Trail to Ranch

Ranch horse pleasure puts your trail horse’s moves to the test.
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Ranch horse pleasure puts your trail horse’s moves to the test.

 As a trail rider, it’s safe to say you aren’t in it for the competition— unless, of course, you count bragging rights of finding the perfect camping spot.

The American Paint Horse Association’s new ranch horse pleasure class might tempt you to test your trail horse’s skills in a competitive, yet low-key setting.

The American Paint Horse Association’s new ranch horse pleasure class might tempt you to test your trail horse’s skills in a competitive, yet low-key setting.

But the American Paint Horse Association’s new ranch horse pleasure class might tempt you to test your trail horse’s skills in a competitive, yet low-key setting, with its simple-yet-challenging maneuvers, a low-profile dress code, forward-focused movement, and a relatable purpose.

The class can be a refreshing remix to your traditional trail riding schedule, whether your trail horse already has the skills to shine in ranch horse pleasure or his handiness requires a little polishing.

Even if you don’t plan to show, you can use the class requirements as a checklist to improve your horse’s versatility, and set training and horsemanship goals.

You can also use these skills should your travel plans take you to a guest ranch, whether you ride your own horse or one of the ranch’s mounts.

Practical Priorities

More than any other class, perhaps, ranch horse pleasure directly reflects a horse’s realistic function, says Markel Professional Horseman and APHA judge Heather Young of Whitesboro, Texas.

“Ranch horse pleasure encompasses what a horse has to do in a day’s work on the ranch, compresses it into a pattern, and puts it in the arena,” Young said.

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“A ranch horse isn’t just your vehicle, he’s your partner, and he needs to make your job easier.”

Even if you’ve never set foot on a ranch, you’re likely familiar with the type of work involved. As a trail rider, you can sympathize with the stockman who’s in the saddle from dawn to dusk.

Young says keeping the needs of this hardworking rancher in mind can help you understand the class’s standards and lead to success in the arena.

According to the APHA Official Rule Book, “The purpose of ranch horse pleasure should reflect the versatility, attitude, and movement of a working horse. The horse’s performance should simulate a horse riding outside the confines of the arena and that of a working ranch horse. This class should show the horse’s ability to work at a forward, working speed while under control by the rider.”

The class is performed individually. Judges may select one of four official patterns or create one of their own that includes a combination of the required maneuvers. In all patterns, horses must demonstrate the walk, jog, and lope in both directions, and the extended jog and extended lope in at least one direction, along with a stop and back.

Optional maneuvers include the sidepass, turns of 360 degrees or more, lead changes — either flying or simple — and a walk, jog, or lope over poles.

Ready & Willing

Though an arena competition might seem a far cry from your favorite trail, you might be surprised at how many ranch horse pleasure maneuvers your trail mount already knows.

“Your horse must be able to transition up, down, move forward, collect, stop, turn, back, and even sidepass in any combination,” Young explained.

“He must be willingly guided and responsive, because you don’t have time to ask twice when you’re trying to work a gate or manage cattle.”

On the range, the stockman needs a horse comfortable with his job and soft in his face. More than a particular style of frame or headset, Young says she looks for a horse that’s relaxed and works with light cues.

“The key is to have a horse that’s comfortable with his position,” she said. “As long as he’s relaxed and balanced, he’s going to be a good ride.”

When it comes to movement, ranch horses should be comfortable and efficient.

Though an arena competition might seem a far cry from your favorite trail, you might be surprised at how many ranch horse pleasure maneuvers your trail mount already knows.

Though an arena competition might seem a far cry from your favorite trail, you might be surprised at how many ranch horse pleasure maneuvers your trail mount already knows.

“I’m looking for a natural, soft-moving horse that I wouldn’t mind riding all day to get a job done,” Young said.

Pure Fun

So what makes ranch horse pleasure such an appealing class to trail riders?

“I think people come to the class because it’s exciting, realistic, and user friendly; outsiders can watch a run, understand the purpose, and feel like they could do well with the horse, equipment, and attire they have,” Young said.

“That’s not to say ranch horse pleasure is easy, though, because it’s not. It’s challenging, functional, and, best of all, just plain fun.”

Printed with permission from the Paint Horse Journal.