top of page

What to expect at RW Equestrian's Ranch Horse Show

Do you have questions about each class? I love to jump in to something new, but I also get anxious when I don't know what to expect.

The following descriptions tell you how we plan to run each class, as well as what the judge is looking for. The class standards are based off of AQHA rules, however, all breeds will be considered as a suitable working ranch horse and judged accordingly.

Patterns will be chosen with consideration to this being an introductory ranch horse show. We have youth, green horses, and inexperienced showmen and women. That being said, you can expect to see more advanced maneuvers at a sanctioned ranch horse show. For example, our reining pattern will consist of less than 4 spins in each direction, and may have less than 3 lope circles in each direction. All competitors will still be scored according to the standards.

If a horse and rider choose to walk and trot, but omit loping, the rider should announce this at registration. If we have a minimum of 5 walk/trot entries, we will open a walk/trot division. Reining will not be included, but ranch riding and trail will call for an extended jog in place of a lope in the patterns. The entry fee will be the same for walk/trot exhibitors.

Ranch Halter

Ranch halter is a conformation class. Your job as the exhibitor is to know your horse's best physical qualities and faults, and show them in a way that highlights the best features and "hides" the faults. For example, if your horse is generally short stride, you may need to get them trotting at a faster speed to extend the strides. If they are thick in the throat, ask them to stretch their nose out when standing. On the other hand, allow your horse to show off their head, neck and muscling through the class.

Your turnout (how you and your horse look) should be clean and polished. Even though this is not a high level show, show respect to the judge by presenting yourself as best you can. Your attire should not draw attention or distract the judge from the horse, so no bling or flashy clothing. Your number should be visible on your left hip or your back, rather than forgotten on your saddle pad. Make sure to remove your spurs, as well. Jewelry should be minimal or unworn.

Show your horse in a leather, rope, or nylon webbing halter without silver. My preference is always leather, but I am also a leather worker by trade. Your halter should fit well, not being tight on the nose or throat, but not hanging loosely. If you use a chain, it should be fitted under the chin rather than over the nose and adjusted so there is only a few inches of chain extending beyond the halter loop that it runs through. Your hand should never be on the chain, so make sure it is not too long. Never use hoof black or band/braid the mane for ranch horse classes. These are grounds for disqualification at sanctioned shows.

Enter the class at a walk and head straight towards the judge. The judge will step out of the way, which is your cue to trot. Continue trotting that straight line and then around the cone to the left so the judge can view the horse's movement from the side. There may or may not be a ring steward to guide you to your spot in the lineup. You will line your horse up head to tail, rather than side by side, leaving 6-8 feet from the horse in front of you. Leave a little more room if that horse is showing concern or aggression. Square up your horse's feet in the most balanced position. As this is not showmanship, you are allowed to pick up the feet and place them by hand. The judge may walk through the lineup to examine the horses at standing position. The judge may also have horses line up in the order of placing, or place the class and allow the competitors to exit.

The following video is a great explanation of the class:

Ranch Pleasure

Just like in Western Pleasure (referred to WP), this class performs as a group along the rail. There are several differences, especially in what the judge wants to see from a working ranch horse.

According to the Equine Chronicle, the class was approved in AQHA as an individual pattern class in 2012, what we now know as Ranch Riding. With exhibitor requests, clubs and associations started offering "Ranch on the Rail." With increasing popularity of Versatility Ranch Horse, as well as Ranch Riding and Ranch Trail, we now see AQHA defining a class called "Working Ranch Rail", similar to the approved Working Hunter Under Saddle, judging the potential of the horse to be a good working horse in that discipline.

For our purposes, using the Pleasure terminology offers competitors that understand western pleasure a more straightforward transition to understanding the Ranch Pleasure (RP)/Ranch Rail class. The most obvious differences between WP and RP are speed and head carriage. The ranch horse shows control and quality of movement while covering ground. Be prepared to show a collected trot and an extended trot. Even at the faster speed or longer stride, the horse should maintain good balance, self carriage, and control. The ranch horse maintains a natural head and neck position. Generally, the poll is even or slightly above the withers, however, conformation dictates the natural position with balance and self carriage.

As any rail class should be judged, the order of importance starts with broke and correct. A broke horse with the correct gaits that shows attentiveness, responsiveness, and obedience with a willing attitude should gain the most credit. Secondly, the judge credits quality of movement. The horse that displays self-carriage, rhythm and cadence, rates speed and is consistent through all gaits is credited. Lastly, credit is given for degree of difficulty. A bridled horse (high level bit with romal or California hand) that transitions quickly, pivots in the turn and engages its hind end in stops and backs will earn favor from the judge.

Ranch Reining

Ranch reining follows the same principles of Reining. It's hard and it's a long pattern. What I've learned from judging is that you need to learn and understand the penalties and try to avoid them. The scoring system bottoms out at -1 1/2, so do your best on the maneuvers you do well and don't stress about the ones that need work. Each maneuver starts over with its own score, unless you do something to get you disqualified (DQ). Off-Pattern (OP) can still place, but not above others who complete the pattern correctly. You can totally botch one maneuver and still do okay as long as you complete your whole pattern. So if your spins aren't going well, just make sure you follow through on the number of turns and stop within 1/8 turn of the stopping point. If you can't do a flying lead change, minimize your trot steps and accept the break of gait penalty (-2). It is far more costly to miss the lead change altogether and lope on the incorrect lead for multiple circles (-1 for every 1/4 circle). Avoidable mistakes such as stopping before the marker when the pattern says "past the marker" will cost you more than you realize (-2).

Ranch Riding

This class is becoming a favorite at local shows. It allows anyone to showcase the brokeness of their horse, including those that generally exhibit in gymkhana. The pattern is much more open that a horsemanship pattern, allowing some time to show the natural gaits and make smooth transitions. You will find a set of logs in every pattern. You will likely see the extended trot and extended lope. Riders are allowed to post the extended trot and to hold the saddle horn. This class is offered as a stand alone AQHA class at general shows, and part of the Versatility Ranch Horse (VRH) competition. The patterns for VRH are different than standard RR. Because standard RR is more common, we will use one of those patterns and the scoring at this show.

Ranch Trail

To me, this is a regular trail class with a few additional options for obstacles. When I went to my first (and more recent) AQHA show, I originally signed up for Trail knowing my horse is confident and relatively good at obstacles with ticking poles as her one fault. As I did more research on AQHA trail patterns, I realized that class would be a lot of poles, in a variety of gaits, in arcs and angles and boxes. I scratched, knowing it we were not ready for that and it was not something I even wanted to do.

Something that is super cool about the trail pattern that we will set up is that it is in an open area with some small hill slopes, trees, and grass. If you've been following the RWE Facebook page , you may have seen the many obstacles we have built this summer. Some of these obstacles are mandatory at open and ranch shows, and will be included. Most clubs require a bridge, gate, backing, and pass over logs at any gait. Here's what we have on hand so you know what to expect: Wood bridge, mailbox, rope gate, barrels, landscaping timbers as logs/poles, telephone poles as logs, cones, yellow rain slicker, roping dummy, different ropes, orange deer/calf sled, and barrels. Natural items may be added such as branches, boulder/large rock, tree stump, etc just for ideas. Obstacle performance may or may not include ground tie, side pass, back in straight-line or around obstacles. Walk, trot and lope will be included. All obstacles will be checked and approved for safety. Ultimately, you need to know you and your horse's limitations to stay safe as well. Make at least one attempt at each obstacle to avoid an Off-Pattern mark. 0 for an obstacle is better than a DQ. Generally, 3 attempts is the limit for each obstacle and the judge will ask you to move on. On some occasions, if you seem to be progressing, the judge will wait to see if you can complete the obstacle.

As stated below, competitors will be able to walk the pattern on foot before the class starts. You may count steps or even use a tape measure if you want, but you may not move anything from where it is set. Concerns about log distance or sharp edges should be pointed out to the trail judge or trail gate/steward before the class starts. We can't change anything once the first person starts the pattern. Since this is a drop in class, there is no order and all competitors must ride the obstacles as they are set in the beginning. Make sure to check in with the trail gate person/steward so they can get your number and division before you start.

This is not a speed event, however, it is usually the most time consuming class. For this reason, we have hired a 2nd judge so Trail can be completed while Reining and RR are also being judged. Get over to trail between RP and RR and get it done. If you wait too long, and there is no line at the trail gate, the judge will assume everyone has completed their pattern and place the class. In theory, all trail patterns should be complete by the time class 16 - "Green Horse Ranch Riding" starts.

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page