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Setting the Course for the Western Pleasure Horse

Dieses Dokument wurde von der AQHA auf einem der vergangenen Richterkurse herausgegeben und beschreibt die korrekte Darstellung eines Pleasure-Pferdes. Wir haben Ihnen dieses Dokument im Original zur Verfügung gestellt und freuen uns, wenn Sie mit anderen in unserem Forum darüber diskutieren wollen!

What is a western pleasure class and where did the western pleasure horse come from?

It has been said that originally this horse separated himself from the rest of the ranch string by a comfortable ride, attractive appearance and willing attitude. He had the same jobs to do on the ranch, but these characteristics made him the first choice of transportation for the cowboy.

It has also been said that the first pleasure horse competitions were held as a way for competitors in other events to season horses prior to competing on these horses in the reining, cutting, or roping. It was a foundation class or platform on which this horse could compete prior to competing in other western events.

What the current pleasure horse should be:

A good pleasure horse has a free flowing stride of reasonable length in keeping with his conformation; he should have a balanced and flowing motion. He should be willing and confident and comfortable in his performance and appearance, with little or no apparent resistance to his rider’s request.

A good pleasure horse should have a long and productive show career because he possesses and exhibits certain physical and mental traits that will help him excel in other events.

A good pleasure horse should be the platform or foundation on which other events can be achieved, if so desired.

Some of the physical traits are a balanced flowing motion, a level topline, proper cadence, and lift in his gaits. Making it easy for this horse to maintain self-carriage.

The mental traits we are looking for are a willing and pleasant attitude, alert but not startled looking, confidant, but still listening to his riders request, giving the appearance of a great student in the case of a younger horse, and a trusting partner in the case of a finished or older horse. He should in either case give the appearance of a pleasure to ride. The training and exhibition of a good pleasure horse should bring out and enhance all of these qualities, and in the process set the stage for other disciplines to be learned, making him truly a pleasure to ride.

The mental picture we should be looking for and rewarding is a balanced, flowing horse, exhibiting self-carriage.

The Key Words in this statement are Balance, Lift, Flow, and Comfort.

Balance in a moving horse is the ability of the animal to keep itself properly orientated or positioned while in motion, giving an impression of stability while in motion.

Lift in a horse is a period of suspension or an elevated carriage

Flow: to move smoothly, easily, or glide and be fluid.

Comfort: “Self Explanatory”

Without the components of balance, lift, and flow, self carriage cannot be achieved.
The balanced, flowing horse with a comfortable rhythm and good self-carriage is to be rewarded for the degree of difficulty in his performance.

Balance and flow should ALWAYS be rewarded over pace and positioning. In other words, a slow horse on the rail does not get rewarded over a more balanced, flowing, and comfortable horse that is off the rail.

Pace and position are merely the platform used to exhibit a good pleasure horse’s more important qualities of balance and flow. Without balance and flow, this horse cannot perform and execute the required gaits correctly.

Balance and flow cannot be achieved without forward motion and the proper cadence. When a pleasure horse lacks forward motion or cadence, balance is sacrificed and flow is lost. This horse is not comfortable. A good pleasure horse should appear to be comfortable and a pleasure to ride.

The lack of forward motion affects the balance of a horse’s movement and interferes with his flow and cadence in his gaits. When the balance and flow are interfered with enough, this horse may start bobbing his head, hesitating in his motion, or struggling in his motion. He may turn sideways with his hip towards the center, or hip towards the rail, and shoulder toward the center. The horse may cock his head slightly away from the direction he is traveling, or put his head too low on the forehand, or appear over-bridled behind the vertical.

All of these undesirable traits seem to appear the most when pace and position are put ahead of balance and flow. In other words, the most balanced and flowing horse with a willing and pleasant attitude should be rewarded. A pleasure to ride!

Our intent is not to have all judges judge alike, but it is to reward the balanced and flowing pleasure horse.

Descriptions of Gaits and Motions

The Walk
A good walk: is a horse with a four beat gait, level top line, and a relaxed appearance, yet is bright and attentive, he flows slowly and is soft touching the ground.

An average walk: is a horse with a four beat gait, level top line, and a relaxed appearance. This done correctly is average.

A poor walk: is a horse with an uneven pace, no cadence, he has a robot appearance, and hesitates, has no flow, he may appear intimidated, almost marches.

The Trot
An excellent trot: is a horse whose motion seems effortless and very efficient, he swings his legs, yet touches the ground very softly. This horse is confident, yet still soft in his motion. He is balanced and under control. He is flat with his knee and hock and has some cushion in his pastern. His expression is bright and alert and he exhibits more lift and self-carriage.

A good trot: is a horse who appears very comfortable to ride, always has a consistent two beat gait, is guiding well, and has a relaxed and level top line. He may let his hocks drift back into his tail from time to time, or bends his knees a little, but is obviously soft on the ground.

An average trot: is a horse with a two beat diagonal gait in which the left front and right hind foot touch the ground simultaneously and right front and left hind do also, has a level top line and a relaxed appearance shown with the light contact and appears to guide well. This is the standard or average jog trot.

A below average trot: is a horse that seems to hesitate or skip a beat in his two beat motion. He does not keep an even and balanced motion with a level top line. A horse must have a true two beat gait to be average. THIS horse appears to shuffle.

A poor trot: is a horse that cannot seem to do a two beat gait and appears very uncomfortable in his attempt to accomplish it. He does not have any flow or balance in his motion and appears uncomfortable to ride.

The Lope
An excellent lope: is a horse that rounds his back and has a strong deep stride and a flat swing with his front legs. He swings his legs correct and long yet seems to do it effortlessly. He keeps a very level top line, his hocks don’t drift behind, into his tail. This horse has a relaxed, yet alert, and confident appearance. This is a very special horse that is correct yet soft. This horse has a great degree of lift and self-carriage.

A good lope: is a horse that appears to have more lift and flow than the average horse, he also has a strong but smooth drive from behind, he may bend his knees a little, or he may allow his off lead hind leg or drive leg to fall behind into his tail, yet he still has a level top line and relaxed appearance, and appears to be comfortable to ride, and exhibits self-carriage.

An average lope: is a horse that has a true 3-beat gait, with a level top line, very little head and neck motion. This horse has a comfortable motion. He guides well, and has a relaxed appearance. This is the standard, or average, lope.

A below average lope: is a horse who may appear to have a three beat gait but has no lift. This horse shuffles and has no flow, he bobs his head so much as to give the appearance of exerting a great deal of effort and does not appear comfortable to ride.

A poor lope: is a horse that does not have a true three beat gait, he has no flow, no rhythm, no balance, and appears out of sync, and is obviously not comfortable to ride.

A lack of level top line is defined as ear level with wither at the lowest point or eye level with wither at the highest point. Credit should be given to the horse with a still and consistent top line that exhibits self-carriage.

The Back
The back: the horse should back at least one horse length quietly. This should be done with light contact and smoothly. This is the standard or average. More credit should be given for correctness and smoothness, rather than how quickly it is done.

A below average back: the horse appears resistant or heavy in front, gaps his mouth, or throws his head.

Simple logic says, the main things to remember when evaluating a pleasure horse are:
1. Is he in balance?
2. Are his movements flowing?
3. Does he exhibit self-carriage?
4. Would he be a pleasure to ride?

The responsibility for the quality and the direction of the western pleasure horses improvement falls upon the judges. The judges will set the course for the western pleasure horse of the future. By setting the correct course, we will influence the way exhibitors show the western pleasure horse. If we set the correct course we will reward these characteristics of balance, flow, and self-carriage that we all appreciate as horsemen and horsewomen.