Devoid of tail extensions, silver-trimmed tack and “bedazzled” attire, the AQHA’s Versatility Ranch Horse competition is all about keeping it real. Kristen Kovatch gives us the 411 on a cool new class, Ranch Pleasure.
A couple of months shy of a year ago, I wrote my second weekly column (time goes fast!) about AQHA’s return to the “roots” of the Quarter horse by introducing the Versatility Ranch Horse competition, outlining the positive steps the Association was taking to get back to the core of what defines the breed. The AQHA recently added another class to celebrate ranch-style horses in Ranch Pleasure, emphasizing natural and forward movement. Competitors are tested in a pattern which asks for walk, jog and lope as well as extensions of these gaits. Also included are lead changes, pivots, sidepasses and optional obstacles including poles.
In researching public opinion about this new class, I found this article on GoHorseShow.com including a few quotes from AQHA executives and competitors in Ranch Pleasure. Says trainer Jill Voss: “rather than forcing [my horse] into a job that he would have hated, by way of training aids and boxing him in […] I decided to give him a different job.”
For an association that is trying to eliminate unnatural and cruel training aids and turn back to a more natural horse rather than the overexaggerated way of going so common in today’s pleasure horse show pen, this sounds like really good news—well-known professionals deciding to make a decision in the horse’s best interest.
Later in the article, however, Voss also says “anyone can go in it. Rope horses, cutters, reiners, trail riding horses, flunk out pleasure horses.”
Well, now wait a minute. Western pleasure is derived from the easygoing rideability of the original Quarter horses, American ranch horses. So now we’re saying that horses that fail out of the modern derivation of western pleasure are suitable for ranch pleasure. Isn’t that sort of backwards? Isn’t that missing the point of the class? Or is that exactly the point?
In which case, maybe these horses aren’t “flunking out” at all. Maybe someday the western pleasure horse will be viewed as a failed-out ranch horse.
I can argue myself in circles about this issue, debating what’s failed who and what a “real” western pleasure horse should be and why ranch pleasure is viewed as a mixing-pot of horses who don’t seem to fit into other show-pen classes. Fortunately, these are the only things going around in circles—ranch horses are exempt.
Check out this video from the 2012 AQHA World Show. Note the features of the class including a lack of cone markers (unlike a reining or horsemanship pattern) as well as a lack of tail extensions, silver-trimmed tack and “bedazzled” attire.
About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team, teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving, and keeps several of her own horses in training on the side. She shows reined cow horse and also shows western pleasure and horsemanship for fun. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at thewesternlife.wordpress.com. She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian and Take the Reins.