Trends for 2017

What’s new and exciting for riders and their horses this year? Here are a few things on our radar to keep an eye on.

Ranch Anything
It all started with ranch pleasure. Which quickly became ranch riding in most associations. And we latched onto the concept quicker than you could say “forward gaits.”

In 2016, ranch classes grew beyond anyone’s expectations, but to just about everyone’s delight. “Ranch events have exploded in the Paint horse world the past few years,” said American Paint Horse Association Executive Director Billy Smith. “From 2015 to 2016, we saw double-digit percentage increases in entries in these types of classes at our open/amateur world shows. We’re seeing some trainers who are typically dedicated to other specific disciplines starting to cross over and train/show in the ranch events. We even have an issue of the Paint Horse Journal dedicated to this segment now (the February Ranch Life Issue) because we feel the events’ popularity warrants it.”

The Appaloosa Horse Club took the ranch classes one step further, adding ranch rail to its roster of classes for the ApHC National and World Shows. Picture a Western pleasure class in a time machine back to the ’70s­—higher headsets, working gaits, and no bling. A spectator’s video of one of the ApHC ranch rail championship classes went viral on Facebook late last year and has many riders pushing for this class’s addition to other breed-show rosters.

Credit: Photo by Jennifer Paulson

And, of course, AQHA has experienced a boom in entries in its ranch and versatility classes. “We’ve seen a lot of growth with our ranch riding classes, both at AQHA shows and our versatility ranch horse shows,” shares Pete Kyle, AQHA chief show officer. “Ranch riding is a challenging class, but also easy for everyone to participate in. The class doesn’t require any fancy equipment, just a good horse and a lot of fun!”

Try the Trend: Visit this month for a variety of our
past ranch riding-focused articles and videos. Look for clinics and classes at your local and regional shows to test the waters and gain skills.

Shades of Gray
It only takes a few cowboys changing their hat color for a flock to follow. Watching the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo last December, we saw gray cowboy hats—from dark steel to lighter dove gray—standing out from what’s usually a sea of black hats around the roping and bucking chutes.

Credit: Photos by Jennifer Paulson

But rodeo wasn’t the only arena where premiere-event cowboys chose shades of stone and taupe. Top pros at the National Reining Horse Association Futurity also donned those tones to top off their attire during the finals, as shown on open futurity finalist Barak Gibori (above) of Tioga, Texas. Look for more of this alternative men’s hat color in all arenas this year. (And, ladies, don’t be afraid to try it yourself, too!)

Try the Trend: Look for an option like this Resistol 20X cowboy hat in charcoal (above-middle), made of beaver, rabbit, and wild hare, with a self-felt band and three-piece, silver buckle set; leather sweatband; and satin lining; $499;

Comfort on the Go
We live in our boots—they’re safe in the saddle, and they show our Western lifestyle no matter where we are. And while they’re our go to for comfort and style, sometimes our feet need a break.

Whether it’s for fashion or extra comfort, slip-on shoes from your favorite Western brands can fit the bill. They’re easy to put on for a quick trip to the barn before you head to town. Slip into them at the horse show after a long day in the saddle. Or replace your boots with a pair of comfy moccasins for the drive home after a long trail ride. And the best part: No laces to tie, unlike sneakers. Look for moc styles for men, women, and kids to outfit the entire family.

Insider tip: Riding jeans too long for lower shoes? Don’t fret; a cuffed hem is on-trend, too. Or flip up your back hem to hold your jeans up off the ground.

Try the Trend: From top: Ariat Cruiser, $69.95,; 4EurSole Inspire Me clog, $139.99,; Twisted X Patchwork Driving Moc, $154.99,

Banded Artwork
A long, flowing mane is a labor of love. A carefully banded, long, flowing mane is truly a work of art.

Credit: Top photo by Jennifer Paulson; bottom photo by Michelle Swanson

Trevor Dare (learn more about him in “Trainers on the Rise”) showed Xtra New Pal Voodoo in the NRHA Futurity open finals with a perfectly banded, extra-long, white mane. (Check it out, above-top—the horse’s mane is breathtaking!) The mane bands and partially braided forelock add a touch of class and interest, and they can show off a consistent topline, a desirable trait.

“Banding a long mane works well on horses that have moderately thick hair and good length,” shares Michelle Swanson, experienced mane bander and braider. “It can take up to two hours to band a long mane depending on the pattern you use. If you band a mane yourself, take care when feeding the mane through the bands to prevent hair damage and breakage.”

Continuing the band trend, we also heard about checkerboard bands (alternating black and white bands, above-bottom) on a few Western pleasure horses at the All American Quarter Horse Congress last fall. Is this another topline-accentuating trick for 2017? “It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing,” says Swanson. “I got a lot of both reactions. On the right horse, I think it looks great. It can really accentuate a great topline.”

Try the Trend: Banding can be a bear, but it’s made easier with products like Spray N Braid (above-middle) from Mane N Tail, $9.99 for 16 ounces. Bonus tip: Use the same band-helper when braiding your own hair to keep it in place under your hat or helmet. If banding is too daunting for you or you don’t have time, find a bander for hire on the show grounds and leave it to a pro.

The Natural Look
Classes like ranch riding flat-out ban hoof black, and some riders in other events are following that lead, opting for natural-looking hoofs rather than traditional black polish.

Credit: Photo by Marc Laxineta, DVM

“As a judge, I don’t really notice black versus natural feet,” shares AQHA judge and world-champion trainer Jill Newcomb. “What I do notice are dirty feet, just like clean boots versus dirty boots.” So if hoof black isn’t your thing, don’t be afraid to show your horse with clean, conditioned hoofs.

Try the Trend: Keep feet healthy and tidy-looking with regular application of a hoof dressing like Horseshoer’s Secret, $17.95, shown above. If you opt for hoof black, use a conditioner to replenish the moisture blacking products can remove from hoofs.

Chocolatey Goodness
Light-oil and black leather have had their moment in the spotlight. Now it’s time for a richer, chocolate-tone leather to take the lead in saddles and strap goods. Depending on the finish, the color can highlight leather tooling and other embellishments or serve as a neutral canvas that doesn’t draw attention.

The dark finish looks great on chestnuts, roans, and sorrels, without the harsh contrast a black saddle can have on those coat colors. You’ll see more of the leather finish in the show pen, on trail saddles, and on barrel racing horses.

Try the Trend: The Circle Y 2162 XP Trinity barrel racing saddle’s (above) turquoise points highlight the rich, chocolate leather while adding fun pops of color; $2,199;

Bring Back the Fun
When did we get so serious? Horse activities require far too much investment for them to not be fun, and event organizers are taking notice.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Wild Card Reining Challenge

By adding fun classes that play off horses’ skills (long-trotting races with custom cowboy hats on the line for the winners) and after-hours silliness (trainers on bouncy-ball horses), exhibitors, owners, and professionals are again finding enjoyment in the competitive environment. Pro-am pairings, such as those highlighted in “Have Fun, Win Money,”, and special clinics, as seen at last year’s Wild Card Reining Challenge (the judging seminar is shown above), add educational opportunities, too.

Try the Trend: Get creative. Work with your local breed and discipline associations and riding clubs to brainstorm new ideas for your events. Be sure to watch social media to see what other shows across the country do, and spin their ideas into your own. The key is to keep it fun, easy, and engaging.

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