November is one of my favorite months of the year. Yes, the fall colors are beautiful, the air is crisp, and lets not forget the turkey and stuffing, but the real reason I love November is it marks the AQHA world show on the calender every year. I’m very fortunate to live only an hour away from the quarter horses’ biggest show of the year and I look forward to it all year long. Last year I went to see the senior reining finals and the cutting finals, but this year I decided to go watch the amateur ranch pleasure finals since I’ve been so interested in that particular class.
We went early to shop around a little at the trade show, of course, but most of the vendors are always the same and I didn’t have much I needed to look at. After shopping, we walked to the stall barns and drooled at all the warm up pens. It’s so amazing to see such a wide variety of show horses at one place. Tie down roping and breakaway roping finals were also taking place that night, so in the main warm up pen we watched rugged rope horses and then walked down to the separate longing/riding warm up arenas and saw tall, long legged pleasure horses. We had to wait for quite a while to see the ranch pleasure class, so in the meantime we drove over to Cattleman’s for a steak. If you’ve never been to Cattleman’s, you’re missing out on a great Oklahoma legend of a restaurant! After consuming too much beef, we settled into our seats at about 9:45. Way past my bedtime… So I was groggy-eyed and tired, but I did my best to pay attention. Apparently not awake enough to remember to take pictures! Argh. I could kick myself. But, I do have a great memory when it comes to horses so here’s a brief list of things I observed and learned from the amateur ranch pleasure finals class:
- Transitions, transitions, transitions. I feel like this class is based on good transitions. A good ranch pleasure horse needs a regular trot, extended trot, lope, and extended lope, as well as a forward-moving walk. Judges have made it very clear in the AQHA rulebook that these horses need to cover ground, as if they were on the ranch working. So, a regular trot needs to look forward, as if the horse is moving with intent. The extended trot needs to be even quicker, covering plenty of ground. The lope gaits are similar. The transitions between these gaits need to be smooth and show that your horse is well-guided and well-broke.
- The rider can really help exhibit a horse’s strengths and weaknesses. I watched several riders whose horses moved correctly, but not necessarily as well as the best horses. When your horse doesn’t perform a maneuver as well as it could, or as well as the other horses in your class, as the rider and leader it’s your job to help him out and do something to showcase his assets. Sometimes, it’s best to create an illusion. For instance, a few horses didn’t cover as much ground during the working trot as they could have and I noticed that these riders just continued to sit the trot. Sitting the trot only made it look slower. The riders who did really well sat up out of their saddle and held onto to their saddle horns, and it gave the impression that their horses were moving quickly and covering ground, whether they really did or not. In the very least, some of them posted the trot. If your horse is slower than most, then by golly sit up out of that saddle and get a determined look on your face like your trotting down the fence line catching up with a lost calf. Get my point? Help your horse (and YOU) out a little. It’s not called a “show” for nothin’.
- Know all the patterns by heart. Ranch pleasure now has five patterns, so there is absolutely no excuse for feeling nervous about not remembering the pattern. Also, as seen in this AQHA video below, it’s very important to execute the pattern precisely. If the pattern shows a tight turn, turn as tight as your skill level and horse’s skill level will allow. During the finals, pattern five was used. There is a tricky part right after the extended lope where the horse is supposed to collect for a few strides and then execute a lead change. It’s hard to discreetly and smoothly ask for a slower collected lope after a fast lope down the long side of an area. Most of the riders missed it, but the few riders who got it looked like bosses. Even if they just got it for a moment they definitely got points for trying. Know all the inner workings of the pattern.
- You only have one shot, so make it count. Generally, you could tell the moment riders came into the arena whether they felt like they were going to place well or not. As they passed by my seat, I wanted to whisper in their ear,”Why so down?? You’ve already made it to the finals, girl! That’s a win already! Make this count!” But of course, that would have distracted them. So instead I just glared at them and tried to send them positive, get-it-girl brainwaves. The point is, you only have a minute to impress four judges in the finals at the world show. When you walk in, you should hold your head up high and look at the arena like a boss. If the pattern indicates an extended lope, don’t just increase your speed by a minimum. Get excited! Open up your horse up and showcase your best extended lope! If you’re supposed to stop in the middle of the arena, then you put on the brakes like you own that pattern and command the attention of those judges. Even if you know you’re not going to win the championship, you’ll know you tried as hard as you could and you exhibited your horse as best you could. Chin up, you already made it to the finals! I can only dream of making it to the finals.
I really like this class, and I really liked seeing the ladies represent at the world show. As soon as it stops snowing I can’t wait to get outside and practice this pattern on my own! Here’s a PDF copy of AQHA’s pattern five for ranch horse pleasure. Read it, memorize it, practice it!