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HorseShowCentral > Riding Styles & Disciplines > Ranch Horse Competition

Ranch Horse Competition - Riding Styles & Disciplines

Chestnut and rider clam in water and mud, during a ranch horse competition. Ranch Horse Competition Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

Within the discipline of Ranch Horse,are many types of classes, all of which are either open or youth classes, and are slanted away from the long time professional specialist.


Ranch horse competition evolved because of the specialization in today’s western show disciplines, many of which have developed their own dynamics. For example, whole industries have been developed for special parts of the show world of the western stock horse, with breeders, trainers, show circuits, sales, etc. revolving around a popular event. Someone who is not a professional in those disciplines, or an amateur specialist, will find it nearly impossible to do well in that kind of competition.

So it is no wonder that a certain slate of classes have emerged which are collectively named versatility ranch horse competition by the American Quarter Horse Association.

The regulations for Ranch Horse competition are such that they limit eligibility in a way that serves the purpose of offering a playing field, which under normal circumstances excludes specialized show professionals from the common horse show world. This is so because in versatility ranch horse competition, the horses shown must be owned either by the exhibitor or his/her immediate family (so far, the same stipulations as with regular amateur and youth classes), or must be owned by the ranch the exhibitor is a full-time employee of, or may also be shown by the children of the ranch that owns the horse. Ranch horse classes therefore are either open or youth classes.

This goes to show that a specialized exhibitor from the regular horse show world may show in ranch classes if the horse he is showing is owned by himself, or by his immediate family. In Ranch horse competition, however, there are a few more regulations that represent added hurdles for specialists from the regular horse show world, or are likely to discourage them: hoof polish and artificial tails are not allowed something the regular halter horse crowd is not willing to do without, and clipping of the inside of the ears is considered a fault, again the horses of any halter class would all have their ears trimmed inside.

Exhibitors may enter any of the ranch classes, but in order to win the over-all title, a horse must be a fairly good all-around horse. To win the versatility ranch horse competition title, a rider and his horse must compete in all five ranch horse classes, and in that way this type of competition is working at least to a degree to maintain the versatility of the Quarter Horse.


This is the ranch competition’s equivalent for the western pleasure class. Horses are basically being shown as in a western pleasure class, with one difference: The judge must ask for an extended trot and extended lope at least one direction of the ring. So far, horses have been shown at a pretty good clip in the extended trot and extended lope in ranch horse competition, while in most western pleasure classes, the extended trot is barely distinguishable from the jog, not much faster. Regular western pleasure horses would likely fall apart after being galloped the way it has been exhibited in the ranch riding class.

This class has been frequented by riders who do not like the way the western pleasure horse is trained and shown, but prefer a more naturally traveling horse. Besides the extended lope, there is nothing in the rules ensuring this class’s avoidance of the unfortunate path western pleasure has taken, so it is for riders and judges to keep this ranch horse competition class clean


This class is much like a regular trail class, but with a different emphasis. The rule book says, Whenever possible, realistic or natural obstacles are encouraged , and that the course is encouraged to be set outside, using the natural terrain, but obviously, that is optional and does not present a fixed difference.

The difference lies in the mandatory obstacles, though: Opening, riding through, and closing a gate is a mandatory obstacle also found in the regular trail class, but the other two mandatory obstacles are different and in line with the objectives of versatility ranch horse competition: one is dismounting while the horse stands quietly, removing of the bridle including the bit, re-bridling, then picking up all four feet, then remounting. The other one is the dragging of a log, either in a straight line or around a set pattern, with the rope dallied around the saddle horn. A drag is optional in regular trail classes (and where demanded, often leads to uncontrolled actions by the horse), but here it is mandatory.


This is somewhat different than regular cutting. Cows are numbered, and the contestant must cut his number out of the herd in ranch horse competition cutting. He then must drive that cow into a pen at the far end of the arena. For this, he has the help of two turnback riders. The time limit of two and one half minutes is the same as in regular cuttings.


This is basically the ranch horse equivalent to the reined cow horse event, or working cowhorse class, plus a roping. The contestant will first perform a reining pattern (special patterns apply that are different from regular reining patterns), then work a cow that is let into the arena, fencing her. Finally, the contestant is required to attempt to rope the cow.

What is being judged here is the horse’s ability to trail, rate, and stop the cow. A contestant will still receive a score if he misses when trying to catch the cow, making no catch. If no catch is made, he will be credited according to what he has done up to then, and a five point penalty for the roping part will be subtracted for not making a catch. There is a six minute time limit for the whole performance.


This is practically a halter class for ranch horse competition. Stallions, mares and geldings may be shown in the open division, only mares and geldings in the youth division. All sexes are shown together as one class. Other than that, the rule book does not mention anything that sets this class apart from a halter class, although typically, judges evaluate with a somewhat different emphasis for ranch horses.

Roping a dummy, for practice. Ranch work includes dragging a log.
Roping a dummy may be part of the ranch trail class and dragging a log from the saddle horn is a mandatory obstacle in the ranch horse trail class.  The photo at the top of the page shows the water hazard, a typical obstacle in ranch horse competition trail.

Article ©HorseShowCentral.com Submitted by Hardy Oelke and Photos ©Oelke, Kleinwegen. Reproduction of any portion of this copyrighted website without written permission of the publisher is prohibited and subject to legal action.

Other HSC pages of information for those who ride Ranch Horses:

Western Style Riding
Cow Horse
Western Horsemanship / Western Equitation
Western Pleasure
Western Riding
Western Trail Class
Cutting Horse
Reined Cow Horse / Working Cowhorse
Calf Roping
Team Roping
Team Penning
Barrel Racing
Pole Bending
Halter Horses
Showmanship at Halter

Other HSC pages that offer information for those who ride in Ranch Horse Competition: horses, breeding, stallions, shows, industry supplies, etc.:

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