Versatility Ranch Horse Classes on the Rise

Friendly competition and six exciting ranch-type classes have AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse exhibitors hooked in 2015.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Ranch trail is one of the six Versatility Ranch Horse classes open, amateur, cowboy and youth exhibitors can choose to enter. Learn more about VRH events. (Credit: Journal)

Performance. Versatility. Conformation. Those qualities are at the heart of AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse competition, where American Quarter Horses are exhibited as working ranch horses and exhibitor-horse teams are rewarded based on their expertise. 

On January 1, several rule changes were ushered into the AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse division. (Take a look at Rule SHW550 in the 2015 AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations.) The rule changes aim to make VRH an easier event for new exhibitors to get started in, giving them the option to enter any number of the six VRH classes: ranch riding, ranch trail, ranch reining, ranch conformation, ranch cutting and ranch cow work. Previously, exhibitors were required to enter all six classes.

So far, two AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse shows have been offered in 2015. Kicking off the VRH show season was the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, which played host to 106 total entries January 16-17 in Texas: 

  • Open, 36 entries
  • Amateur, 36
  • Youth, 34

And following on FWSSR’s heels was the Arizona Sun Circuit, which saw 78 total VRH entries January 24 in Scottsdale:

  • Open, 54 entries 
  • Amateur, 24

In Fort Worth, open and amateur exhibitors entered all six events; although in the youth division, a couple exhibitors took advantage of the opportunity to pick and choose events. Charles Christopher Lee of McAllen, Texas, was one of those exhibitors. 

“Charles has limited experience in competitive ranch cutting, so we decided to focus on classes that he had prior experience,” said Charles’ mother, Amy Lee, adding that Charles competed in five out of the six classes offered. “Hindsight being 20-20, Charles would have been better off competing in the ranch cutting class, as well. The experience he gains competing in all six classes makes our travel worth it and will make him a better horseman.”

Charles is no stranger to the show ring, with AQHA points earned in youth and open working cow horse, plus halter accolades from the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show. And while he has competed in ranch horse events before, the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo was his first time to enter an AQHA VRH event.

“The competitors were great, friendly and willing to share knowledge.” Amy added, “Unfortunately, we have been to shows that were not as competitor-friendly. However, at this show, we had AQHA VRH champions talking to our young son, giving him pointers and kudos – the experience was priceless.”

Also beneficial was the Zoetis AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenge held the day before the VRH show in Fort Worth. The Lees purchased Sassy Greyt Lady from AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder W.T. Waggoner Estate at the FWSSR Best of the Remuda Sale specifically because she was Ranching Heritage Challenge-eligible. Although Charles was not able to show Sassy Greyt Lady in Fort Worth, Amy said they look forward to future events where Ranching Heritage Challenges are held in conjunction with VRH shows – a little more bang for their buck, if you will. 

All-around versatile ranch horse titles are awarded at every VRH show, which is why exhibitors have incentive to enter more than one class. The titles are awarded to the high-placing horse-and-rider team in the open, cowboy, amateur and youth divisions. To be eligible, the duo must enter and show in a minimum of three categories – meaning at least one cattle class (ranch cow work or ranch cutting), as well as conformation, plus at least one of the additional classes (ranch riding, ranch trail or ranch reining). Rule SHW555 will give you the specifics.

“I am dedicated to competing in all six events because that was and still remains the core attraction of VRH competition,” said amateur exhibitor Paul Barulich of San Mateo, California, who won the amateur all-around Versatility Ranch Horse title with Peps Command at the Arizona Sun Circuit. “The horse must be able to handle all, not just a few, challenges. I don’t believe that I would be as enthusiastic about VRH if I were to focus on just cutting, cow work or trail.

“I hope exhibitors will continue to enter all six events. I am concerned that the AQHA rule changes allowing individual event entries may adversely affect the future of VRH,” he added.

Next up for Paul and Peps Command is the 2014 Zoetis AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships this month in Houston, an event they qualified for in 2014. Open exhibitor Karen Arlin of Escalon, California, was also an exhibitor at the Sun Circuit aboard De Luxe Comet and will head to Houston for the Zoetis VRH World in a few weeks, too. And like Paul, Karen sees a lot of value in the all-around Versatility Ranch Horse title.

Karen recalled that the Sun Circuit entry process was set up to encourage entry in all six events. “There was one single fee to enter the VRH and all six events, which all the entries did. I have yet to encounter the option of entering only a portion of the six classes.

“However, if a show offers all six classes and you can accumulate points in all six classes, then you would enter all six classes rather that a fewer number of classes since you would want to get as many points as possible toward the all-around VRH title at each event.”

Karen has competed in VRH since the program’s inception in 2002 and plans to continue showing VRH. Paul, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to the event.

“I bought my first horse and started riding about five years ago at age 52,” Paul said, jokingly adding that he’s grateful to his wife for understanding the nature of a mid-life crisis. “I was extremely fortunate to be introduced to VRH trainer Kathy Torres and her husband, Danny Torres, a well-respected cattle rancher. They opened up their world to me to experience real ranch work, both horseback and in the dirt.  

“Since I wasn’t raised riding horses, my learning curve has been the equivalent to one’s view ‘from the bottom of the dam looking up.’ It has taken a trainer with tons of patience and a healthy sense of humor to get me to a competitive level. I have gained such deep respect for real horsemen and ranchers, and feel blessed to have been given the opportunity be in their world.”

The kind of hospitality prevalent among the VRH crowd looks to be nationwide phenomenon, as Amy Lee was deeply impressed by the guidance her son Charles received in Fort Worth.

All in all, she said the Fort Worth VRH show was “awesome – a great experience for the whole family.”

Upcoming VRH Events
March 7 – Stephenville, Texas, at the Stock Horse of Texas show
March 12 – Queen Creek, Arizona, at the Shamrock Versatility Ranch Horse Show
March 28 – Clemson, South Carolina, at the Jasmine Jubilee
April 25 – San Angelo, Texas, at the San Angelo SHOT show
April 29 - May 3 – Las Vegas at the Nevada Quarter Horse Association Spring Fling
May 16 – Carmel Valley, California, at the Central Coast Ranch Horse Classic
May 23-24 – Schaven, Germany 

Use the online AQHA show calendar at to find more events.

About the Versatility Ranch Horse Division
At AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse shows, exhibitors have the option to enter any number of the six VRH classes: ranch riding, ranch trail, ranch reining, ranch conformation, ranch cutting and ranch cow work. 

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.

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. 

Ranch Reining – Ranch reining measures the ability of the stock horse to perform basic handling maneuvers. This class can be held with or separate from the ranch cow work class; if the two are held together, they are still scored and placed as individual classes. 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.”

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.

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.

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.

Points earned in individual classes count toward qualifying for the 2015 Zoetis AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships. For AQHA year-end high-point awards, all-around versatile ranch horse titles are tracked. (In other words, high-points will not be awarded on the class-by-class basis). 

All-around Versatililty Ranch Horse titles are awarded at every VRH show to the high-placing horse-and-rider team in the open, cowboy, amateur and youth divisions. To be eligible, the duo must enter and show in a minimum of three categories – meaning at least one cattle class (ranch cow work or ranch cutting), as well as conformation, plus at least one of the additional classes (ranch riding, ranch trail or ranch reining). See Rule SHW555 for more details.