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The Western Pleasure Show Class

By Maryanne Goff

Western pleasure show classes are designed to celebrate the pleasure of riding a quiet horse across country. In contrast, other classes exhibit the working horse, one that can herd a cow or get its rider from point A to point B through any obstacle and over any terrain.

In many shows, this class is open to all types of horses. Many light breeds are suitable. However, the American Quarter Horse is probably preferred, followed by the Paint and the Appaloosa; these last breeds are now 'closed' (no cross-breeding allowed for registration) but show the influence of quarter horse blood. Some competitions are open only to horses of certain breeds, but even those will have pleasure classes.

These classes are group competitions, where many horses are in the ring. They must walk, jog, and lope on a loose rein, going in both directions. A calm and willing manner is paramount, with the horse obeying every slight signal of the rider. Competitors will be asked to stand and back and may have to do an extended trot or a gallop. The fashion today has gotten away from exaggerated slowness at the jog and lope and an unnaturally low head carriage.

Judges inevitably have preferences in performance and type of horse that will be placed high. They are trained to be impartial, but all competitors must accept the fact that neither horses nor humans are machines and that no one can win all the time. The showing world can be fun, but it is often a source of negativity and disappointment. The quality of the atmosphere rests with the competitors, who set the tone.

For many, showing is fun. The whole family can be involved, even non-riders. Many local shows have fun classes, like 'Best Costume' or bareback riding. Families often travel to distant shows in RVs and make a holiday of competing.

However, it is serious business for many. Both amateurs and professionals need high awards to market their horses, both individuals and breeding animals. Trainers and coaches need their horses and students to win in order to establish their credibility. The price of a winning horse may be fabulous. Ribbons and end-of-year rewards can mean much in terms of income or profit.

There are other industries involved. Colorful clothing is a must for western classes. Horses wear expensive tack, often decorated with silver or color inlays, and riders need at least fancy boots and hats. Feed companies advertise that their products will give horses the energy as well as the shine of the coat and the bright eyes that will attract attention. All sorts of other supplies, from vitamins to shampoos, promise to help make a superior equine athlete.

The western pleasure show class is one of the popular contests in the sport, as well as one of the most demanding. It gives beginning riders and green horses a place to start and top competitors a showcase for practiced perfection.

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