Western Pleasure: It’s Time to Move Forward and Straighten Things Out

Originally appearing in March 2015 issue of Show Horse Today

By Tom Chown and Melinda Davison; Edited by Kate Packer-Brickley

Rarely has a discipline received more criticism throughout its history than Western Pleasure. From the peanut-pusher headsets of the 60’s and 70’s, to the excessive slowness of the 80’s and 90’s, to the recent criticisms of horses going sideways today,

Western Pleasure has evolved from a class to showcase working horses’ ability to ride comfortably and obediently on the rail to a specialized event that has been perfected over the recent years with extraordinary breeding and record-setting purse money. However, one has to ask why a class that seems basic and straightforward on the surface, has become a source of controversy over the years. Show Horse Today sat down with renowned trainer, breeder, and three time NSBA Hall of Fame inductee, Tom Chown, for his take on the current state of the western pleasure industry, how far it’s come, and the changes that may need to be made.

“We are in an era where we have bred the best moving horses in the history of western pleasure, but the current training methods have taken these horses and completely torn apart their natural movement and changed the way our horses are going,” he explains. “We’ve gone from movement that is flowing and natural with true collection and self- carriage, to something that is mechanical and labored.”

How did we get to this point? After years of breeding horses with self-carriage, natural lift, flowing strides, and level top lines, how did the western pleasure horse become something that receives so much criticism? Is it simply a misunderstanding by outsiders who don’t “get” the discipline, or is there more to it? We have all heard many people, both those who show and those who don’t, cringing and even turning their heads when they see some of the horses in the western pleasure class laboring as they go down the rail in the show ring. If these reactions are not enough to suggest a significant problem with the current training of the western pleasure horse, simply look at the decrease in western pleasure numbers at most shows in the last few years.

“I think it comes down to a lack of knowledge,” Chown says. “A lot of the younger generation is used to seeing horses that move so slow they aren’t even doing a true gait at the jog and the lope. Once they have seen this win, they think this is how it’s supposed to be done. Many people also have the mindset that if going slow is good, than figuring out a way to go slower is even better. This applies to the slowness of the jog, the speed of the lope, the lack of knowledge of the gaits, and the desire to create the illusion of the split in the hock.

However, that’s not a good way to look at it. An effective trainer will look at how little he or she can do to enhance the natural movement of the horse and to the self- carriage that they are born with, not break the horses into parts and attempt to fix one part independently of others, and make it nearly impossible for most horses to perform the gaits with perfection.

Appreciating True Collection, versus Mechanical  Movement

As with anything, it’s all about balance. If you go to the extremes to have the lowest headset, the slowest horse, and the deepest hock, you’re going to sacrifice the balance and integrity of the horse’s natural way of going. A horse that is loping in the pasture carries itself with “self carriage,” in a way that is comfortable and natural. He naturally lifts his ribcage and back, or his “core,” and uses his head and neck for balance. However, for those who have never seen this natural flowing movement, it can be hard to visualize. 

Chown explains that the topline of the horse should always be parallel with the rail. In order to maintain that parallel topline, and show the roundness in his back, the horse has to be able to lift his ribs and back, his “core”, and use his legs like a pendulum. If the horse does not lift his “core” and instead hollows out his back, then the result is a discombobulated gait with the horse struggling to compensate for the lack of lift and the front end moving separately from the back end. When a horse correctly lifts his “core,” and uses his body like it’s designed to be used, the result is a smoother, free-flowing stride that is pretty to watch and shows the beauty of the animal.

Another issue that is commonly seen in today’s western pleasure ring is excessive slowness.

“People tend to have the perception that the slower the horse goes, the better he must be, but that isn’t true at all,” he says. “A horse has to be able to have forward motion with the ‘lift’ that we talked about before. If you look at today’s western riding horses, they move through the pattern with impulsion because they wouldn’t be able to change leads without it. Their backs are lifted and they have free-flowing movement, which allows them to carry their heads and necks in a natural position, without excessive movement. This is what we refer to as self carriage and is how our western pleasure horses should look as well.”

As mentioned earlier, the horse must use his back, or “core,” for lift and for suspension, but the power comes from the drive in his hips and loin. Any correct movement, whether it is a lead change for western riding or a proper spin for horsemanship, requires power and forward motion from the hind end of the horse, which powers the lift and the step up front needed for speed. When a horse doesn’t properly engage his hind end, allowing him to lift his ribcage/back, or core, the result is a loss of power or impulsion with the front end moving separately from the hind end preventing him from building momentum to continue to move forward, speed up or slow down even more. When the horse’s front end is moving separately from the hind end, he struggles to maintain his balance which results in the “head bobbing,” or exaggerated up and down movement in the head and neck that we see going down the rail at many shows today.

“There are two reasons a horse bobs his head,” Chown states. “He’s either lame or he is laboring, or struggling to move forward and maintain his balance.  His head and neck are his balance!  I don’t care what event it is.  When his head and neck are moving up and down, he is not balanced at all and appears to be lame. So, is he in fact lame, or is this what we have all agreed to accept as a true lope?” Chown says. “Absolutely not. As owners and trainers, we all know to look for lameness when we see a horse move, even at the jog or trot, with his head bobbing up and down, or excessive movement. Why then do we reward this same presentation in the show ring at the lope? This is wrong.”

Chown goes on to question the jog. “The jog is a two-beat gait which alsorequires the same lift of the core that allows the horse to suspend himself to keep his diagonals true. The lift,” Chown explains, “is what provides us with the definition of self carriage.”

“The more a horse is allowed to lift through his back, or core, and bring his legs underneath him creating suspension, the slower he can actually jog and lope correctly and naturally,” he states.

It is now more common to hear the announcer ask for an extension of the gaits in a western pleasure class, and only one or two of the horses actually show a change in the speed of the gait which leaves a lot of spectators, as well as judges, scratching their heads.

“So many people I’ve worked with are afraid to push their horses forward even a little bit,” Chown says. “I travel all over the world and one of the first things I always ask my students to do is push their horses forward at both a jog and a lope, and they have their horses come back to them and slow down. Most people that I work with have never felt the lift in their horses back and core, and that comes with the forward motion of a well-balanced and correct lope.  Many worry that there is something wrong when they first feel their horse engage their back and core, creating the lift that is required for him to be able to suspend himself up enough to properly move his legs up underneath him creating a true jog or lope.”

When watching a pleasure class, one of the first things many people notice is how many riders have their horse’s hip pushed inward in order to emphasize a “deep hock.”

“People really started talking about the ‘hock’ when Zippo Pine Bar was around,” Chown remembers. “He was a horse with a natural wide split between his inside and outside hocks, and everyone wanted that.

However, if all people think about is the deep hock, then they tend to overlook the other components that we’ve mentioned. Cocking the hip that far to the inside to attain the illusion of the ‘deep hock’ is just a gimmick; it doesn’t actually mean the horse is coming that far underneath themselves.”

Here is how it’s done. When a horse’s head is pushed to the inside, he is forced to leave his drive leg, or outside hind leg, behind him, creating the illusion of the deep hock. If his drive leg is not underneath him, he has no way to lift himself up and push himself forward. Instead, in order to move forward, he must “hollow” or drop his back, which then disengages his back and core, forcing him to raise his head and neck in order to keep his balance and create enough momentum to his front leg and move it forward. In other words, without being able to use his drive leg, or “have a leg to stand on,” he has lost his ability to naturally carry himself forward fluidly. The result is the “lame” or labored, mechanical movement that we see today and accept as worthy of an award. In addition, many, shamefully aspiring to win, spend thousands of dollars in training to this illusion at the expense of our horses’ health, happiness, and well-being. Furthermore, this is the reason many of our horses may become lame so early in their careers.

The Creation of a Specialized Industry

So, if people are saying that the majority of horses out there are incorrect, then doesn’t the responsibility fall on the judges to not place those horses or use them at all?

“It’s tricky,”Tom says. “I’m sure there’s some pressure and lack of knowledge in certain cases, but I think many judges want to use the horses with a level top line who are moving correctly. However, sometimes they don’t get that opportunity. Judges can only judge what is in front of them and if every horse in the class is moving the same, then they have to pick the lesser of the evils, or those that are moving the least incorrectly! This is one reason why some of the placings for a multi-judged class can be all over the place.”

It then becomes a cycle. Trainers, owners, and even youth riders see the slowest horse is what’s placing and think it’s being done the right way and that is how a horse is supposed to move. They then start training to this. This is particularly evident at the local levels, up to some of the futurities and even at the Congress.

“The younger generation watches their peers come in and they see what’s winning, yet they either don’t know what a good horse is supposed to look and feel like, or they lack the knowledge of what self carriage is all about,” he explains. “This needs to change for the sake of our discipline, and the health and wellness of our equine partners.”

Due to the event’s specialization in the last 20 years, today’s western pleasure horses are bred to be the best movers that we’ve seen in the history of the breed. The best mares have been bred to the best stallions in order to compete for thousands of dollars in futurity money. Even at three days old, these horses show they have natural forward and fluid movement as they’re loping alongside their dams.

“If you watch a longe line class, you see that natural movement, and the judges judge them that way,” Chown says. “Then, you see them in the two year-old classes and they look completely different. For some reason, people think they need to reinvent the wheel just to get them around the arena, when all they really need to do is stay out of the horse’s way, figure out a way to train them to let them show their natural self carriage, and God-given, individual movement.”

Before the staggering futurity purses began to pave the road for specialization, western pleasure was seen as a “stepping stone” class for horses to get their feet wet in the show pen and begin their careers. They often went onto become youth and amateur horses and excel in horsemanship, trail, and western riding. If it wasn’t a stepping stone to more challenging events, it was used as another class for working horses in the 60’s and 70’s to show their versatility. In these days of specialization, western pleasure is the destination for many horses, not just a stop along the journey.

“Any time you put money up, things get tougher, and people work a little harder,” he explains. “This is one of the main factors that led to the specialization of the class, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Look at the horses at the World Shows. They are much more forward moving, natural, and correct per the AQHA handbook. We need to see that same kind of western pleasure horse across the board, from the top shows on down to the local level.”

On the surface, it seems like “fixing” western pleasure should be a simple: allow them to move forward correctly, naturally, with a level topline, and with self-carriage, and judge them accordingly.  However, as  with all things, change can be a long and slow process and as much the adjusting  of a mindset as an actual, physical shift. So many western pleasure trainers and riders have ridden and shown this way for so long that they need to be willing to re-learn effective training techniques which will allow our western pleasure partners to carry themselves the way they were meant to, with self-carriage, forward, and beautifully. Some judges will also need to be educated as to what correct western pleasure horse movement looks like. This is not something that anyone can expect to happen overnight, but if each judge/trainer/exhibitor takes ownership of their role and focuses on the solution, this is something that can be changed. Those trainers who currently show western pleasure horses with correct movement and forward motion should continue to do so, regardless of sometimes being placed below the broken, mechanical movers. Others can work toward correcting the incorrect movement and work to enhance what is natural for the horse and begin working with, and not against, his self- carriage. With the naturally gifted horses that the industry has bred, these horses will only improve upon what they were already born to do. Judges should hold incorrect, artificial movers accountable by not placing them in the top five. This doesn’t necessarily mean disqualification, but these horses should not be placed above a correct, beautiful moving horse that may be a more forward mover  that exhibits true self-carriage.

Don’t discount the seemingly small impact that each individual can have. According to Malcom Gladwell, bestselling author of books like Tipping Point- How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, 80% of work and change is often done by 20% of the people. By each person taking responsibility for change, it can spread to others and eventually an entire industry, in much the same way certain fashion trends appear on a few at the Congress and World Show and are then seen everywhere the following year. In an era where we have bred gifted, natural moving horses, we should be literally moving forward, and lifting our horses to a higher standard of excellence.

To read the full March issue of Show Horse Today, click here.  Also, be sure to visit Chown’s Facebook page for clinic updates and more information.

38 thoughts on “Western Pleasure: It’s Time to Move Forward and Straighten Things Out

  • 14 March 2015 at 10:44 am


  • 15 March 2015 at 10:01 am

    Spot on article. I don’t care if the trainer (Tom Chown) quoted in the piece is 25 yrs old or 75 yrs old~~whats true is true. I’ve been one of those spectators who shakes my head in disbelief at the unnatural and gimpy looking movement being shown in the western pleasure classes. I’ve had to walk away as it was painful to watch, and have felt sorry for the horses being forced to move in such a way. Not a one of them looked happy in their work to me. So, John Doe, you said in your reply, “this needs to stop, and I will step up and say something”, (as you knocked the source of the article), as very interesting to me, seeing as how you wouldn’t even sign your real name but use john doe instead. Don’t put down someones opinion just because they haven’t, as you put it~~ “built a pleasure horse in over 25 years” , and we should be listening to the “upcoming trainers who know the trend”. That whole statement is so flawed, I can’t believe you said it. For one thing, you shouldn’t have to “build” a pleasure horse, and “new trends” are what got the western pleasure industry in the sad state it’s currently in. At this point, I’m wondering if you are not part of the problem, as you strike me as being somewhat close minded. As I said~~whats true is true, no matter who says it. By the way~~ I’m not a trainer, judge, or exhibitor. I’m just a spectator, so I suppose in your book, my opinion doesn’t matter either

  • 21 April 2015 at 10:56 am

    you can preach about natural movement all day long, but if the judges won’t use them then what’s use of showing with it. The judges are the ones responsible for the fake pleasure horses of today, not the trainers or exhibitors. Get the judges on track if you want to see change.

  • 2 May 2015 at 5:37 pm

    I agree. Iam just learning to lope. I have a 6 yr old out of RL best of sudden. When i was looking for someone to help me I made sure it wasn’t a person who had my horse lopeing like he was lame or going down the rail sideways as you said that’s not natural. Come on trainers. Stop and get back to natural movement it. Looks so much more beautiful to watch

  • 3 May 2015 at 10:45 am

    I’ve been talking about this for 20 years. When I was a kid the same horse could show WP and EP at the same show, showing EP in saddleseat. The WP horse went “slower” but it was not to the extremes seen today, it was a slow *natural* gait.

    The core problem is that any judging standard (for horses, for dogs, for cats, and probably for other animals as well) that says something on the edge of normal is good, the judging community took that as “if X is good, more of X is better”. As a result:

    If slow is good, slower is better.
    If a low head is good, lower is better.
    If big muscles are good, bigger muscles are better.
    (sound familiar? keep reading)
    If a dished face is good, more dish is better.
    If high action is good, higher action is better.
    If extended motion is good, more extension is better.
    If feather is good, more feather is better.
    If a short snout is good, shorter is better.
    If a long coat is good, longer coat is better.
    If a big square head is good, bigger and squarer is better.
    If short legs and long back is good, shorter legs and longer back is better.

    What the judges reward the breeders and trainers will produce.

    We now have rampant abuses in many show categories to create the “more is better” look that wins the ribbons. We have frankenhorses, frankendogs, frankencats. We have dog breeds that can no longer have puppies with natural birth, they have to have c-section births because the puppy heads will not pass thru the birth canal. We have breeds that have massive breathing problems because of shortened snouts.

    The problem has to be attacked across the spectrum. People – and therefore judges – need to recognize that when we say a WP horse should go “slow” we are talking about going 2-3 on a scale of 1-10. Not about going 0-1 on that same scale. And that going slower and damaging the gait and therefore the horse should be seen as a MAJOR fault in the training and most importantly the horsemanship of the rider.

    Above all else, one should be judged on if they are doing the right thing for their animal.

    Horsemanship means caring for the animal’s needs first. You don’t inject their hocks so you can ride them in an abnormal way to win ribbons. That is not horsemanship. Injecting hocks for a 15 year old horse so it can stay usefully sound to extend its useful life is one thing, injecting a 2-year old’s hocks so it can win blue ribbons is something else entirely. You don’t breed horses with a known genetic defect just to win a few ribbons, and then send it to slaughter when it doesn’t prove successful in the show ring because it is entirely unsuitable for any other use besides “halter” because of that same genetic defect. You don’t nail on massive stack pad shoes to make the horse fling their legs up high in the air, while also torturing the animal with caustic blistering agents to create this artificial gait. You don’t breed animals that will suffer lifelong disabilities because they now “look” in a way that will win ribbons. This is not humane, it is inhumane. The judges should all be deeply ashamed they have fallen into this trap. Everyone who participates in these activities should be deeply ashamed that they have hardened their hearts to the consequences of their actions on the animals in their care.

    Wake up people. Demand change. And if the organization won’t demand change of the judging, then form a NEW organization with clear judging rules that rewards true horsemanship above abuse.

  • 4 May 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Finally someone I can agree with about the pleasure horse industry. It doesn’t bother me that he showed pleasure horses yesterday or 30 years ago. I showed pleasure horses 30 years ago and at least they didn’t look lame like they do now. It’s unnatural to make them slow down so much and expect them to move straight and be collected. Straightness and collection require impulsion…the pleasure horses today have neither. They walk in the back when they are supposed to be jogging, and trot behind when they are supposed to be loping. They use their head and neck to pull themselves along instead of for balance. Each horse will have his own true gait…some will do a nice dainty jog and won’t require a lot of adjusting, others will have to be taught to jog. Some will cover more ground than the daintily jogging horse and probably pass him in the pleasure class. He’s not going faster, just covering more ground. Some horses will carry their head and neck nice and low, others will carry their neck at or slightly above the wither. All pleasure horses should be judged on whether they are jogging a true two beat gait, or loping a true three beat gait, and then the judges should look at each of them and decide whether they are true to their own personal way of going. Those that are performing the true gaits true to their style and way of going should be the top pleasure horses. Show your horse and stay true to his way of going. If you aren’t winning, don’t change just so you can win money, titles, or blue ribbons. Things will change but it will take people who don’t care about those things. It will take people who want to change the industry step by step, horse by horse, judge by judge, and so on.

  • 4 May 2015 at 8:25 pm

    I grew up riding in western pleasure in the late 60s and early 70s. I have since made a living ponying horses on the racetrack. I recently watched a video of some of the top quarter horses in pleasure class, and I was appalled at what western pleasure has become. The racetrack has been knocked for running sore horses, but if anyone from the track witnessed a horse going like these pleasure horses were moving, they would immediately dismount and call for the horse ambulance. Whether these horses are sore or not, their gait mimics a lame horse just as Mr. Chown states. This is a fabulous article.

  • 6 May 2015 at 4:24 pm

    I am glad someone is speaking up on this. I have shown palomino/quarter horses as well as Hunter/jumper horses and have bred Thoroughbreds. I was appalled when I saw my first WP class. The best description I heard was “troping” – loping up front and trotting behind. I also saw horses with their heads tied up so they would drop them lower when they were released and other similar abuses. I rebroke a QH who had been undone by this; he went on to show successfully as a hunter on the USEF A circuit. We had to retire him when he developed chronic sacroiliac issues because of his prior “training”. I will admit that abuses occur in any discipline, but when horses are rewarded for moving in the most incorrect manner and when people are willing to breed horses with known genetic defects to produce an over muscled horse on tiny feet with a deformed face who will never take a sound step, something is wrong. The running joke was that the lamest horse would win at halter and WP. I had two palomino QHs who were capable of doing hunt seat and WP because they were that athletic and well-broke. I couldn’t bring myself to show them in WP. One of them showed on USEF circuit in hunters and jumpers, and was a good enough mover that he beat my warmblood and my TB on the flat. At least the judges there recognize a good athletic mover. I won’t go back to the QH ring because I won’t abuse my horses enough to win.

  • 14 October 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Great article Tom. I have trained and shown horses at AQHA shows at World level for over 40 years – still showing and training competitively. Trained several Superior Western Pleasure horses in the past. Watching the way the Western pleasure horses go today makes no sense. The obvious intimation and lack of confidence is evident. The great moving horses of present should be allowed to show that natural gift they were born with and not some man-made movement.

  • 14 October 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Woo Hoo… Great article. Mr Chown, you just said what most of us have been thinking. Bravo Sir! I have a question? Why can’t the Western Pleasure horses move like the Western Riding horses? They are so fluid and pretty to watch, unlike their cousins, the Western Pleasure Horse. I stopped watching WP years ago. It’s sickening to watch.

  • 14 October 2015 at 4:18 pm

    I agree with Jane Doe 100% , I have ridden them since 1968 and still do today and absolutely HATE the ways things are.( I have branched ou into other breeds/ divisions to give myself variety) This is NOT Western Pleasure anymore it’s a made up variation of it .
    John Doe your post was so outrageous I thought it was satire at first . I still win just like I did 20,30,40 years ago except I am hating every minute of it. Still hoping it will get better. Can’t we just go back to NORMAL??

  • 14 October 2015 at 4:29 pm

    This article is spot on! I don’t care what the author did or has done he hit the nail on the head here. When ranch horse classes begin to get more popular at shows than regular western pleasure classes that right there is making a statement people don’t want to ride those horses that way anymore. We do have a generation of bred to move nice horses we need to start letting them move, correctly.

  • 14 October 2015 at 4:59 pm

    So now what we amateurs need to know is…where can we get the training we need to understand the correct way to train our pleasure horses…how should it look and feel! Video options would be great. 🙂

  • 14 October 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Amen. I am wondering why everyone keeps mentioning that a horse is supposed to be slow. I was always taught that my pleasure horse should be collected. That allows them to stay moving forward and shortens the ground coverage instead of just slowing them down. My hope is that one day things will make a change to acknowledge and reward the horses with more natural movement. I truly believe if we could get back to that and move away from $15K saddles and $8-10k outfits more people would take a chance at trying out the world of horse showing. I have shown for years and am super nervous about even trying local breed shows because I do t have high dollar equipment, clothes, and trainer. It is very intimidating and with an industry and discipline that is already under the gun, I hope there will be ways to entice new members and enthusiasts to get their feet wet.

  • 15 October 2015 at 9:38 am

    Please don’t think that all farriers like horses who move this way so we can make more money. I see these peanut rollers getting their hocks injected, making trips to the vet and owners complaining that their horses are off. How can they tell? The horses aren’t moving naturally. I get so frustrated working on them. Too many young horses are coming up lame. Over the 40+ years I’ve been shoeing I’ve seen a lot of horses still working in their late 20’s. These are horses that are allowed to be natural in their movement. It is time that the judges are educated in the natural movement of horses and quit picking the ones that are trained into lameness.

  • 15 October 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Maybe people need to go to their breed RULE BOOK and read it again! What has changed there, nothing! People need to follow their breed rules and trainers and judges need to train and place them to the breed rules! It’s true that the western classes have dropped off in numbers and classes that require a bit more forward motion have grown. As a horsemen for close to 50 years I can’tstand to witness tthis new movement and excuses from its supporters. You hear that it’s the new breeding of the quarter horses today but ask around and any older horsemen will tell you that people have messed that up as well… a TRUE quarter horse was never seen much over 14.3 to 15.1 or 2. Now you breed them to be well over 16 hands and ask them to move as sslloooww as they can and call that a “western pleasure” horse! I don’t see it as a “pleasure” to ride at all, in fact it also has turned good equestrain rider’s into poor equestrian rider’s! Those TALL horse’s were used for English horse’s and the shorter were what we called our western horse… guess we should have just kept the tb horse’s separate from our quarter horses! Another thing that man created that went wrong!!!

  • 15 October 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Great article Tom Chown! I have been showing pleasure horses for 36 years. This will never change until the judges of AQHA make it change. The big name trainers are going to have to be seen out there winning with these new and correct ways. These horses are being abused with these training tactics and it is sickening. AQHA has been talking this for years and nothing ever changes.

  • 15 October 2015 at 2:47 pm

    All we need, right now AT CONGRESS, say in the Junior WP. One of the “big boys” needs to take their good one, stay on the inside track for the entire class, and lope on by um! Then by unanimous decision he takes it! There’s the answer!!

  • 15 October 2015 at 8:02 pm

    First, Tom Chown is a great horseman and has been his entire life. And as an owner and rider of Western Pleasure horses since 1945, I thank Tom for addressing this issue. I am appalled at the way these horses are trained to move and that the judges are not taking a stand against them. As an owner of AHSA and AQHA Champion Western Pleasure horses in all my years, I would not own one today.

  • 17 October 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Tom’s article is so well-written and doesn’t just criticize/ question current training methods, judges and how horses are moving on the rail. He has suggested solutions to address the direction our industry has taken. It has become so expensive to travel and enter circuits that I believe most exhibitors are taking one or two horses and entering each in specialized classes. Western Pleasure should be the horses introduction to showing with others. But, unless these horses are trained to move correctly and naturally – based on their conformation, where will the all-around QH come from. When I showed in the early ’80s, I had one horse. Conformation was correct and we showed in 19 – 23 classes each show. We were consistent in all classes but best in some. We could afford to enjoy these shows because we participated in most available classes for open and amateur. This horse was shown until he was in mid-twenties, won Youth Trail at Congress in 1981 and qualified for the World in 3 events in 1892. Where will the youth, amateurs and select riders find their next all-round horse when the poor, young WP horses cannot remain sound. JUDGES AND/OR TRAINERS WAKE UP. FORGET TRENDS AND SET AN EXAMPLE THAT MEMBERS SHOULD FOLLOW AND THAT ENSURES HORSES ARE TREATED AS THEY SHOULD BE — WITH RESPECT. I will never agree with comments like – judges can only judge the best of the worst. Not performing a true gait with engagement /impulsion should not be placed at all. If all horses are incorrect in a class, excuse them all. If a horse goes off course in trail, jumping , reining, etc, they do not get placed. This is the quickest way to change what we now call Western Pleasure……especially if the riders are the trainers that implemented this shameful way of going. Monkey see, monkey do! Respectfully submitted.

  • 17 October 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Noticed error. Not 1892. Should be 1982….lol.

  • 19 October 2015 at 5:32 pm

    There is so much confusion about what is correct. The problem should have been squashed back in the 80’s when it really got bad.

    Western Dressage is catching on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had Western Dressage tests for our youngsters rather than Western Pleasure futurities?

    Owners–get the stars out of your eyes. Learn to ride your own horses and to properly care for them.

    Western pleasure doesn’t define our breed or our Association–I hope that the AQHA will HEAR THIS LOUD AND CLEAR– let these guys go to the NSBA and raise the standard for our breed shows.

    45 year member of the AQHA
    Lover of the American Quarter Horse forever.

  • 20 October 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Mr. Chown,

    Thank you for a great article. You hit the nail on the head.

  • 22 October 2015 at 8:09 pm

    Keep up this fantastic grass roots effort to bring the American Quarter Horse back to its correct way of being shown. They deserve it!!!!

  • 6 November 2015 at 8:45 am

    I think barrel horses go too fast. They are at risk for injury when their feet go out from underneath them when they go to fast. I think barrel horses should be FORCED to go slower and safer because I THINK THAT even though it is not my discipline. Those poor dressage horses with their unnatural movement doing canter pirouetters and piaffes look so miserable and unhappy swishing their tails. I THINK dressage should go back to the way it was with forward moving and none of these mechanical artificial movements. I THINK THAT even though it is not my discipline. I THINK THAT jumping horses shouldn’t be FORCED to jump so high. Those poor horses don’t “look” happy to me and as you know, this is not natural for a horse to jump so high. I THINK that even though it is not my discipline, we should FORCE jumping horses to compete just like they did ages ago without the horrible bits in their mouths and smaller jumps. I THINK that the poor reining horses with their faster and faster spins look so pathetic coming into the arena with their heads down. THey are SO UNHAPPY looking and intimidated. THose mechanical and artificial movements are not natural. I THINK even though it is NOT MY DISCIPLINE that reining horses should move more naturally and not have to spin so fast. Shall I continue. If it’s not your discipline BUTT out. YOu think gimpy and mechanical and for a good moving western pleasure horse that can go slow we see high level degree of difficulty JUST LIKE A DRESSAGE horse or a JUMPER or a REINER. So WP haters…take your hate to your OWN discipline.

  • 30 December 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Bravo and well written. I fully agree with both the critique and solutions presented. I have asked a number of judges why the trend isn’t changing and they said, as Tom eluded, they are forced to choose the best of the worst, although I have seen horses with forward movement, not canted on the rail and a level headset show and not place very high. I believe that judges are afraid to be the first to reward the horse/rider combinations that are moving out more fluidly because they are passing the head bobbing, slow moving horses that are canted on the rail. I believe the trainers are afraid to be the first to show those horses with more forward movement because they will appear to be so different from the accepted norm, they will not place, jeopardizing their livelihood. And, the owners who show their own horses are coached in the norm… they certainly don’t want to stand out as being ‘different’ from the rest of the class.

    It is going to take a group of brave people to change the trend and it will change, I am confident of this. The question is when and how long will it take? I believe this trend too, shall pass just as all fads come and go. A dozen years ago I began seriously breeding halter horses that ride. I was told that I was crazy, that my horses would never place in the ring, would never sell and that no one wanted a versatile horse. Well, I am now beginning to see success in my program. The pendulum is swinging to the horse that can do more than just look pretty in the ring… to one that can enter all events, be ridden all day and succeed! Kudos to those, like Tom, who are and will continue to step forward to lead the way of change in the Western Pleasure discipline!

  • 12 January 2016 at 11:06 pm

    I agree with the article but is it really possible for the judge to NOT place anyone in the WP class?? AND wouldn’t that judge get backlash for it? How would one go about it?

  • 18 May 2016 at 5:08 am

    Very well said, it is time to show that a good western pleasure horse can be ridden to the other end of the farm/ranch as easily as going around the ring at the show grounds.A natural horse is a good horse that will last!!

  • 30 November 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Chow for stepping up to the plate and telling it like it is. Maybe all of the responders will start a snowball of change that is so desperately needed. I love the saying, BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD. Lets get these horses back to moving in a natural and healthy way.

  • 8 May 2017 at 6:10 pm

    Way to go Tom and author of this article! It’s about time this subject was brought up in an educational way. And yes, we all need to be reeducated on what is natural movement.

  • 8 May 2017 at 10:31 pm

    When I watch the pleasure classes at the World show or the Congress the best lopes you will ever see are when the trainers ride out to claim the championship. They just let the horse lope out naturally. Just show them the same way. Quit riding the brakes and get that spur out of their side!

  • 13 May 2017 at 12:36 am

    I got to say that I’m tickled to death to see the change back to what it was.
    I showed Western Pleasure and most all other classes too except English, back in the mid 60’s to the late 70’s. When I first saw the changes in the way the horses were moving in the ring, I threw a major fit!!! I had not been around the world of showing for years. I saw the change via the internet.. I was NOT HAPPY! Actually kinda made me sick seeing the horses noses almost dragging in the dirt as they jogged along.

  • 21 August 2017 at 10:39 am

    When the judges stop rewarding incorrect movement and training then we won’t see it in the pen anymore. It’s as simple as that. The rewards control the style.

  • 23 August 2017 at 6:51 pm

    I had the pleasure of attending a Tom Chown Clinic here in Australia… my trainer has had the opportunity to have Tom give him advise . A gelding by my stallion ONE KOOL KISSER has made history within our PHAA… the ONLY horse ever to take out the National Futurity Western Pleasure as a 2yr , 3yr & this year 4/5 yr… this has NEVER before been done !.. A beautiful naturally moving horse started with Toms advise… it sure has paid off !

  • 24 October 2018 at 12:16 pm

    42 years later, I still see the trend favoring the trainer that achieves what is most difficult to achieve. If it’s really hard to get a horse to move “this” way, and fewer people can get their horses to move “this” way, then that’s what “everybody” wants and it’s rewarded because it’s extremely difficult. No matter how pretty or ugly or comfortable or uncomfortable it appears, it just has to be difficult to achieve. I personally appreciate seeing both the horse and rider looking controlled, collected and comfortable. I vote “PLEASURE” since that’s what it’s called. When my PLEASURE horse is collected and comfortable, and I’m comfortable, and I can control every step she takes I’m happy no matter where I place. As a spectator I want it to look PLEASANT.

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  • 8 November 2021 at 4:28 pm

    I’ve stopped showing Quarter Horses and moved on to other breeds largely because of what WP has become, from the ground level all the way up. Nice horses in tack dripping silver and jewel-spangled shirts being rewarded for moving as slow and lame-looking as possible. What happened to the all-around horses you could show halter in the morning and every riding class after lunch? I have zero interest in anything to do with the stock breeds due to such extreme specialization and the complete avoidance by the breed organizations to do anything about the breeding of extremes and awarding of the most unnatural-looking and moving animals in each class.

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