AQHA Executive Director of Judges Alex Ross recently sent the judges an update specifically addressing the western pleasure class. In recent years, there have been some positive changes in western pleasure. However, in recent months, Ross has received calls and emails from multiple well-educated judges that expressed their feelings that the class is regressing. Specifically, these judges feel the horses are being shown at a slower pace with the over-canted horse becoming more apparent than in the past couple of years.
"Most of the issues we see in western pleasure are created by lack of flow. When a horse is over-canted, it generally lacks forward motion and/or self-carriage," Ross states. "Because of this unnatural position, the horse 'bobs' its head when loping and leaves the outside hock behind the hip (also known as a split hock)."
Ross says that the judges need to follow the guidelines stated in Rule 465(B). "As the judge, through your gait calls and especially your placing, you have the opportunity to tell the exhibitors how they will be judged," says Ross in the update. "Utilize both to your advantage and assist us in moving western pleasure in a positive direction. If this is not the direction you want to go, you need to request to be removed from the list of AQHA-Approved Judges."
With this recent news, GoHorseShow asked several judges about the western pleasure, and whether they have seen a setback in this class. Due to education of the judges and the public, many feel the western pleasure horses are the best they have ever been, while others believe not much has changed. Let us know what you think by voting in our poll and also by leaving your opinion in the comment section of this article.
Pierre Briere--I'm not sure that you see the over-canted look at the weekend shows, but you do see it more at the larger shows where there are 20-25 horses in the pen and everyone is trying to stay behind each other. Western pleasure is the entry level for a young horse into the show arena, and their future show career depends on how well they are exhibited at an early age. The horse should be able to branch out, and many trainers can tell you that trying to teach a horse another event when it has been trained to be over-canted with his face jammed to the wall and butt to the inside is an absolute nightmare. You can't do anything with the horse when you try to go off the rail. The over-canted look may give the horse the illusion of moving correctly, but they have less self-carriage, less lift and will be going a lot slower than a horse that is doing the gait correctly. We all need to abide by AQHA western pleasure rules, they are in place to help assure our western pleasure horses have a long, successful show career after western pleasure.
Suzy Jeane--I think AQHA has done everything they can to educate the public that mistreatment of horses in not acceptable in our industry. The quality of the pleasure horses has gotten to such a premier level that I think everyone expects to see it at every show. However, there are horses that are just not as talented as others. There are inferior reiners where the exhibitor knows they are only capable of being a 70 horse--that is the same with the pleasure. The public needs to be aware where they are and what kind of competition is at that show. It is the judge's responsibility to help the reputation of these horses by stepping them up and moving them forward if they are going too slow. I also think the leveling program will help with this problem where horses of the same talents will be competing against each other.
Doug Huls--Personally, I don't agree that the western pleasure classes have regressed. I don't feel I have seen horses crawling around--not like it was five or six years ago. Frankly, I was kind of surprised to see it in the news again. I really don't think it is an issue like it has been in the past.
Stephanie Lynn--I have actually seen more horses being too slow more so than over-canted. There appears to be a trend of horses hardly jogging to the point they aren't even close to doing the gait correctly. This class is supposed to be comprise of three gaits but I'm beginning to wonder if the jog is becoming completely unimportant in this class. Several judges have let horses win that are gorgeous lopers but aren't jogging. I think this issue bears more discussion.
Russ Smith--I think it is more of a regional issue. There are horses in certain parts of the country like up north and on the east coast that appear to be more over-canted and a lot slower. It is mainly due to the weather, and the trainers having to ride indoors in small pens. I try to extend the gaits in the class if I feel they are going too slow. I don't place the ones that don't follow the rules of the class. It is the responsibility of the riders to show their horses correctly, otherwise they won't be placed on my card.
Rick Christy--I think the western pleasure is the best it has ever been. Overall, I don't think the class has regressed. Everyone seems to pick on the western pleasure, but look at the hunter classes these days---these classes have regressed considerably, and I think these classes need more attention these days than the pleasure classes.
Tom McBeath--I think the issue is more regional, but I see an issue more in the horses not maintaining a steady rhythm. Riders are trying to get them to stay slower than they are capable to prevent them for passing even though they would look better if they maintained their cadence and flow. I don't see the over-canted look as a problem as much as exhibitors needing to move their horses up to help them look better and to fit within the rules of the class.
Brent Tincher--I think it is a regional problem but I don't think horses that are over-canted historically do very well at the big shows. I think the pleasure horses are the best they have ever been, and we have so many talented trainers that if we tell them what we want and reward them for following the rules, then, they will follow suit.
Charlene Carter--I recently judged a show that had a few canted horses in the green--the ones that were severe, I did not place. However, I did tell the line-up that there were some nice horses that I didn't use, because they were too canted. They showed a little better in the following classes. Also, I will walk over close to the rail and look at the angles to let them know that I am questioning their frames. I totally dislike it--it's simply trying to make inferior horse look superior and it doesn't work. Makes a very contorted appearance. I feel that you find it in different areas, but not as a general rule.
Gretchen Mathes--I don't think the class has gotten worse, and I think overall it is a lot better than several years ago when most of it was horrendous. The horses are now fat and shiny and trained well. Personally, I think what we need to do is take all the money put in the two year-old classes and put all of it into the 3, 4, and 5 year-old classes. I think that would improve the class and help the younger horses in the long run.
Please let us know what you think about this topic, vote in our poll!
I think all you have to do is look at the number of entries in the pleasure classes to see that the general public is not approving of the "Look"> Years ago we would have 5 and 6 pt. western pleasure classes at our local AQHA shows, now they are lucky to have a point class. Maybe AQHA should look at the NRHA rookie and green rider class entries and see the numbers in those classes, always 30 to60 entries and not at the big shows.
Many people who use to show Pleasure horses have moved on to other events that they actually approve of... You will never correct the problem when the "Judges" are judging one weekend and "Showing" the following weekend. The good ole boy system is alive and well.
This has been an ongoing topic since the mid-1980's – yes, nearly 30 YEARS! If the matter was going to be resolved, it would have been by now. It’s not going to happen. People are disgusted with and tired of it, which is why the size of many shows today are tiny compared to those of the past. People have been moving on to other forms of recreation. They're spending their money and time elsewhere. Owners can enjoy their horses outside the superficial environment of the so-called western pleasure class at an AQHA show. Nearly all of the blame should be placed on the judges. So long as something continues to be rewarded (in this case points and prize money) -- that product or behavior will be perpetuated. This applies whether you’re raising children, managing employees, manufacturing widgets, teaching a dog a trick, or whatever – the reward or consequence directly influence the resulting behavior or product. (i.e. If nobody is buying lime green doodads with a purple stripe, they will eventually stop being produced.) If a judge is not willing, capable, or courageous enough to abide by the rules set by the AQHA – that individual should not be an AQHA “approved” judge. The AQHA, by not removing that individual’s name from the “approved” judges list, is endorsing the non-compliant conduct, setting a precedent, and influencing the act to continue at the next show. The unacceptable cycle continues ad nauseam. Break the cycle! An excellent judge would ‘gate’ every rider not abiding by the show rules. Period. Sure, that won’t set nicely with some (primarily the offenders) at first, but if the practice is unrelenting – riders will eventually present a product more aligned to that which is described as desirable in the AQHA rule book expectations. Until then, the malarkey will continue and this will still be a dilapidated topic another 30 years from now. This article and those before it for the past 3 decades have been empty rhetoric. What is needed is a lot less talk and much more action! If there are any AQHA judges out there reading this – how ‘bout growing a set! You will be applauded! Only the guilty parties will be offended! They’ll get over it eventually and then they’ll start presenting you with a better product to judge. You must be the catalyst that precipitates the revolution of what was once a thriving and enjoyable class. The western pleasure used to be gigantic with some shows having multiple cuts, a quarter-finals, a semi-finals, and a finals in order to run just one whole class. You’ll be hard-pressed to find that size of class anywhere now… including the QH Congress! Do you have what it takes to restore it? If not, consider relinquishing your judge’s card. Otherwise, when enough people are fed-up and doing something else with their time, money, and horses – you’ll be out of a job. Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.
P.S. The photograph accompanying this article is very telling. As the saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words."
Dear AQHA judges... only you can stop this problem by NOT placing over-canted and slow horses. Please work together to stop this problem. I have switched to HUS classes and open shows where I feel your horse can at least move out and get a placing.
It's up to the Judges to change the industry standards. And they've been slacking. About a month ago, we went to a show to compete in halter, so we had lots of time to watch the rail classes, where the judges were placing a LAME horse, over the horses with a more natural lope what were moving more forward. The short stepping hind leg was obvious in the jog AND the lope! Only one out of the four judges caught it.
It's a big chain, and the judges are the weakest link at the moment. The breeders produce great horses, owners send them to trainers, trainers/exhibitors show them and judges decide what they like. But the judges have more power than they realize, because they aren't just picking what they like today, they are setting the standard for tomorrow's next show. Trainers/exhibitors will look at the winner, and they will come back and copy. If the judges pick slow horses, then trainers will slow down horses even more because that's what the judge picked last time.
I find it frustrating (and embarrassing) when I feel like I have to defend WP to people (who don't ride or show, but they come to a show or watch it online) because their reactions are always negative. I pulled up the AQHA World or Congress Youtube video for Senior WP, and when they called for a lope, it looked like 15 zombie horses stumbling through the arena. I showed that video to a friend of mine who hasn't shown yet, and her response was "I'd have to make my horse go like THAT?! No Thank you."
These professionals that say they don't see a problem are BLIND! I see way too many over canted, over bridled and slow to the point of looking injured horses "loping" in the WP classes. I went to the Region 10 and Gold Coast shows in Florida and was disgusted by the movement of these horses. Nothing will improve with asking for an extension of a gait or "lope with forward motion" because those horses can't do it. The ONLY way things will change is for the JUDGES to stop using those horses. In a class of 20, if you only have 5 that actually go as the rule book states, DQ the rest!! Yes, it will make some people mad for awhile, but it will correct the industry in the long run. AQHA can educate the public all they want, but until the judges stop allowing it in the actual class, it will continue to happen. Why can't people understand this? Mr. Ross is right in responding to the judges that complain by saying "judge the class as the rule book states or quit judging".
I see many horses still going down the rail overly canted, as well as with their heads below the acceptable level. Lack of forward motion creates the head bobbing, and over-canting creates sore hocks, hips and backs on these horses. And I agree that many trainers are showing horses who are not doing a true 2 beat jog. A natural, level headed, straight moving fluid horse is indeed a "pleasure" to watch, as well as to ride. The breeders are doing their jobs. The trainers need to stay out of the horse's way, and the judges need to judge by the rule books. The pleasure horse industry has shot itself in the foot by creating such an ugly and unnaturally overdone look. The newcomers and general public have no desire to ride a horse that looks this way.
I wont show Western Pleasure because I dont believe the horses are moving in a comfortable and natural way. I am not going to train my horse to carry her nose in the dirt, lope on an angle, and jog slower than she walks.
The class is completely unnatural and shows that severe techniques have been used to cause a horse to move in such a manner. The judges that claimed that the horses are the best they have ever been need to be removed from judging any large shows and all trainers show be fined for showing a horse that does not follow a natural gait. The comment in the article about the use of a pleasure horse in other disciplines in the show ring should send up a red flag to all who train or own a pleasure horse.