Western Pleasure Basics


Published in the August 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.


The original western pleasure horse was one that could be ridden around the farm and down the road, giving the rider a pleasant experience as he or she walked, jogged or loped along the way. Many years and horse shows later, this horse should still be a pleasure to ride, but has become specialized to the degree that most pleasure horses are bred for this one event and haven’t seen a farm or a trail since they were foaled. The modern pleasure horse should have a free-flowing stride and cover ground with little effort. Ideally, he should have a level topline while performing rhythmic and cadenced gaits. The horse should be clean and well-groomed, with hoof-polish applied and generally, a banded mane. Tail extensions are permitted.

The gaits of the western pleasure horse are: a natural, flat-footed four-beat walk, straight and ground-covering; a smooth, two-beat diagonal jog, with even strides front and hind; and a rhythmic three-beat lope with forward motion in the correct lead. “Forward motion” means ground-covering – not extreme speed. Horses must also back easily, in a straight line without resistance. Various rulebooks require that the judge ask for moderate extensions of the jog in some classes. Riders should sit the extended jog. The ApHCC rulebook gives the judge the option of asking for extensions of the walk, jog and lope.

Format: The western pleasure class is for all horses to enter the ring on the rail, starting in either direction. All three gaits will be called for in each direction, with horses reversing at the walk to the inside of the pen. At the conclusion of the rail work, the horses may be asked to back, either in position on the rail, or from a centre lineup. According to most rulebooks a judge may ask for additional work, but this is rarely called for. The rider will not be asked to dismount unless the judge wishes to check equipment.

Equipment: Includes a standard western saddle and bridle, with silver not to count over a good working outfit. A junior horse (five years and under) may be ridden with two hands, with a bosal or snaffle bit. The bosal must be flexible, braided leather or rawhide with no rigid core. A senior horse (six years and over) must be ridden with one hand and a curb (shank) bit. Check your rulebook for descriptions and measurements of legal snaffles and curb bits, as well as curb chains and straps. Optional equipment may include a rope or reata, hobbles attached to the saddle, breast collar, and spurs. Prohibited equipment includes boots, wraps and bandages, martingales, and nosebands. Attire required includes pants, a long-sleeved shirt, blouse, or jacket with a collar, western hat, western boots, with chaps optional in most associations. Hard hats or safety helmets are now optional in some associations.

Faults: These are scored according to severity. They include: Excessive speed or slowness; wrong lead; breaking gait; failure to take gait when called for; touching the horse or saddle with the free hand; head carried too high or low; overflexing (head behind the vertical); excessive nosing out; horse opening mouth excessively; stumbling; use of spurs ahead of the cinch; horse sullen, dull, tired or emaciated; choppy strides; too much drape in the reins; horse overly canted at the lope; bolting or bucking; and refusal to back.

Disqualifications: Fall of horse or rider; use of prohibited equipment; two hands on the reins (unless using a snaffle or bosal); changing hands on the reins; more than one finger between reins with split reins; and obvious lameness.

Divisions: All-ages or senior horse, junior horse, three-year-old (in Appaloosa and Paint shows with no cross-entry to junior horse) and two-year-old, as well as youth, amateur (non-pro), novice amateur and any other division offered by the breed association. Two-year-olds may not be shown under saddle before a set date specified in each rulebook: January 1 for APHA; May 20 for ApHC; June 1 for ApHCC; and July 1 for AQHA. Again, check your own rulebook.


1 thought on “Western Pleasure Basics”

  1. equinelover


    I don’t know why you have rules if you are not going to enforce them. Modern AQHA western pleasure is a disgusting farce.

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