Western Performance

The most important attributes of the Western Performance show horse are gait, style, attitude and conformation.

  • Halter Classes: All horses must wear a suitable leather halter with chain and lead for all Halter events including Showmanship at Halter. Horses are individually judged on their confirmation, condition, symmetrical arrangement of body parts and balance.

  • Showmanship at Halter: This event is judged strictly on the exhibitors’ ability to fit and show a horse at halter. The ideal Showmanship performance consists of a poised, confident, well groomed exhibitor, leading a well groomed, conditioned horse that quickly and efficiently performs the requested pattern, as set by the judge, with promptness, smoothness and precision. 

  • *Western Pleasure: A ridden group event is where the horse is judged on movement and in keeping with his conformation. The ideal Pleasure horse has a free flowing, balanced stride with head and neck in a relaxed, natural position, with the nose slightly in front of the vertical. He should be shown on a reasonably loose rein, with light contact and be responsive and smooth in transitions. The overall appearance is of being fit and a pleasure to ride.

  • Western Riding: Western Riding is a class where the horse is judged on quality of gaits, lead changes at the lope, response to the rider, manners, and disposition. The horse should perform with reasonable speed, and be sensible, well-mannered, free and easy moving.  Flying lead changes are mandatory.

  • Western Horsemanship: An event ridden to a pattern, set by the judge of the day. The rider is judged on his or her ability in the saddle, including body position, use of aids, prompt, precise execution of the set pattern and the horses’ willingness to respond to the riders’ cues.

  • *Ranch Riding: The purpose of the Ranch Riding horse is to reflect the versatility, attitude and movement of a working horse ie: the ability to work at a forward, working speed while under control by the rider. One of the suggested three AQHA patterns can be used, however a judge may utilise a different pattern as long as all required manoeuvres and the three (or more) optional manoeuvres are included.

  • Reining: To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but also to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be wilfully guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely. Any movement on his own must be considered a lack of control. All deviations from the exact written pattern must be considered a lack of or temporary loss of control, and therefore faulted according to severity of deviation. Credit will be given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority in performing the various manoeuvres while using controlled speed. Any one of the twelve AQHA-approved reining patterns can be used and is to be selected by the judge of the class and used by all contestants in the class. Each contestant will perform the required pattern individually.

  • Trail: Horses are judged, by a set scoring system, on their ability to negotiate obstacles typically encountered on the trail, together with their response to the rider. Each Trail course set by the judge, will have a minimum of six obstacles. Mandatory obstacles include a gate, at least four logs which must be ridden over and an obstacle which is to be backed through or around. Horses will be required to walk, jog and lope (according to the pattern) individually through the course.

  • Hunter Under Saddle: Horses and riders are to be shown in traditional English riding attire and gear. Hunters under saddle should move with long, low strides reaching forward with ease and smoothness, be able to lengthen stride and cover ground with relaxed, free flowing movement. Horses should be obedient, have a bright expression with alert ears, and should respond willingly to the rider with light leg and hand contact. Horses should be responsive and smooth in transition.

  • Hunt Seat Equitation: Horses and riders are to be shown in traditional English Riding Attire and gear. The judge will set a pattern and individually each competitor will ride the pattern. They may then be required as a group on the rail. The rider is judged on equitation including body position, use of aids and prompt and precise pattern execution.

  • English Pleasure: Ridden one handed. In English Pleasure class, the horses perform as a group, exhibiting the natural gaits of the walk, trot, and canter, and may also be asked to extend the trot or to perform a hand gallop. Horses are judged on their manners, performance, quality and conformation. The horse is to give the impression of being a pleasure to ride.


* Please note a horse cannot enter any Western Pleasure class at a show if it enters Ranch Riding, but a horse doing Ranch Riding can still do Trail, Hunter, Horsemanship.


For more information on approved equipment, attire and judging criteria please refer to the AQHA Rule Book.




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