Domartips: Christa Baldwin & Ruth Ellen

Christa Baldwin (AQHA & NSBA)

1) What recent rule changes have been especially important for the development of the western sport, in general?

Christa Baldwin (USA)

In recent years a lot of emphasis has been put on the topline and forward movement of the western pleasure horse. This has been implemented all across the western events, such as western horsemanship and western riding also.

The western horse must go with a level top line, not behind the vertical or look intimidated and are even asked to move forward in the gaits when asked. A newer rule change that is mandatory has been to ask for an extended jog (trot) in the pleasure in all the western pleasure classes except Level 1 (Novice and Green and 13 and under) where it is optional. Judges are also able to ask for extension in the walk and lope if they choose to do so.

AQHA/NSBA has adopted an order of priority for evaluating the western gaits. Following are the requirement in order of importance as taken from the rule book of each association. They are 1) Correctness 2) Quality 3) Degree of Difficulty

Correctness is the most important of the 3, which includes a 4 beat walk, a 2 beat jog and a 3 beat lope. NOT 4 beating or bobbing at the lope, going so slow in the jog as to not acquire the diagonal pairs hitting the ground in unison and too slow of walk so as to not be going forward but hesitating and losing the rhythm of the 4 beat forward walk.

Quality is the 2nd element of the 3 and includes such things as overall gracefulness, relaxed presentation, consistency, expression, topline and softness of movement, consistency and length of stride, of the performance of the gait.

Degree of Difficulty must only be considered when the other two elements of Correctness and Quality are met. If the Correctness of the gait and Quality are there, then Degree of Difficulty are the slower rhythm of the legs, but must not sacrifice the first two requirements.

This crosses over into Western Horsemanship and the pattern classes as we want a horse moving forward and exhibited with a level topline in these events also. A horse who enjoys his job makes a much nicer presentation and therefore higher placing is usually warranted vs. a horse who looks intimidated, unhappy, and not presenting an overall pleasing positive picture.

2) What’s important in order to keep my horse healthy and sound to last a long show career?

I consider this a very important topic and one in which because many of our horses do the all around and have to last for a long and illustrious show career we must be careful and take great care of our horses especially when they are young and starting out. Many horses are pushed to early in their career and cause problems that could have been avoided had trainers and owners used common sense. First, some horses are not mature enough physically or mentally to compete in lounge line as yearlings or in 2-year-old riding classes as we have here in the states.

A trainer must not compromise the youngster’s longevity for Futurity classes or starting the young one to early. Weight of the trainer (rider) is of concern also when breaking these young ones out. No more than 20% of the weight of the horse should be the total of the weight (including rider, saddle and clothes) that is put on a horse so as not to stress the horse. So if the horse weighs 900 pounds as a younger horse would, the total of the rider including all tack should not be over 180 pounds. Weigh your saddle and pad and figure out how much that particular horses’ rider should weigh so as not to put extra stress on the horses skeletal and muscular development early in his career.

Good feed, supplements, worming, HOOF CARE (a really MAJOR component of keeping a horse sound) are all important elements of having a horse stay healthy and sound way up into his teens or even further. Then maintenance of the joints is also another important element of keeping the horse happy and moving well. Common sense and education are the keys to a long and rewarding life with your partner.

3) How important is the first impression when entering the show ring?

The old saying, ‘You only have one chance to make a first Impression’ is so TRUE! You can win or lose a class on that first impression. You don’t have to have the fanciest or most expensive clothes to make a good first impression BUT you do have to have well fitted clothes, a well-shaped hat, hair neatly pinned up or pulled back, tack clean and well cared for. Your horse needs to be well groomed, clean, shod properly, showing bloom and that he has had good nutrition. Without any of these elements, your first impression will go toward the negative not positive. It goes back to the pride you take in your horse and yourself. It is hard to make up that first impression if you come in with dirty equipment, your hair falling down and/or your hat looking like someone stomped on it before your put it on your head. Look around to see who is winning and see how they look. I can guarantee you they don’t come in looking like a mess. It is about the details.

4) I would like to show in pleasure, what is the most important thing to consider before my 1st pleasure class? 

RIDE, RIDE, RIDE! Know your horse and be able to communicate with him the cues he has been taught and understands. Probably the main thing is to know and read your rules for the class. Know what is expected of you and your horse. Make sure you understand what the judges expect of you as far as the requirements of the class and what they are looking for.

Go to shows and watch the particular class you wish to compete in, this goes for any class you want to start competing in. Picture, in your mind, yourself exhibiting in that class, this is probably one of the most helpful ways to first start. It helps with your nerves and adrenaline that will inevitably come when you enter that first western pleasure class.

When you have a handle on what is expected of you in the class, you need to practice, practice and practice some more, especially under the watchful eye of a trainer or someone that can give you constructive criticism. Then have fun!


1) What recent rule changes have been especially important for the development of the western sport, in general?

Ruth Ellen (USA)

In the English division, the addition of a third jump to Hunter Hack. In the Western division, the development of the Ranch Riding class. No glitz, no glamor!

This class is becoming more and more popular because it gives everyone an opportunity to show without having to invest more in your equipment and your clothes than you did in your horse!

2) What’s important in order to keep my horse healthy and sound to last a long show career?

Keep your horse up to date on all it’s innoculations. Due routine maintenance to insure pain-free movement. Give your horse ”time off”. Every ride should not be a training session. Keep your horse interested in his job….add new events.

3) How important is the first impression when entering the show ring?

First impressions count! Just as the exhibitor makes a first impression of the judge when that judge enters the arena at the beginning of the day, the judge’s first impression of the exhibitor’s overall appearance and composure can have a subjective effect on that judge’s scoring. Clothing that is neat and tidy, a hat that is well creased and a smile which shows confidence are all important.

4) I would like to show in pleasure, what is the most important thing to consider before my 1st pleasure class? 

Before you enter the arena, have a ”visual plan” in your head so that if your horse travels at a different pace you know how to position yourself.
Second most important if you’ve never shown in pleasure before: keep breathing and have fun!

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