Ranch Riding in the Northwest

Ranch Riding: The fastest growing discipline in the Northwest?

What comes to mind when you think of a rancher, do you think about your favorite western movie or can you picture a real working cattle ranch? A good horse can make a huge difference to your work day, everyday. These horses are athletes and put in long hours moving cattle across the countryside. According to Eddie Landry, “ranch horse discipline started from a few cowboys in AQHA because they saw a need to show off the working horses. The ranch horse or versatile horse discipline is to display a horse that moves out and execute the maneuvers you would find a cowboy needing while working on the ranch. The horses and riders that work on ranches do not look like the fancy horses we see in the western world show pen but these horses display a have a high level of efficiency in their maneuvers due to their jobs. These horses move through their gaits (Walk, trot, lope) and can find the gears in between each gait, they can stop and turn on a dime to catch that cow before it blows through the gate, side pass, back, and turn around all for the purpose fo ranch work.”

What makes a ranch horse? 

A ranch horse is a horse who moves naturally and is responsive to its riders requests subtle requests to speed up, slow down and maneuver. The Ranch Horse classes were designed to showcase the ranch horse and the maneuvers one would do if working the ranch. Checking fences, looking for cattle, doctoring cattle, working a gate, change directions on a dime, go fast, go slow, move out or collect. Also to have a horse that is comfortable to ride all day, have a willing attitude. These horses are able to thinking clearly when presented with new sites, sounds or places. A good ranch horse enjoys its job and is actively connecting with its rider. According to the AQHA, "In ranch riding, the horse is judged on its ability to work at a forward, working speed while performing required and optional maneuvers. The ranch riding horse should simulate a horse riding outside the confines of an arena and reflect the versatility, attitude and movement of a working horse."

Draft horse in Ranch Riding Class

Photo credit: Cara Cain

What makes a good ranch rider?   

As with any discipline of riding, a good rider is open to new information and constantly learning. They make an effort to try new things and abandon methods that are not in the best interest of their horse. The focus of ranch riding is good horsemanship, knowing your horse and trusting their instincts. It also takes commitment to the sport to patiently train your horse and slowly expose them to new experiences. Anyone can benefit from the skills required to show in ranch classes. Take time with your horse to be able to take them out of an arena and enjoy trails or actually experiencing working on a real ranch moving cattle. Finding a trainer that helps you find balance in the saddle as well as how to communicate clearly and quietly with your horse will be a great start. 

 What makes a good ranch rider?

Photo credit: Alyssa Dees

Judging a ranch horse Class

Tracey Westbury shares “When judging the class, there is no mention of specific head sets other than the poll not being below the withers. These things are appealing to owners because they can show the uniqueness of their horse. Judges may show a preference for one style over another, but this is what makes the discipline great. Your horse could win on any given day. Many Western disciplines are hard to get into and win classes in unless you have a professional trainer, or keep your horse in full time training. In ranch, a decent hand can train their own horse and keep them tuned up. And for those who feel a bit less confident in their skills, there are always trainers willing to help.” Eddie Landry in Spokane, WA added, “An AQHA judge once explained it to me that the brokest horse will always win because that horse will get more done. He also stated that any good ranch horse should be able to collect cows in the morning, show off in the show pen, then check fence in the evening after the show without changing their tack, what you're wearing, or how you ride. Many people say they want to improve on their ranch riding and only want to show in ranch riding, but in my opinion if you just show in one class and only prepare for that then you're making a show horse. When you can show and be at the top in ALL of the ranch classes (rail, Trail, Riding, Ranchmanship, Reining, and confirmation), then you're building a Ranch horse.”

judging a ranch horse class

Photo credit: Eddie Landry

Is Ranch Riding for me? 

If you choose to show as a personal challenge and not for the glitz and glam then ranch riding could be a great fit for you. Many horses also naturally can not perform well in slower western classes but thrive in ranch riding at a more forward gate. Eddie Landry shares, “many riders train, trail ride, rope, work and show all in the same tack. With no bedazzle, all the focus is on the horse’s performance and your connection. A lot of ranch riding related associations are more accessible and affordable and many don’t require showing on registered horses. You can show and win on a grade horse and really don’t have to have a $50k horse to do well. For example the American Stock Horse Association focuses on the versatility of the horse, classes are only $20 and the quality of competition is great.” Tracey feels that “ranch riders are also very welcoming, and most ranch specific clubs are family and newcomer friendly.” If you consider yourself a trail rider, all the challenges and skills needed for Ranch classes will make your trail horse more well rounded and versatile. Young riders can work on their horsemanship and show without having to buy all new tack or show clothes. Even dressage riders and other english disciples can benefit from the well rounded training methods involved in ranch riding. They do not have to slow their horses down but instead work on variability and maneuverability within the gaits.    

Why do you think Ranch Riding one of the fastest growing disciplines? 

“It's easy to get started in ranch horse events. Nearly every breed is offering classes, and they all offer articles on how to get started and what judges are looking for. Visiting groups like this and asking questions, looking for trainer referrals or videos, will give you a good idea of what you need to practice on and where to find shows.” -Tracey Westbury

“I show stock horse and Cowhorse for the most part and have dabbled in ranch riding so here’s my 2 cents. The appeal of the ranch and cow classes is it gives me an opportunity to demonstrate my horse’s versatility. For ranch the horse must have a wide rate at all the gaits and a light handle. The varying patterns and obstacles is an opportunity to highlight the ranch horses mental strength to pickup on quick queues and varied surroundings. I like the sport because there’s no glitz and glam. I train, trail ride, rope, work and show all in the same saddle. With no bedazzle, all the focus is on the horse’s performance”- Kendra Pardy

“On the East coast I was seeing weekend shows having 30 or more riders in every ranch class, and I am hoping to see that here in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. These classes have grown so much over the years because you don’t need a high dollar horse, a silver covered saddle, blinged out show outfit, or even a specialized coach. To be competitive in the ranch classes a rider should find a coach that knows the rules of the classes and take lessons as often as you can so that you can improve your horsemanship. To ride in the classes you should dress the part, Al Dunning once told me that if your going to go play cowboy then look the part… long sleeve button up shirt, western hat, jeans, belt, and boots, through your outfit you can be yourself and show off your personality. The tack should be working tack that properly fits your horse and you.” -Eddie Landry


2023 Show Schedule

Spokane Ranch horse connection



Thank you Spokane Ranch horse connection for sharing photos of your beautiful horses for this blog!

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Photo credit: Lauren Moresi, Lisa Huston, Jessica Edmondson, Cara Crain, Eddie Landry, Talea Metivier, Brittney Davis, Erin Wieldraayer

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