Western Riding

Your Guide to Loping & Lead Changes

Are you wondering what the buzz around western riding is all about? If you have heard of this class but aren't quite sure where to start, the guide below may be a great place to answer a few of your questions.

It is a class in which a lot of technical demands are placed on horse and rider. Below we will be discussing a review of the class itself, the judging criteria in a typical class, and a few helpful tips to get you started.

A Video Example of a Western Riding Pattern

Class Breakdown

This class is a pattern class that consists largely of loping and lead changing. The American Quarter Horse Association has a total of eight riding patterns from which a judge will select at an AQHA approved show.

When you arrive to perform your pattern, you may also have a running order to follow. While your competitors are working through the pattern you will likely be waiting outside the arena.

In this class you will likely be required to work at a jog, lope, lead change, stop, and back. Loping is one of the largest portions of this class with a series of lead changes through and around pre-set cones.

When you change leads in your pattern, you will likely not be faulted for a simple lead change if you are showing at a novice level (breaking down to a jog before picking up the opposite lead). However, if you are able to complete a series of flying lead changes, you do have a benefit over other competitors who are unable.

The lead changes and quality of movement at the lope make this class a true challenge for many competitors. Make sure you review the association rulebook on their policies regarding lead changes. Many open shows that offer western riding on the show bill will allow for simple lead changes. If you are unsure it is a good idea to check with the show office.

There will also likely be a log or pole for you to jog and lope over at some point in the pattern. Once you have completed the pattern you will be excused from the arena.

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Judging Criteria

In a western riding class your horse is judged on movement quality at the different gaits involved in the pattern, lead changing during the lope, how responsive your horse is to your cues, and overall behavior or manners in the class.

The judges look for smoothness and balance throughout the entire pattern. Horse and rider teams also get credit added to their score for lead changes that are consistent and precise. To properly change a lead, your horse must switch the leads on both the front and back legs.

Again you likely won't be penalized for a simple lead change if you are showing at a novice level, but if all your competitors are able to complete flying lead changes you may not score as high overall.

You are also expected to ride your pattern on a reasonably loose rein to allow for a relaxed head carriage.

Western riding classes are scored from 0-100 with 70 indicating an average performance. Points will again be added or subtracted from a score based on certain penalties and credits.

Penalties include ticking or touching the log/pole, difficulty with lead changes, breaking of gait or not working at a required gait, simple lead changes (can cause a penalty depending on the judge or association rules for the class), or disobedience including kicking, bucking, or rearing.

A horse and rider can be disqualified for using prohibited equipment, traveling off pattern, knocking over markers, refusals, or willful abuse of your horse.

Class Tips

  • Practice jogging over a log or pole at home; it is an easy place in the pattern to lose those valuable points
  • In the pattern make sure you allow yourself plenty of space from the markers
  • Practice your lead change timing between markers to avoid penalties for early or late changes

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