Show Pen Preparedness, Part V: Western Pleasure

Carly Kade’s series on western performance events with Christy Snyder Kelly continues! In today’s final installment, Christy discusses some of the controversy in the western pleasure pen and how to present a horse correctly.

Need to catch up? Click here to view all of our Show Pen Preparedness articles!

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In this new series for Horse Nation, I talk with Christy Snyder Kelly, head horse trainer at Hold Your Horses Inc., an organization that has been in the business of training AQHA, APHA, and NSBA horses for three generations. Through the interviews and video sessions, Horse Nation followers will glean insight from someone who has been coaching and training champions for years. The topics are sure to be of interest to enthusiasts of the western horseback riding discipline:

In this final segment, let’s talk western pleasure and show pen best practices for this controversial class!

What challenges do you face when coaching your students on western pleasure?

It is always difficult to communicate that even though someone might have shown a million times they’re not always going to win. Some judges prefer short strides while some judges like open big slow strides. A preference does not make the great ride you just had any less valuable to you or your horse!

What trends should we be taking notice of pertaining to western pleasure in the show pen? Fashion? Ways of presenting? Horse wear?

I’m seeing a lot of fringe and straw hats in western pleasure classes but I think that the majority of my fellow trainers would say that kind of apparel has to be earned. Symmetrical jackets (front and back) and focusing on a good shape on a jacket’s shoulders is what is important to me in this class. It provides a clean line and classic presentation.

As far as presenting in the show pen, how you and your horse show should always please you first, then how the judge places you. Some judges want off the rail forward moving horses and some others don’t. When you have four judges in the ring at once, it’s very rare to have every opinion match all the time when it comes to western pleasure.

How do you prefer to see a horse carry itself in the western pleasure class?

I prefer a true beat and clean flowing stride, all driven forward by the rear end. I like a horse that does not depend on his neck to carry himself around the pen and has a butt big enough to handle the load with a strong shoulder to follow up through the front leg.

What do you expect we will start seeing more of in western pleasure classes? Less of?

This is a tough question, but I’ll just throw this out. There’s a lot of us wishing to see classes judged by the rule book first, opinion second. That would be ideal. In addition, there is hope that judges will begin to be less political with the youth kids and novice amateurs.

Would you recommend some best practices for executing this event?

I recommend developing balance through counter canters, riding squares, forehand turns and hind pivots, and making sure you can move every part of your horse body whenever you ask with your legs. A horse has to be balanced and strong to perform well in western pleasure.

Is western pleasure really a terrible discipline for the horse? It recently has gotten a lot of flak on social media. How do you think it compares to dressage or jumping or reining or any other high stress competitive equestrian discipline?

Like with any sport, times change and training and breeding programs have changed. Today, western pleasure prospects are bred to lope in place beginning in the womb. Breeders have mastered the perfect conformation blueprint for how these horses need to move. When you turn today’s babies, yearlings and grown horses out in pasture, they will move the same way they do under saddle. Yes, you have a man-made horse for sure, but the successful breeders/trainers have developed an eye for the perfect western pleasure prospect. It starts the day they breed a mare to a stallion.

I would recommend that anyone with a concern around the way these horses are moving pay to go ride a certified, accomplished western pleasure horse under the guidance of a reputable trainer. Just go out and ride it around, feel the pace, feel the quality, and listen to the horse’s trainer.

I always believe that you shouldn’t knock it until you have tried it. That goes for any of it no matter the discipline be it reining, jumping, dressage or anything else.

Western Pleasure Video Segment

In the western pleasure video, we cover the different styles of moving in the show pen. Many judges and trainers have a different opinion on how they like to see horses move – whether they like a short stride, or a long stride, a little faster mover or a horse that moves a little slower. Christy offers commentary on the ideal western pleasure mover and opines on the one common opinion that the horse needs to move correctly and in a TRUE gait.

About Christy Snyder Kelly: Christy trains, teaches, buys and sells, prepares show horses and develops horse and rider teams in Arizona. Anyone interested in learning more about the Hold Your Horses Equestrian Team and Christy’s Angels can visit the Hold Your Horses, Inc. website here:

About Carly Kade: Carly Kade is an author of equestrian fiction. In her free time, Carly enjoys competitively showing her registered Paint Horse, and works on her next novel. In The Reins, Carly’s cowboy romance novel inspired by the equestrian lifestyle has been an Amazon equestrian best seller for more than 10 weeks and is an official 2016 EQUUS Film Festival literary selection. The novel is available now in paperback and eBook. Visit for details. Connect with Carly Kade Creative on Facebook or Twitter @carlykadeauthor.

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