I have decided to take what I know about training western pleasure and compile it into a directory of exercises annotated by a star (*) degree of difficulty (*- easiest, **** hardest). I will not explain how to do certain exercises in detail, that research is readily available for you to find. This is widely APHA style, and I do not assume that I know everything. Here is simply my opinions and strategies on creating a western pleasure horse, and other people are free to add their opinions as well, as I will probably forget things. But simply, here are some things to consider when entering into the world of western pleasure.
1. The horse.
To do well in western pleasure, it is optimal to have a western pleasure bred horse. They are bred to be naturally slow, with a low headset, and a flat kneed gait. Not every horse is physically cut out to be a western pleasure horse, and it is best to moderate your exercises to make sure that they fit the type of horse you ride in order to avoid an artificial gait.
An "artificial gait" can be considered many things, from forcing a horse to drop its head unnaturally low to "trot-loping" where the horse is four-beating at the canter. You must be forgiving of your horse's natural flaws in order to succeed, for it is better to be slightly faster than to be moving unnaturally. The goal of the western pleasure horse is to move with excellent cadence and ease, and without the use of direct rein contact is optimal.
Horses under the age of 6 may be shown in a two-handed snaffle bit or a bosal. Horses over the age of 6 must be shown one-handed in a curb bit.
2. Core Ground Work
Whether it's a yearling lungeline candidate, or an aged horse, groundwork is important to guiding the horse into learning the exercises later in the saddle. Here are some exercises that help build a solid foundation.
A. Join-up. **
I come from a partially natural horsemanship background, but I find that the natural techniques are also imperative for a good show horse. Free lunging your horse in a round pen is an excellent way to learn horse communication, learn to read your horse, teach your horse to respect you, and bond with your horse. A horse that trusts his herd leader will be less likely to take advantage of the rider. This also teaches the core fundamentals of pressure and release.
B. Lunging. *
Lunging is not a technique that should be used to "wear down" your horse. However, teaching a horse to lunge respectfully without pulling on the rope is imperative to a good show horse. It is only fair to allow the horse to spend a few minutes adjusting his spine, and the horse should be allowed to buck as long as he is mindful of the lead rope and does not stop or turn the other direction. At a show, it is important to lunge a horse in a strange environment so he can be more comfortable and blow off excess nervous energy. Remember to direct your horse, but do not nag your horse. Speak only when you want direct action.
C. Casual circles. **
Casual circles are the natural horsemanship equivalent of lunging, usually done on the lead rope or on the bridle with the saddle on or off. Teaching your horse to respect your space and listen to your cues is essential for being able to control the horse in a stressful situation. Casual circles should involve sending the horse around you and changing directions. The horse should be focusing on you alone as the herd leader.
D. Hip disengagements. *
To control a horse's hip is the foundation of respect, safety, and performance. Teaching a horse to disengage his hip on the ground will translate later into disengaging his hip in the saddle. The horse should quickly relinquish its hindquarters when you apply energy, and face you with respect. It is a good way to get your horse's attention and focus back in a stressful situation.
E. Lateral flexion. *
One of the utmost important fundamentals of a pleasure horse is using pressure and release when the horse softens his head to either side. The horse should be able to bend and soften his neck with the lightest of pressure. This will be very important later on, and there is no limit to the number of times it should be practiced. A pinky amount of strength is ideal.
F. The pivot. *
The horse should yield its shoulder to you on the ground and circle around its hindquarters. The horse should move out of your imposing space with respect.
G. The sidepass.**
Much the same as the pivot, only the horse should relinquish its whole body away from your pressure. With a firm hand, the horse should not move forward or back, but aiming your pressure towards his stomach, the horse should move sideways and cross his feet. The horse yields respectfully.
H. Backing up. *
The horse should back out of your personal space from pressure, and should back straight and quickly. The horse should be able to be backed from direct contact with the halter, and from the energy sent down the leadrope at a distance.
*** Will post the rest later.