Guides to Showing and Competing

If you want to try your hand at competition, there are many different options available to you.  Competing in the western world in the UK is very friendly, with everyone willing to help you if you are new to the sport!

What Shows Can I Enter?

  • Pure bred horses and those with appendix papers can compete in AQHA Shows, Western Equestrian Society shows and any open competitions.
  • Part bred horses (Section II & III) can only compete in AQHA.UK shows where special all breed or part bred classes are included. Western Equestrian Society shows and open competition.

Ask to see the horse’s AQHA and AQHA.UK papers and check that transfer records are up to date and show the correct current owner. If there is any doubt call the Administrator for verification.

Below are the definitions of each AQHA discipline commonly seen at UK shows, according to the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations 2016, 64th Edition, with a brief description of their origins and how each class is carried out.

Novice

Program to introduce exhibitors to AQHA-approved shows and allow them to compete with others with similar skills in Youth and Amateur divisions. To be eligible, an individual cannot have earned 25 AQHA novice amateur, amateur, novice youth, youth or open points, or any combination thereof, in a skill set; or, won a world or reserve world in an AQHA approved event, national or reserve national championship title in any equine breed organization; or won a total of $5,000 in cash and prizes with any equine breed organization, or been an accredited horse show judge. Novice points are not recorded on the horse’s performance record. If an individual is considered a novice upon application, he/she will be considered a novice for that calendar year.

Amateur

An exhibitor who has not shown, judged, trained or assisted in training a horse (whether or not a registered American Quarter Horse) for remuneration, monetary or otherwise, either directly or indirectly, nor received remuneration for instructing another person in riding, driving, training or showing a horse for five calendar years previous to application for Amateur membership.
Amateurs must exhibit a horse in their ownership or in the ownership of someone directly related to them, i.e., spouse, child, step-child, parent, step-parent, sibling, half-sibling, step-sibling, spouse’s parent, spouse’s step-parent, sibling’s spouse, half-sibling’s spouse, sibling’s child, sibling’s step-child, half-sibling’s child, half-sibling’s step-child, step-sibling’s child, step-sibling’s step-child, parent’s sibling, parent’s half-sibling, parent’s step-sibling, parent’s siblings child, parent’s sibling’s step-child, parent’s half-sibling’s child, parent’s half-sibling’s stepchild, parent’s step-sibling child, parent’s step-sibling’s step-child, grandparents, legal ward or legal guardian.

Separate legal entities, such as family corporations, trusts, or partnerships, are also authorized owners of the amateur exhibitor’s horse so long as all legal and equitable owners and beneficiaries of the legal entity are individuals specifically authorized by this rule. The relationship of the Amateur to the owner of the participating horse must be evidenced by submitting legal documentation (i.e., copies of marriage and/or birth certificates) to AQHA’s Show Department. Every person competing in an Amateur class at any AQHA approved show must hold an Amateur membership and be 19 years of age or older on or before January 1 of the current year.

Youth

The American Quarter Horse Youth Association (AQHYA) is open to American Quarter Horses enthusiasts 10 years of age or younger as of January 1st. The AQHYA shows normally as scheduled in conjunction with AQHA approved shows. Virtually all types of classes are offered to youth exhibitors.

Amateur Permit

Amateur card holders may ride horses owned by someone other than immediate family members in any open division performance class for which they have been granted exemption by AQHA with no penalty, provided the amateur Member pays all entry fees and expenses in connection with showing. For more information see the AQHA Handbook Rules and Regulations, rule 403 (g).

Open

Anyone possessing a current AQHA or AQHYA membership may show their American Quarter Horse in open competition. Although usually for the most experienced competitors, many amateur and youth are serious enough competitors in open classes. Open classes can be divided according to the age of the horse: Junior Horses (5 years or under) and Senior Horses (6 year of age or older). Amateur exhibitors must meet the ownership requirements even if they are competing in an open class. A youth can show another person’s horse in the open division; however, this could jeopardise their amateur status.

Green

These are Open classes and are designed as an entry level class for horses.  Horses, regardless of their age, may be ridden with one hand and a standard western bit as approved by AQHA equipment rules or with two hands and a snaffle bit or bosal as described under AQHA equipment rules for each class.

Eligibility: Horses in their first year of showing in AQHA approved shows in the respective classes.  Horses that have shown during previous years in AQHA-approved green, open, amateur or youth, but have not won more than 10 points or won more than $1,000 in these classes as of January 1 of the current show year. Points from all divisions will count and are cumulative in determining eligibility. Novice points will not count.  Green points are not counted towards All-Arounds

Select (50 years & over)

AQHA approved shows may offer up to three amateur performance classes as all-age and 50 and over. These classes are designed to provide competition to the more mature amateur exhibitors.

Halter

As the biggest breed registry in the world it is important to maintain the identity and standard of the breed and that’s what this class is for.

“A halter class is defined as a class where the horse is judged based upon its conformation. The purpose of the class is to preserve American Quarter Horse type by selecting well-mannered individuals in the order of their resemblance to the breed ideal and that are the most positive combination of balance, structural correctness, and movement with appropriate breed and sex characteristics and adequate muscling.” “The ideal American Quarter Horse shown at halter is a horse that is generally considered to be solid in colour and possesses the following characteristics: the horse should possess eye appeal that is the result of a harmonious blending of an attractive head; refined throat latch; well-proportioned, trim neck; long, sloping shoulder; deep heart girth; short back; strong loin and coupling; long hip and croup; and well-defined and muscular stifle, gaskin, forearm and chest. All stallions 2 years old and over shall have two visible testicles. These characteristics should be coupled with straight and structurally correct legs and feet that are free of blemishes. The horse should be a balanced athlete that is muscled uniformly throughout.”

This is an in-hand class where the horses are exhibited in just a halter with no saddle, and excellent turnout is essential. Horses of each sex are presented together in age groups, lining up nose to tail following an individual trot up one after the other. Ideally each horse should stand square and allow the judge to inspect it from every angle, including a teeth check for parrot mouth in mares and stallions. The exhibitor should not obstruct the judge’s view and if necessary adjust the horse to show it in the best position and allowing the judge to make a full assessment.

Showmanship at Halter

The aim of this class is to show the manners and skill required to safely handle a horse whilst in-hand. It demonstrates the normal everyday manoeuvres used to move a horse from the ground but in a competitive situation, thus also requiring the exhibitor to demonstrate their ‘showmanship’ abilities. Emphasis is placed on safety which is particularly seen in the ‘set-up’ part of each pattern where the exhibitor is required to ‘quarter’ as the steward moves around the horse to ensure his safety.

“Available only in the amateur and youth divisions, showmanship is designed to evaluate the exhibitor’s ability to execute, in concert with a well-groomed and conditioned horse, a set of manoeuvres prescribed by the judge with precision and smoothness while exhibiting poise and confidence, and maintaining a balanced, functional and fundamentally correct body position.”

This is also is an in-hand class where the horses are exhibited in just a halter and turn-out is paramount. Competitors individually complete a pattern set by the judge, usually with cones or markers to give spatial guidance and allowing accuracy to be demonstrated. Patterns may include all gaits up to an extended trot, including a back-up upon any line, straight or curved and push turns on the haunches in any multiple or part thereof, there must also be a ‘set-up for inspection’ at some point in all patterns. The performances of both horse and exhibitor are equally important. Scoring is from 50-100 with 70 denoting an average performance, with credit or faults given for each manoeuvre within the pattern.

Western Pleasure

The origin of this class is to identify horses that are a pleasure to ride, when in the past they were the main form of transport and needed to travel from place to place often over long periods of time and distance. The slow, smooth paces should demonstrate the horses’ ability to move in a way that is comfortable and energy efficient for both horse and rider. In past years this way of going has become extremely exaggerated to the detriment of the class but it is making a recovery due to changes in judging and is seeing a return of naturally free moving horses to the event.

“A good western pleasure horse has a free-flowing stride of reasonable length in keeping with his conformation. He should cover a reasonable amount of ground with little effort. Ideally, he should have a balanced, flowing motion, while exhibiting correct gaits that are of the proper cadence. The quality of the movement and the consistency of the gaits is a major consideration. He should carry his head and neck in a relaxed, natural position, with his poll level with or slightly above the level of the withers. He should not carry his head behind the vertical, giving the appearance of intimidation, or be excessively nosed out, giving a resistant appearance. His head should be level, with his nose slightly in front of the vertical, having a bright expression with his ears alert. He should be shown on a reasonably loose rein. He should be responsive, yet smooth, in transitions when called for. When asked to extend, he should move out with the same flowing motion. Maximum credit should be given to the flowing, balanced and willing horse that gives the appearance of being fit and a pleasure to ride. This class will be judged on the performance, condition and conformation of the horse.”

All entries are exhibited together in the ring at the same time, horses are shown on the rail in both directions. All gaits are called for in a random order by the judge, including extensions and a back-up (reverse meaning a change of direction) and each horse should take the relevant pace when called for without excessive delay. It is permissible to pass another competitor if the need arises but should return to the rail when possible.

Ranch Riding

This is one of the newest classes to be introduced to the AQHA in response to the forming of many ‘types’ of Quarter Horse within the showing industry due to specialising in specific events. The aim is to encourage true working horses into the showring and demonstrate the traditional ‘type’ of ranch horse which form a majority of the breed registry. The class requires the manoeuvrability, movement and self-carriage needed in a ranch situation.

“The purpose of the Ranch Riding horse should reflect the versatility, attitude, and movement of a working horse. The horse’s performance should simulate a horse riding outside the confines of an arena and that of a working ranch horse. This class should show the horse’s ability to work at a forward, working speed while under control by the rider. Light contact should be rewarded and horse shall not be shown on a full drape of reins. The overall manners and responsiveness of the horse while performing the manoeuvre requirements and the horse’s quality of movement are the primary considerations.”

Each competitor individually completes a pattern either from those set in the Handbook or randomly set by the judge. The pattern must show all gaits in both directions, along with an extension, stops and a back-up and may also contain other manoeuvres such as trail obstacles or turns. Paces should be much more forward and head carriage slightly higher than in a majority of other western disciplines but still soft and willing. There are various restrictions upon attire and turnout in order to portray a good working outfit and equipment unlike in other classes. This is a scored event where each exhibitor begins with a total of 70 and then each manoeuvre within the pattern receives 2 marks, a manoeuvre score and a penalty score which are subtracted or added to give a final total. The manoeuvre score ranges from -1½ to +1½ and is based upon the overall performance of the individual manoeuvre. Penalties are deducted from this score for specific errors incurred such as too slow paces, drape in reins or course deviations.

Western Horsemanship

The aim of this class is to show the skill and ‘horsemanship’ of a rider to complete a precise pattern with correct position in partnership with their horse. A horsemanship class is comparable to a dressage test within English riding competition, where accuracy and correctness from both horse and rider are extremely important.

“Available only in the amateur and youth divisions, western horsemanship is designed to evaluate the rider’s ability to execute, in concert with their horse, a set of manoeuvres prescribed by the judge with precision and smoothness while exhibiting poise and confidence and maintaining a balanced, functional and fundamentally correct body position. The ideal horsemanship pattern is extremely precise with the rider and horse working in complete unison, executing each manoeuvre with subtle aids and cues. The horse’s head and neck should be carried in a relaxed, natural position, with the poll level with or slightly above the withers. The head should not be carried behind the vertical, giving the appearance of intimidation, or be excessively nosed out, giving a resistant appearance.”

Competitors individually complete a pattern set by the judge, usually with cones or markers to give spatial guidance and allowing accuracy to be demonstrated, followed by all exhibitors returning to work together on the rail similar to a pleasure class. Patterns must include all regular gaits in at least one direction on any line curved or straight and may also ask for manoeuvres such as extensions, turns and dropping stirrups. The performances of both horse and exhibitor are equally important. Scoring is from 50-100 with 70 denoting an average performance, with credit or faults given for each manoeuvre within the pattern.

Trail

This class is designed to simulate a horse travelling out on the trail and having to negotiate the natural terrain and the obstacles that may occur whilst out in the wilderness. The horse should be responsive to wherever the rider needs to put him but also utilise his own spatial awareness to keep the rider safe when necessary.

“This class will be judged on the performance of the horse over obstacles, with emphasis on manners, response to the rider and quality of movement. Credit will be given to horses negotiating the obstacles with style and some degree of speed, providing correctness is not sacrificed. Horses should receive credit for showing attentiveness to the obstacles and the capability of picking their own way through the course when obstacles warrant it, and willingly responding to the rider’s cues on more difficult obstacles. Horses shall be penalized for any unnecessary delay while approaching or negotiating the obstacles. Horses with artificial appearance over obstacles should be penalized. Horses must not be required to work on the rail. The course must be designed, however, to require each horse to show the three gaits (walk, jog, lope) somewhere between obstacles as a part of its work, and quality of movement and cadence should be considered as part of the manoeuvre score. While on the line of travel between obstacles, the horse shall be balanced, carrying his head and neck in a relaxed, natural position, with the poll level with or slightly above the withers. The head should not be carried behind the vertical, giving the appearance of intimidation, or be excessively nosed out, giving a resistant appearance.”

Entries show individually over a course made up mainly of poles but also including other obstacles such as a gate and bridge. This is a scored event where each exhibitor begins with a total of 70 and then each obstacle within the course receives 2 marks, a manoeuvre score and a penalty score which are subtracted or added to give a final total. The manoeuvre score ranges from -1½ to +1½ and is based upon the overall performance of the individual obstacle. Penalties are deducted from this score for specific errors incurred such as hitting poles, breaks of gait or course deviations.

Reining

The manoeuvres contained within a reining pattern simulate those required from a horse whilst working a cow. They demonstrate the athleticism and responsiveness combined with speed and attentiveness needed to work with unpredictable cattle but in a safer scenario for competition.

“Reining is a judged event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch type horse in the confines of a show arena. In reining competition, contestants are required to run one of several approved patterns. Each pattern includes small slow circles, large fast circles, flying lead changes, rollbacks over the hocks, a series of 360 degree spins done in place, and the exciting sliding stops that are the hallmark of the reining horse. To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but also to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely. Any movement on his own must be considered a lack of control. Any one of the 15 AQHA-approved reining patterns may be used and is to be selected by the judge of the class and used by all contestants in the class. Each contestant will perform the required pattern individually and separately. All horses will be judged immediately upon entering the arena. Any fault incurred prior to the commencement of a pattern will be scored accordingly. All deviations from the exact written pattern must be considered a lack of or temporary loss of control, and therefore faulted according to severity of deviation. Credit will be given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority in performing the various manoeuvres while using controlled speed.”

Each competitor performs the same set pattern individually. This is a scored event where each exhibitor begins with a total of 70 and then each manoeuvre within the pattern receives 2 marks, a manoeuvre score and a penalty score which are subtracted or added to give a final total. The manoeuvre score ranges from -1½ to +1½ and is based upon the overall performance of the individual manoeuvre. Penalties are deducted from this score for specific errors incurred such as overspins, breaks of gait or delayed manoeuvres.

For more information

For information on some classes you’ll find in AQHA Shows click on the link below.  This is not by any means a full and comprehensive list, just a list of the most popular classes – a full list and description of all classes that AQHA offer can be checked on the AQHA (American) website

This way to AQHA USA