Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Western Pleasure and the Model Horse, Part One

In addition to being an outstanding tackmaker, Erin Corbett is also a knowledgeable performance shower and judge.  The Western events are her specialty, and I am extremely pleased that she is willing to share some of that knowledge with the rest of us. Thanks again, Erin!

Western Pleasure and the Model Horse

by Erin Corbett

Thanks to Jennifer for asking me to write this. I hope it can be helpful! I do want to mention a couple of things up front though. First, this is ONLY about Western Pleasure. There are oodles of other Western classes that use roughly the same horses and tack, but for the purpose of this article I will only be talking about this one class. Second, while I do have many years of experience showing in this class on a variety of breed circuits, trends do vary around the country and the world. This isn’t going to be the Definitive Word on what’s right – it’s my experiences and observations as they relate to model horses. That said, thanks again Jennifer for the invite! 

I will mostly be talking about breed standards and trends here. Most model horse showers show their models in whatever the breed of the horse is for western pleasure – that is, most would say “AQHA Western Pleasure” for their quarter horse entry as opposed to “Open Schooling Show Western Pleasure”. There are more guidelines for the former, of course! The Open Schooling Show is kind of the “get out of jail free” card for model horse performance, because there are so few rules at most of those shows. If the tack is safe and if the rider is not actively endangering herself or others, it’s allowed! Of course both of those are pretty subjective, too  - I think we all have a few schooling show horror stories.

Last note – I will not be discussing any Spanish or Gaited breeds here. I don’t know enough about their pleasure classes to speak with any sort of authority!

Stock Type

In thinking about how to present this article, I figured it would be best to do an overview of some of the most popular breeds used for Western Pleasure. First up are, of course, the stock horses. They are the trend setters in the western pleasure world. A particular clothing or tack style usually shows up first on the QH circuit, then the Paint and Appaloosa circuits, then more slowly to other breeds. The stock horse western pleasure class is comprised of three gaits – walk, jog and lope. The horses carry their heads low and their necks flat – the poll-to-eartip area should be roughly level with the withers. This IS a rule in the real horse stock associations, but whether or not it’s enforced by the judges is another ball of wax entirely. Reins are very loose and of the split rein variety, and breastcollars are almost never seen.
More information on Stock Type Western Pleasure can be found here!
OF Stock Horse Pleasure Molds

One of the most common is the Breyer Zippo. He may not be the best example of horse anatomy, but for performance he is doing a nice two-beat jog with an appropriate head set. He can be hard to beat in OF western pleasure! 
Breyer Zippo owned & photographed by Erin Corbett
The Stone western pleasure horse, while being in the same phase of the jog as Zippo, is not as popular. While his jog is just fine, proportionally the mold is such a mess that many judges will mark him down even in the performance classes.
Stone Western Pleasure Horse owned & photographed by Jennifer Buxton
The classic loping QH mare is also very good for this class. Her nose is out just a little more than what you might see at a real QH show, but given our choices in OF she is more than acceptable.
Breyer Classic Loping Mare owned & photographed by Erin Corbett
My personal favorite molds for this class are the BHR jogging and loping horses. Both are exhibiting near perfect movement and headset, in addition to happy, willing expressions.
BHR Western Pleasure Horse owned & photographed by Jennifer Buxton
Roxy can be used, but she is far from ideal. She has a very happy expression, but her gait is much too long and un-collected to be a proper western pleasure lope. You could get her into the class using “Ranch Horse Pleasure” rules (link), but that may or may not fly depending on your judge.
Breyer Roxy owned & photographed by Erin Corbett
The ISH is one I would not use for this class – he is standing and not paying any attention at all to his bridle or to his rider. If you have nothing else and really want to use him, you can get creative with his description card (IE “a child is wailing in the stands, this entry turns to see what the commotion is about”), but most judges prefer an entry that is actually performing in the class, rather than waiting afterwards. 
Stone Ideal Stock Horse owned & photographed by Jennifer Buxton
Lady Phase falls into this category as well – she’s just standing with her head up.
Breyer Lady Phase owned & photographed by Jennifer Buxton
AR Stock Horse Pleasure Molds

In the resin arena we have far more choices for this class. There are at least seven traditional sized walking or jogging stock horse sculptures that I can think of immediately – all of them are well done and perfectly appropriate.  Lonestar is also used sometimes, but he is really very out of the bridle for a stock horse pleasure class. 

Sarah Rose Lonestar painted by Liesl Dalpe and owned & photographed by Jennifer Buxton

The Rose Reiner can also be used, though he is moving along pretty quickly for a pleasure class.
Sarah Rose Reiner painted by Melanie Miller and owned & photographed by Erin Corbett
Matriarch, like Victrix, is a "better than average" standing model to use for western pleasure. You would have to use the "standing in line after class" description though, because of how high and out of the bridle her head is. Some judges won't like that as much as an entry that is actually performing in the class, rather than waiting afterwards.
Carol Williams Matriarch painted by Susan Hurst
and owned & photographed by Jennifer Buxton
Arabians, Morgans and other types tomorrow!


  1. THANK YOU!!! I am so happy you pointed out that Lady Phase and the ISH do NOT make good western pleasure horses! I hope everyone sees this article :)!

  2. Sonshine - I've shown both to great success in WP. Good horse choice is important but really, it's all about what else is on the table.

  3. Teresa, lots of people have - but this article is about JUST western pleasure, and talking about what molds are doing the job the best. The ISH and LP aren't performing any movement called for in a WP class, sooo...

    With any class it's about what else is on the table, but there are lots of judges that prefer not to see standing horses. In a super competitive class under one of these judges, a standing model just isn't going to do as well.

    There will always be examples like this, and as we all know model horse judging can be a real crapshoot. I still think it's helpful to outline things like this, for people new to the hobby or to performance.

  4. I'd also like to make note that I've had some success with Roxy in WP with the specification that she's performing an extended lope/hand gallop. Judges sometimes do ask for that gait, especially in a tough class (I've had to extend more than once in a WP class, both at the jog and at the lope). Her nose is a little far out even for an extended gait, but it makes her stride much more acceptable. I've also shown her as a horse who is used as an all-around western horse and is being shown at a local fun/schooling show (and therefore is not as "tuned up" or specialized for the event), I use that one when I can't (or don't feel like) switching her into pleasure tack for that one class.

  5. Wasn't trying to contradict what you've said by any means Erin. I see few classes that have an ideal example any more.

    BTW - you left out two much better than average stock resins - Phoenix and Lacey. Plus, I've seen some people show the Stone W Perf horse successfully in pleasure. (Not my first choice - I sold the only one I ever had quickly.)

  6. Thanks Teresa! I kind of lumped all of the stock type jogging resins together, since there are so darn many and they all are great!

  7. Very helpful post!

    -Kelsey Roe