20 Training Tips for Versatility Ranch Horse

Get ready to rock ranch horse competitions with advice for ranch riding, trail, reining, cutting, cow work and conformation.

For The American Quarter Horse Journal

Versatility ranch riding involves six classes. Journal photo.

In AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse classes, exhibitors can choose to enter any number of the six classes: ranch riding, ranch trail, ranch reining, ranch conformation, ranch cutting and ranch cow work. 

Here, we broke down the six events, rounding up several training tips for each one. These tips are by no means exhaustive, and truly, the best advice anyone can take is to read the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations, Rules SHW550-566.

Ranch Riding
For ranch riding classes, horses show individually, and the class can be conducted inside or outside an arena. In this class, judges are looking for relaxed, responsive horses with soft and cadenced gaits. The horse should make timely transitions in a smooth and correct manner, plus the horse should be soft in the bridle and yield to contact.

  • Brent Graef explains the importance of asking for a transition during the correct footfall.
  • AQHA Professional Horseman Ken McNabb looks at collection and how it begins in the hind end.
  • AQHA Professional Horsewoman Nancy Cahill shares her exercise for perfecting steering and guiding one-handed.

Ranch Trail
Obstacles found in a ranch trail pattern are approximate to those found during the course of everyday work. Judges are looking for a well-broke, responsive and well-mannered horse that can correctly navigate and negotiate the course, and to do so in a correct and efficient manner. Rule SHW561 outlines the class, including prohibited and mandatory obstacles. Here are a few tips for maneuvering three common obstacles. 

Ranch Reining
Ranch reining measures the ability of the stock horse to perform basic handling maneuvers. This class can be held with the ranch cow work class, but this what the judges are looking for in ranch reining: “To rein a horse is not only to guide him but also to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely.”

  • Chance O’Neal walks you through the prep work he does for teaching lead changes.
  • Troy Heikes shares his solutions for problems that arise with sliding stops.
  • AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning troubleshoots spins and rollbacks with regards to rider cues and seat position.

Ranch Cutting
Similar to other cutting classes, ranch cutting is judged on the ability of the horse to work a cow by separating it from the herd and holding it. The objective is to cut one or two cows, based on the division. For open, cowboy and amateur division competition, there is a two-minute limit where each exhibitor must work two head, but has the option of working the full two minutes. In youth competition, on the other hand, there is a one-and-a-half-minute time limit where the exhibitor must work one cow but has the option of working the full minute and a half.

  • Bill Kirkwood shares his three-step system – stop, draw and turn – that builds a foundation for cutting.
  • AQHA Professional Horseman Ed Dufurrena focuses on accuracy to keep a cutting horse in position.
  • AQHA Professional Horseman Teddy Johnson walks you through how to make a good, deep cut.

Ranch Cow Work
When it comes to the ranch cow work class, riders have the choice between ranch cow work or limited ranch cow work for youth and amateur exhibitors, where riders are allotted one minute and forty-five seconds to complete the work. There are three parts to the limited ranch cow work: boxing the cow; setting up the cow and driving it down the fence to the opposite end of the arena; and boxing it at the opposite end of the arena.

For ranch cow work, there are three parts to the class: boxing, fence work and roping or circling. The horse and rider must accomplish all three parts in three minutes.

  • AQHA Professional Horsewoman Gerrie Barnes starts with the basics of reading a cow’s bubble.
  • Jake Telford focuses on position and control when boxing a cow.
  • Bozo Rogers explains how to “train” the cow when boxing to better control it down the fence.
  • Lavert Avent shares some exercises that improve a rider’s ability to rope a cow.

Ranch Conformation
To be eligible to compete in the ranch conformation class, the horse must be shown in at least one class one of the other categories the day of the show. Judges are looking for balanced, structurally correct horses with adequate muscling. You’ll need to show your horse in a good working halter – rope, braided, nylon or plain leather – exhibit your horse at a walk and trot, then line up for inspection by the judge.

  • AQHA Professional Horseman Buddy Laney offers some considerations about fitting a horse to his frame.
  • AQHA Professional Horseman Denny Hassett gives quick tips that will make your life easier as an exhibitor in ranch conformation.
  • AQHA Professional Horseman Jack Brizendine gives you the 4-1-1 on how set a horse up to best show off his or her conformation.

And here’s tip No. 20:

  • Let’s say you’ve mastered quite a few events. Start aiming for the Versatility Ranch Horse all-around title at an upcoming show. You’ll find the specifics for the classes and categories you need to enter in Rule SHW555.

Look for upcoming Versatility Ranch Horse events with the online AQHA show calendar, www.aqha.com/showschedule.