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Honeysuga 02-08-2010 04:35 AM

Western Pleasure from the judges POV.
Found this nice little Q&A article and thought I would share. Hopefully it speaks a little better about the improvements in the WP and what is really looked for...
These were the top questions sent in by our readers. is facilitating a teaching/learning center, whereby the public may ask Judges questions on a regular basis. This week's topic is Western Pleasure. (Answers in mixed order.)
  • Question 1: When you judge a WP class, do you penalize a smaller horse who has a longer smooth stride over a 16h+ horse who has a choppy, short stride which as obviously been "manufactured" so he can manage not to pass anyone? It seems fairly common to see... 1. I think we have moved away from the manufactured Western Pleasure horse we had a few years ago! No, I do not penalize the small horse with a long stride or the 16 hand horse with a short stride unless it has been intimidated to do that gait.
    2.I believe the Western Pleasure horses have improved greatly. Go watch the Western Riding and see all those great moving Western Pleasure horses out there doing lead changes that make your arms hairs stand up and take notice! Western horses have evolved to another level of greatness as well as most of the Western trainers who are out there changing leads!
    Any false or "man made" movement will be penalized regardless of the horse's size. A big horse is very capable of being a great Western Pleaure horse...I have known many! Also, most horses will not be penalized for passing others... it totally depends also on the situation in the arena at the time of that class.
    3.Anything "manufactured" to me looks forced, anything that is forced does not allow for the horse to keep it's flow looking as natural as possible. So, for me the smaller horse that has flow will win over the taller horse that does not. The taller horse for me would do better by showing that horse at a speed that compliments the horse and pass smaller horses when called for.
    3.The best legged, brokest horse will win on my card regardless of how tall or short it is.
    I am going to take the liberty here to re-phrase this question... Which do you prefer the least, a small, long-strided horse or a big 16+ hand choppy-strided horse? I prefer neither, but on any given weekend, you will see these horses competing and they will be the best horses in the class, so as judges, now we haev to say " this horse is my winner" even though we cannot stand the way it goes, but some horse had to win, its a no win situation for a judge. There is no right way to answer your question, there are no guidlines for judging a poor class, what it comes down to , is which horse I prefer the least and usually that is the horse that looks the safest and does its job willingly.
  • Question 2: Person A is having a great ride. Person B is also having a great ride but passes Person A and cuts into their horse's nose causing him to raise his head and break gait for a stride, but Persons B's horse just keeps on going. Who gets penalized; A, B, or Both?
    1.If the break of gait was done because the horse has a high regard for themselves then I say smart horse no penality in this situation for the horse that was cut-off. The rider who caused the the other horse to break because of poor piloting skills gets the penality. Keep in mind we can only judge something like this when we see the whole episode more times then not we see the end, rider B back on the rail fairly close to rider A, rider A asking horse to lope again after breaking. Penality then goes to rider A for the break of gait.
    If I see the whole thing, I don't penalize either one if I don't think the cut off is intentional. If I see it half way through, I may not penalize either one if it looks like a cut off but have no proof of who to punish. If I just catch a glimse at the end, all I would have seen is the break of gait on person A and would have to alter my line up depending on what else the class offers me for a final placing. If the whole thing looks like poor sportmanship I would penalize Person B. A break of gait for a stride at the World Show, big deal; a break of gait for a stride at a weekend show, not as big of a deal depending on the how good the horse is and what is in the class.
  • 2.If I saw this happen, I would probably hurt Rider 'A' a placing or two for poor showmanship, and not hurt the horse that was affected negatively. As a judge I can't say this is something I've seen often.
    3.I think you are asking; ' What if rider B cuts off Rider A, who will I penalize?' Rider B will go to the bottom of the class, and if Rider A and Horse A can maintain their ride, they will not be penalized.
    4.There are lot of factors that could play into this scenario, but if I were to play it out as you describe it here and the judge sees the entire happenings from start to finish, I believe that Horse A will not be penalized from my viewpoint. Horse B would be held liable for causing Horse A to throw his head, etc.
  • Question 3: When a change in gait is called for, what do you consider correct: 1. Wait till the horse in front of you moves out, or 2. Forget the rest of the horses in the class, cue your horse and take the gait. (Even if this means coming off the rail and having to hang out there for as long as it takes to find a spot on the rail to show your horse at its best to the judge? 1. I would rather see a rider pick up the gait and then work their way back to the rail. I am not offended by horses showing off the rail, a great moving horse, that is showing well off the rail can just as easily be the winner as a horse on the rail.
    2.When a gait change is called, I expect the riders to check their position, make their visible and non-visible cues, and move out. Yes, horses that will lope off, pass other horses quietly, stay in the passing lane until an open spot comes up will earn plus points. I am not saying the first to lope off is the winner, but if you know your horse is going lope off and do it well, then it is kudos to you.
    3.A experienced showmen will know when to wait and take their turn and when to lope around. If the judge is not watching your side of the arena and the lope is asked for and there is 4 to 5 horses tight in front of you I would wait. If you take off in this situation when called you may never get back on the rail. If you have only one or two horses in front of you same situation most likey the horses in front of you are going to delay to give them more rail because the judge is not watching. You lope right off when called for and take the open rail that they were trying to get for themselves. I look for the showmen that has so much confidence in their horse that they can show it on the rail, off the rail whatever is needed at the time. Each class is different and it may not always work out the way you plan. When your plan back fires just show like that is exactly what you were trying to do.

  • 4.The rider can have 5 or 6 seconds to wait for the horse in front of him/her to go. However, if no one is in front of a horse I do expect him to take the gait after it is called for. There is no penalty for coming off the rail to be correct and if you have a great moving horse it gives me more time to watch it and enjoy it while everyone else is walking/stopping on the rail. There is nothing better in my mind than standing in the middle and getting 5 extra seconds out of the 15 you get per horse/per class to watch a great one lope by me!

Honeysuga 02-08-2010 04:37 AM

  • Question 4: What do you like to see the most in the 14-18 YOUTH W.Pleasure classes.... Do you penalize horses if they are loping true but going a little bit fast? What rein length you like to see? I have seen horses showing with different headsets: level with the withers, a bit below the withers, and some show with lower headsets... which do you prefer to see in the YOUTH events?
    1.The youth classes must follow the same guide lines as all other western pleasure classes. Excessive rein length, either too short or too long will be taken into consideration and judged accordingly.
    2.I don't think there is any differnce in what I want to see in any division of Western Pleasure, I want a nice walk, two beat jog, 3 beat lope, not a crawl. I like a horse with good expression, that looks like it enjoys it's job. I want a horse that looks comfortable in its head carriage and consistent in its performance. Size of the horse does not matter to me. If the horse is a good mover but a little fast, that to me is better than a horse that is too slow and not using itself well.
    3.For me I am looking to reward the best pleasure horse presented to me regardless of which class it is in. In all pleasure classes I want to find the horse that looks like a "pleasure to ride" it's topline stays level, ears are attentive, face is not behind the vertical, and is collected and cadenced in all three gaits. If this horse has a bit more speed then poor moving slower horses then this horse will still win.
  • Question 5: When you have the bits dropped, do you just look to see if they are legal or do you take the bit into consideration as to the horses performance and your placing?
    1.The bits only need to be legal. Whatever bit is needed to make the horse perform at is best is the bit that should be used as long as it is legal.
    I just check to see if it is legal. 'Usually' a high powered bit will cause the horse to 'tell on it' before the bit check.
    2.Our job as judges is to make sure the bits are legal not decide whether the horse is being riden in the correct bit or tack for that horse.
    3.BOTH!, especially in an English class. I would rather see a horse in a grazer or correction bit than the highest allowed cathedral. But one must show the horse to its best ability and if this takes the severe bit and it is the best horse, best mover, who is following the rules, it will be my winner.
  • Question 6: In WP, what is penalized more: Lifting the hand and driving to correct movement (say if the horse got lazy), or allowing the sloppy movement in order not to show any hand/leg movement from the rider? i.e., My horse is loping sloppy and needs to be checked, do I lift and drive, or to I leave it until I'm where I'm not seen and then correct it so the judges do not see my correction?
    1.I personally would rather see the horse lope its best, your are going to get penalized either way, so you might as well start teaching your horse to stay loping for the entire class and not let him think he can get flat in front of the judge.
    2.Sloppy movement, moving too slowly, not engaged would be the bottom of the class just above a blatant disobedience, missed lead, bolt, spook, kick-out etc. To answer your question, if you felt as if your horse was not engaged behind, I would push some buttons and get the horse to move up under itself. Remember, the judge is not ONLY looking at you. Be aware of your surroundings, realize where the judge is watching and present your horse to the judge to your best advantage.
    3.I'll give you more credit for trying to do a quiet, simple fix if needed than to let your horse get worse and worse as the class progresses. Obviously, if you can get it done while i'm not looking it would be the best scenerio, but it is not always the case. Your placing would be depedent on the outcome of the rest of your classes rides.
    4.If the lifting and driving is something more then subtle then wait until you are not seen. If it is subtle then do it as needed to make the horse look it's best. In tough competion a slight fix is less penalized then a poor moving horse.
  • Question 7: My horse (all top WP breeding) naturally carries a low headset and I worry I'll be penalized for it... do you take into account the horse's natural head carriage and way of going or just the rule about so many strides with the poll below the withers? (Note: There was also an article referenced in the April AQHA Journal page 72 & 73 where some felt correct a topline was not being rewarded.)
    1.We must all try to follow the rules as written. I know in our program we take topline very serious. We work very hard in not allowing the horses to learn to carry their heads to low and even develope a que on our finished horse to correct topline errors. My therory is do not give the judge an easy out by exhibiting your horse with a rule violation.
    2.I must take into account the horses natural head carriage. I cannot stand a horse who is intimidated and behind the bridle. This horse would most likely not be free-flowing. I think all horsemen can decipher if the horse is naturally carrying its head low or if it was intimidated to put it there.
  • Question 8: If you are placing two horses that are both relaxed and keeping a consistent pace, but one has a natural shorter stride than the other, which one gets the higher placing? Both are doing the best they can. How do you pick? Is it just personal preference?
    1.When all parts of performance are equal and it just comes down to style of movement it is just personal preference at this point. I reward the horse with the most unity in their stride regardless of the length. If unity is equal I prefer the horse with the deeper hock.
    2.The winner on my card would the horse that moved the best in relationship to its conformation. Personal preference would be the horse with the Natural Stride even if it is a tad longer. I do not place the horse that I refer to as 'Chippity-Choppy'.
    The better mover wins, whichever horse that may be in my opinion.

Honeysuga 02-08-2010 04:37 AM

  • Question 9: With the emphasis in the past couple of years towards forward motion, is it viewed as a negative if your horse comes off the rail to pass slower horses, but is loping naturally and free flowing? How important is rail position and is controlled passing penalized?
    1.Controlled passing has become something I almost expect to see in a class. Passing helps to keep the natural flow of the horse. When a rider tries to stay behind a slower moving horse their horse's movement suffers. You need to know at what pace your horse looks it best and show at that pace. If this allows you to stay on the rail, great. If it does not, pass as needed and try to resume a postion on the rail.
    2.I think coming off the rail and passing shows you have a broke horse who can move off the rail and pass other horses. It is most likely advantageous to be the first one to lope off so the judges can see you respect the call and you know you have a horse that can stand up lope. Rail positioning is important but its not what we are judging; rail position is what allows the judge to clearly judge your horse. No, controlled passing is NOT ever to be penalized.
    Who views it as negative to pass? It's not the passing or the off the rail part that most judges have issues with, it's what you look like while doing it. Show your horse at a speed and rhythm where it looks the best. A slow crappy mover will not place above a horse that has to pass it to maintain proper cadence and flow in my book any day as long as it is not running off. On the other spectrum, if a slow, great moving horse is in the class it would probably beat the horse that has to pass some simply because it is much harder and a much higher degree of difficulty to be great legged and do it slowly. In my opinion a horse can be great legged, slow and still have plenty of forward motion. It all depends what your doing while you are passing and what kind of horse you are going around!
  • Question 10: How important is the outfit the contestant is wearing? Have they gotten too 'Glitzy'? What would you like to see in the arena?
    1.Outfits are something that should compliment the whole picture. A rider does not want to draw attention away from the judge looking at the movement of the horse. I personally like to see people express themselves with the type of clothing they show in.
    2.I rarely notice clothing, it really has very little importance, I notice really great outfits or really poor fitting ones, but neither really comes into my placings.
    3.Does it make a difference if there is a lot of 'Glitz' in a single word.NO! I want a tasteful outfit, clean equipment, and a horse presented well groomed and neat.
    4.I don't have time to look at the outfits. Spend your money on your horse and it's training program.
  • Question 11: If you want to be serious in this event how important is it that you put a 'name brand' trainer on your horse? An honest answer from a professional Judge would be so helpful....1. Keep in mind all "name brand" trainers use to be just another face in the crowd trying to catch a break. If a trainer is doing an excellent job, then with time this will be rewarded. It may seem like they do not get their just reward that day. However, for the one judge in the pen that failed to recognize this trainers efforts, there are 5 judges on the outside saying how that horse should have placed better. Next weekend you maybe judged by one of them. Reputation is something that judges reward and reputation is something earned. If as an owner you feel like you can not afford to allow a young trainer to earn his/her stripes on your horse than that is your choice. All trainer's who are now "name brand" had clients that believed in them when they were coming up the ranks.
    2.It's not important (to me) at all who is sitting on top of the horse when its shown as long as they are gettting the job done. Trainers are professionals and because they train horses for a living should be able to present your horse to the best of it's ability in the show pen. Nothing pleases me more than to see a Youth or Amateur show their horse back in the Jr or Sr, sit back and show their horse and knock the socks off the class. Whoever has the best horse and presents it beautifully will be my winner regardless of past show results.
    3.Everyone thinks your have to have a name brand on the horse, I can think of several instances in the past 15 years were a relative nobody has won the Congress and World Show. The most important thing is to put the best rider on that particular horse. In 1999 we were looking for a rider for Artful Investment in the Hunter Under Saddle at the World Show, now Jackie Krshka was definately not a nobody, but she was not known for winning hunter under saddle titles, but I had always thought she was a really nice rider and she would really fit Artful Investment, sure enough, she looked great and rode him wonderfully and they went on to be the World Champions in Jr HUS that year. Another year, we took The Coosanova to the Congress, Jason and I had shown him all year and done very well on him, but at Congress we both thought we weren't the right choice to ride him, after asking a few top trainers to show him and being declined, Jason rode and helped prepare him and Jennifer Thompson his owner showed him and were named Congress Champions in Jr Western Pleasure.
    3.This is such a difficult question because I am a professional. A professional exhibitor has become professional hopefully through good ethics, hard work and a lot of talent. I hear the criticisms regarding the same winners always win; it is probably because these same people know their business and know how to get a horse shown.

    4.Yes, an honest answer from a Professional Horseperson and a Judge. I do believe when you get to the top tier, a World Show, Congress/National show, a 'name brand' is beneficial. Not from a "Political Aspect", but because this professional knows how to prepare the horse, knows when it is time to peak the horse and knows how to get the horse shown to the horses' best ability.

    5.I also believe that a 'name brand' has more to live up to. He/she better have near perfect trip, better have a great horse under them, better come every time with a great horse or one will quickly loose credibility.

    6.I think at the week-end shows/circuits the 'Name brands' are very beatable and often judged a little bit harder, but at the finals level, where the nerves and show jitters are taking over, the I think the professionals raise to the top.

    7.Do I believe just because "Ol' so-n-so" is showing the horse it is a sure winner? NO! So-n-so still has to step up to the plate and hit the ball squarely to make the home run.

ShutUpJoe 02-08-2010 10:56 AM

Cool article very informative

kevinshorses 02-08-2010 01:00 PM

What the author should have ask is if the horse is dragging one hind toe in the dirt if that indicates freedom of movement and the kind of stride that would be a pleasure to ride. Also is there a WP judge that actually knows what a 3 beat canter looks like? Judging from the videos I have seen on youtube I would say NO.

Ridehorses99 02-09-2010 06:13 PM


Originally Posted by kevinshorses (Post 546268)
What the author should have ask is if the horse is dragging one hind toe in the dirt if that indicates freedom of movement and the kind of stride that would be a pleasure to ride. Also is there a WP judge that actually knows what a 3 beat canter looks like? Judging from the videos I have seen on youtube I would say NO.

Kevin -
I agree with you. Although I have seen some improvement after the rule change, I still see jogs that are not 2 beats (and riders are not penalized) and lopes that are not 3 beats (with no penalties). We still have a long ways to go until all judges are there.

WesternPleasure1029 02-10-2010 11:06 PM

Kevinshorses and Ridehorses99-
I completely disagree with you. Do some horses move like crap and look lame? Absolutely. But, look at the winners of Congress and the World Show and you will see that now more than ever before, judges are looking for a horse that moves well up under itself. They want them to stretch their front leg out and move their back leg up under themselves. A nice rolling lope is actually a 'pleasure' to ride and is MUCH more likely too win. Just because you have seen bad movers on youtube does not mean that every WP horse moves like that. I currently have a WP horse that 4-beats to much and I am working very hard to get her to move forward and more fluidly. This even means that I am making her go faster because that is when her legs are moving well and that is how she will place well. Look at some of the top trainers and you will see what I'm talking about. The good trainers are the ones who move their horses forward. Don't judge an entire sport on some bad individuals or every sport would be judged negatively.

kevinshorses 02-10-2010 11:38 PM

The youtube videos I watched were of Congress winners not some backyard amature.

WesternPleasure1029 02-11-2010 12:15 AM

Watch this video. It shows exactly what is looked for in the Western Pleasure ring. If you think that winning horses don't move like this, think again. I have placed many times with a horse that moves like this. Forward, getting up under itself, a happy expression on its face. This is what Western Pleasure is. Smooth, supple, light cues, and a pleasure to ride. Obviously though, no matter how much I explain it to you, you aren't going to change your mind. This is your opinion and I appreciate that but I just want you to know that in no way are these horses asked to move in any way that is unnatural for THEM. Many sports have horses do things that are unnatural like pirouettes and jumping 6 foot fences but this is what they are bred and trained to do and the winners enjoy their job. Yes, some Western Pleasure horses are abused in horrible methods that make me sick to think about but nowadays, they are the minority. AQHA keeps close tabs on what trainers are doing to their horses in ways such as checking the bits of horses in the show ring to make sure they are AQHA legal and random drug tests

WesternPleasure1029 02-11-2010 12:19 AM

Also watch this recent World show winner. She is happy, moving forward and not even close to being a 'peanut-roller'. This is what places and this is what good trainers strive for. Yes, her gait may be slower than what you like but she is relaxed and enjoying herself. Isn't that what showing is all about?

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