If you have ever watched a western pleasure class and wondered who considers it a “pleasure,” take heart. On December 19, top riders from the National Snaffle Bit Association, as well as the top 10 open western pleasure riders from the past three AQHA World Championship Shows, and a team of judges who specialize in western pleasure were invited to attend a forum hosted by AQHA and NSBA.
The purpose of the meeting was to develop a standardized system by which all western pleasure exhibitors are judged. Over the years, as the event has evolved, important elements such as head carriage, cadence, gaits, transitions and overall expression have sometimes reflected inconsistent and seemingly artificial changes.
“I was very pleased with the willingness shown by these key professionals in western pleasure to be open in their discussion and truly interested in bettering the discipline,” said Pete Kyle, chair of AQHA’s judges committee, who helped facilitate the discussion.
Some of the changes discussed included placing more emphasis on judging the walk and using a video to educate exhibitors on improving the gait; educating exhibitors on lengthened stride versus shorter, manmade strides; addressing the importance of conformation as it applies to balance and motion. The forum also proposed the production of a video to demonstrate the nuances of western pleasure.
“Western pleasure is the foundation class for nearly every other event,” said Alex Ross, AQHA executive director of judges. “There are some who feel the written rule is the benchmark. While that might be the intent, until we are all able to agree on what our standards are and be consistent, there will be confusion. I think we made a lot of progress during this meeting to get people to understand how western pleasure horses are to be exhibited.”