Journal) In the video below, AQHA Judge Karen McCuistion explains how to receive plus-marks in Ranch Horse Pleasure Pattern 5. Journal photo.

So you were bit by the AQHA ranch horse pleasure bug, eh? Now that you’re hooked on AQHA’s fastest-growing class, you’re probably chomping at the bit for any shards of advice that will lead to success in ranch horse pleasure. Well, you’ve come to the right place. 

While there are five standard ranch horse pleasure patterns, which you can find in the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations or at www.aqha.com/patterns, judges also have the option to create new patterns for exhibitors to perform. And once you’ve watched the class enough (like this ranch horse pleasure video of the event’s first AQHA world champion), you’ll notice that these patterns commonly call for extensions and collections at the walk, trot and lope. 

Try out these horse-training tips to start you and your ranch pleasure horse on the track to plus-worthy extensions and collections. 

Extension

  1. The trot is the key. What a horse learns at the trot carries over to the other gaits in ranch horse pleasure. The trot is a good place for both horse and rider: more forward than the walk, but not so forward as the lope. 
  2. Drive from behind. A strong, lengthened stride comes from collection, and collection comes from the horse using his hind end to drive forward. 
  3. Strengthen your horse’s topline to achieve self-carriage. A horse that can carry himself can achieve beautiful stride extensions in ranch horse pleasure. Transition exercises and rolling back into an extended trot can help strengthen your horse.
  4. Maintain cadence. Maintaining the quality of your gait and rhythm is the foundation of accomplishing a high-level maneuver in the ranch horse pleasure class. The walk, for example, should be four beats evenly spaced apart and evenly stressed. It’s “one – two – three – four.” It can’t be “onetwo – threefour,” or “one – TWO – three – four.”
  5. Extending a gait is not about going faster. For example, when a horse performs correctly at an extended lope, he maintains the same rhythm but with a longer stride.

Collection 

  1. Good slow-downs and collection start with you. Transitions from extended to collected gaits are a softening of the rider, not an increase of backward pressure. Remember that transitions are done with the seat and the leg and very little rein.
  2. Try sitting down in the saddle. Some riders prefer to sit forward when they extend a gait, then sit down and for the slow-down. This can be a great cue to the horse to collect and slow. 
  3. Keep the hindquarters engaged. When you ask a horse to go slower and shorten, he’ll automatically tend to go to his forehand and lose collection, because it’s easier. To counteract that, you have to ask the horse to stay engaged from behind while you slow the stride. 
  4. Try Lynn Palm’s circle exercise. The AQHA Professional Horsewoman suggests that riders build a track of cones 70 feet in diameter, ride to the inside of the cones and alternate between collection and extension at increments around the circle. 
  5. And then take it to the next level with Les Vogt’s cloverleaf drill. This exercise places an emphasis on speed transitions, plus improves collection. 

Want more training advice for ranch horse pleasure? The American Quarter Horse Journal will feature in its January issue an article with AQHA Professional Horseman Mozaun McKibben on teaching a horse to move away from leg pressure. The three-time AQHA ranch horse pleasure world champion examines controlling the horse’s shoulders, ribs and hips and how that training plays into extending gaits. 

If you're thinking Mozaun's advice in the January Journal will help you and your ranch pleasure horse, take a look at these Journal subscription options