by Terry Myers
In my opinion, there is nothing much better than watching a good western pleasure horse go around the pen. But if you think about our western pleasure competition today, you have a lot of horses who don’t have a natural western pleasure gait. These horses are forced to put their heads down and go slow in a way that creates a contorted, forehand heavy, head bobbing, unnatural stride. Because of the modern western pleasure lope, the term ‘trope’ was born (lope in front and trot in back). Here is the good news…AQHA and several ranch horse associations such as American Ranch Horse Associate (ARHA) are trying to offer the horse public an alternative; the ranch pleasure and ranch riding classes. These classes showcase horses that have natural forward motion while being light in their feet and responsive to the bridle.
The response to these classes has been overwhelmingly positive. It was the first year for ranch pleasure at the Quarter Horse Congress and it was the talk of the show. This year was the second year for the class at the AQHA World show and it had over 100 entries, which was the largest class at the show. I read in an article that the American Paint Horse Association will begin offering these classes as well. The ranch pleasure horse can also be seen at ARHA and versatility ranch shows around the tri-state area.
Ranch pleasure has come about for a variety of reasons. Most importantly; people want to see a western pleasure horse that has some semblance of natural movement. It is a class that doesn’t require keeping a horse in training for 10 months of the year. In fact, people can be competitive without the constant attention of a trainer (as a trainer, I can’t believe I am saying this!). No fake tails and mane extensions allowed! Silver on tack must be kept to a minimum, so you can sell your show saddle that these days looks like a parade saddle. No hoof black or mane banding either. Bet I have your attention now!
The ranch pleasure class, to me, is about a western horse that moves with confidence and purpose. It moves with forward motion, yet comfortable gaits, and it looks as if it has a job to do outside of the confines of the arena. Reins are not to be draped, light contact is allowed. Importance are consistency, control and smoothness of transitions.
If you think about the aspects of western dressage and ranch horse pleasure, there are many similarities. Western dressage is about forward movement with light contact, consistency of gaits, perfect transitions and extended gaits. Ditto for the ranch pleasure horse. If you talk about dressage, the ultimate dressage horse brings the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria to mind. This famed school began with Spanish horses and Spanish riding instructors. This same style of riding was brought to the American southwest by the Spanish conquistadors. Changes evolved in the style of riding on the working cattle ranches of the West, giving us the buckaroos and vaqueros. So, when done properly , you see that a good ranch pleasure horse is only a few hundred years removed from the dressage discipline.
Like a dressage horse, a good western ranch horse takes time to be developed. And like a dressage horse, the ranch horse needs to be ridden with your legs, your seat and your hands. A good ranch pleasure horse is not about being a cow chaser. It is much more about a horse that is well trained and a rider who has invested the time to learn how to ride all gaits, including extended gaits for a variety of tasks and purposes (aka the working ranch horse).
Ranch pleasure is a great opportunity for the horses that have been deemed too fast for western pleasure. Or the reiner who doesn’t spin fast enough or slide far enough to be a money winner. It is also refreshing for former western pleasure junkies like me who are looking for that new outlet. So check out AQHA, ARHA, APHA or the local ranch horse shows and see what you think of ranch pleasure. Maybe like me, you will see it as a breath of fresh air!
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Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com or on Facebook.