What’s the Allure of the Ranch Horse Classes?

What's the deal with the ranch classes? These popular classes draw new people every year, and for good reason.

Coverage of this event is brought to you by Cosequin®.

Making my way through the barn aisles at the APHA World Championship Show, as we covered the Ranch Horse Triple Crown Challenge, was a delight. Not only did I get to gawk at incredible horses, but I had the opportunity of meeting wonderful people. The World Show was host to the RHTCC which was open to all breeds. Among the brightly colored paint horses were intermixed solid paints, quarter horses, and ranch horses, all there competing for the big prize money in the ranch classes.

A Chance for Something Different

As I wandered around in the staggering July Texas heat, (seriously, it really IS the humidity that will get you) I interacted with exhibitors. I stopped to talk to folks from all corners of the country (and world) about their involvement in the ranch classes. A lovely paint gelding caught my eye in the warm-up pen as his exhibitor fastened her chaps before climbing aboard.

I introduced myself and learned that rider, Crysta Brown, an assistant trainer and accomplished rider, had made her way clear from Ireland for the show. Brown was warming up Call Him Sensational. He is a paint gelding owned by Linda Taylor, that was fairly new to the ranch horse classes. Call Him Sensational has already made his mark in other classes, and Taylor was loving how he was taking to the ranch horse classes.  Brown expressed her enjoyment of the ranch classes, as a way to provide variety to a show horse and do something different.

Crysta Brown and Call Him Sensational in the ranch trail class.

A Change of Pace

Crysta wasn’t alone in this train of thought. Jessica Zaharia, owner of Fire Smoking Dragon aka Elliott, expressed the same sentiments. The double registered 4-year-old was ridden by Zaharia’s trainer, Heather Thompson. Zaharia was prepping to show him in the non-pro classes later that week. She has loved their foray into the ranch horse classes. Elliott hails from a reining background, and she believes the change in direction has been great for him. She notes that her horse appears to thoroughly enjoy the classes, and they make him happy. For Zaharia it’s a few things. The variety of the ranch horse classes, the opportunity to help Elliott transfer his skills to a new discipline, and the friendliness of the competitors all helped sell her on the ranch classes.

Jessica Zaharia makes a game plan with trainer, Heather Thompson, as they ready Fire Smoking Dragon to enter the arena.

A Dream Come True

Before the ranch riding kicked off, I caught another exhibitor as he readied his horse before his number was called. Stetson Schmutz of Ponca City, OK, accompanied with his wife and brother-in-law, had brought his mare Smoken Custom aka Ziva to the big show. In turn he was living out a real-life dream. Schmutz is a horse trainer. His aspirations for bringing a home-raised horse to the bright arena lights of a World Show have kept him driven. Talking with this rider reminded me why we do this. It’s all about love for the sport and love for the horse.

His excitement was contagious, and his story was touching. Schmutz noted, “It’s like a full circle dream come true. I used to look at horse magazines as a kid, like Horse&Rider. I’d read the captions under the photos to find the name of the horse. No matter how we do here, we’re fulfilling a goal and a dream. We have home-raised horses and we’re here competing against the big dogs. It’s just fun and I’m proud to be here.” Schmutz’s hard work, persistence, and positive attitude paid off when he brought home 10th in the World in the Ranch Reining.

Stetson Schmutz and Smoken Custom prepare for their first World Show.

A Home-Raised Champion

Another home-trained horse that cleaned up at the show, was Hollywood Hot Gun, owned by Jeff and Jenny Honey. Traveling from Arkansas, Honey had brought Hollywood Hot Gun, aka Gage, to compete in a variety of ranch classes. Their Reserve World Champion placing in in the Ranch Rail pleasure was surely sweeter due to the fact that the horse was raised and trained by the Honey’s. The pair found great success at the show. Jeff spoke of Gage’s willingness, great temperament, and nice movement that made him such a great horse for this discipline.

Horseman Jeff Honey and Hollywood Hot Gun step onto the bridge.

A Wide Array of Horses

So why are the ranch classes so popular? It could be because it’s just something new. But I think it’s deeper than that. Wandering through the stalls, I witnessed horses prepping for the ranch riding. They were of all colors, builds, conformations, and backgrounds. From small, cowy, and stocky horses, to the leggy builds that were making the switch from the pleasure disciplines. Ex-reiners mixed in with roping horses, and some foundation-bred competitors as well. Some horses had been pulled straight from the home corral at the ranch where they worked cows daily. Others were seasoned show horses. The ranch horse classes have offered an opportunity to a variety of horses and riders to find success.

A Chance at Success for All

The ranch classes also open a door for folks to compete that don’t own the saddle with all the silver. With functional and working ranch tack recommended, the pressure is off to have the flashiest gear in the pen. One of the most enjoyable parts of watching the ranch classes is seeing the beautiful working gear used by exhibitors. Some rode with a coiled rope hanging from their saddle, others zipped up chaps showing wear from years of hard use. The beautiful colors of the show pads mixed with traditional gear like the classic romel reins or mecate reins, adds to the charm.

Cody Crow and All-Around Open Ranch Horse, SS Genuine Metal

I chatted with trainer and expert, Cody Crow about tack for ranch riding. He confirmed that excessive silver, hoof polish, and braids are all a no-go for the ranch horse class. Cody, raised on a working cattle ranch, feels at home in the ranch classes. The No Where But Up Performance Horse team had a very successful show, bringing home multiple wins. Cody brought home the title of All-Around Open Exhibitor, and rode SS Genuine Metal to the All-Around Open Ranch Horse win.

For a great example of success in the ranch horse classes, look no further than Horse&Rider OnDemand trainer Bud Lyon. He also had an extremely impressive show. With multiple world championships, Lyon swept the Ranch Horse Triple Crown Challenge, winning all three classes. Known as “The King of Ranch Riding” for good reason, Bud also scooped up multiple second and third place wins behind his championships, riding several great horses to an incredibly successful showing.

Bud Lyon waits with other competitors during the award ceremony, as the placings are read aloud.

[Find a recap of the RHTCC win chart HERE]

A Positive Experience for the Horse

For horses like Elliott, and Call Him Sensational, the ranch classes offer a different experience in the show setting. With multiple patterns that might be utilized, Zaharia likes the fact that her horse can’t start to anticipate. She notes, “In reining he can start to figure out when we’re doing a lead change, but when he doesn’t know what pattern we’re doing for ranch riding, he stays in the moment.”

From the seasoned veterans of the show world that needed a change in scenery, to the horses that are true working ranch horses in their downtime. Horses from all backgrounds fill the ranch classes. One of these horses that excels outside the arena is Tru Drumroll, a 2018 model. Ridden by Aaron Ralston and owned by Levi and Tammy Burch, Tru Drumroll took to the arena seamlessly. Aaron says that he also shines as a rope horse, but he definitely made his mark at the World Show in the ranch horse classes.

Aaron Ralston and Tru Drumroll cool off in front of the fan in the warm-up pen, before the Ranch Trail class.

It’s no surprise that ranch horse classes exploded with popularity, certainly they have opened the door to such a wide array of riders and horses. A nicely broke horse with great movement can succeed, and the versatility of the classes allows for exhibitors to try their hand at a variety of skills. One simple sentence sums up the allure of ranch classes, as I discovered from my conversations with a multitude of riders at the APHA World Show.

“They’re fun, and my horse enjoys it.”

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