What to Wear in AQHA Ranch Horse Classes

What to Wear in AQHA Ranch Horse Classes

Tips on tack, equipment and attire to read before you head into an AQHA ranch horse class.

buckskin ranch riding horse hackamore (Credit: AQHA)

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By Abigail Boatwright for The American Quarter Horse Journal

AQHA’s ranch horse classes – ranch riding, Versatility Ranch Horse and Ranching Heritage Challenges – are fast becoming popular with horse people. Whether you’re straight off the ranch or just itching to return to a less-blingified show atmosphere, the unfussy tack and attire that personifies the working rancher is still very much the standard for these classes. 

If you’re wanting to make a sharp picture with your horse and aren’t sure what that looks like, we’ve gathered opinions from experts in ranch-horse competition to help you prepare to hit the show pen. 


Attire and tack may vary regionally, but each rider holds to the same standard.

  • Think Versatile: Ranch horse classes call for a variety of tasks and require tack that can support the task. Search for tack that supports reining, roping and cow work. 

  • Comfort and Fit: Don’t sacrifice fit for style. A working horse needs equipment that works with them and not against them. When tack fits your horse and you, you can focus on more important matters like the class at hand. 


What’s great about the ranch horse classes is the opportunity for riders to bring their regional background to the show pen.

  • Regional Differences:

    • Riders in the West wear chinks more.

    • Riders from parts of Texas are more likely to wear batwing or shotgun chaps as protection from brush. 

    • Riders from Montana and Wyoming tend to wear warmer attire, like vests and wild rags, to withstand colder temperatures.

    • Riders from the Southwest lean toward the “buckaroo look," such as flat, wide-brimmed hats over traditional cowboy hat shapes.

Shotgun chaps are used on the ranch and in the show pen.

Chinks are popular in warm weather. 

Vests are acceptable, too. 

  • Workable and Sensible: Choose clothing that would still make sense on the ranch. The idea of this class is to celebrate the working ranch horse, so your attire should support and be functional of the tasks you would encounter doing real ranch work. 

  • Fun Touches: Don’t be afraid of fun prints or bright colors! More riders can be seen differentiating themselves with subtle details such as a classy, tailored shirt with special details like accented cuffs or a pattern. 

  • Cohesive Package: Your horse’s and your own attire is one complete package in a class. Make sure your hat, shirt, chaps, jeans, saddle blanket and even your horse’s coat color work well together and aren’t distracting from the tasks at hand. 

Trends to Avoid

  • Show saddles with silver: It contradicts the spirit of the discipline and is too distracting.

  • Discipline-specific saddles: Saddles that are not versatile enough can hinder you and your horse’s ability. For example, a reining saddle is usually too showy, and you have a high chance of getting pitched out of the saddle with a flatter seat and lower swells. 

  • Over-matching: Coordination is good, but matching your shirt to your saddle pad exactly can come off as “too showy.”