Arabian Western Pleasure: What Judges Look For

Here's what judges expect to see when evaluating Arabians in Western pleasure.

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In Arabian Western pleasure, the key is finding a happy medium between you and your horse so you both are comfortable, confident, and proud of your presentation. You must encourage your horse to meet his full potential, and hopefully, he’ll be willing to meet your expectations. And if your horse is happy and satisfied doing his job, you’ll ultimately succeed in the show pen.

Here, I’m going to explain what exactly judges are looking for in an Arabian pleasure horse, and

Making a Good Impression
In Arabian pleasure, judges are looking for a moderate rate, opposed to an extremely slow or unnatural gait, and they want to see a horse that carries his shoulders up and lifts from the base of his neck while rounding his body and using his back end to propel himself forward. Judges also like to see horses moving forward on a draped rein, but it’s imperative in Arabian pleasure that it be a natural drape, meaning your horse is comfortable and confident carrying himself.

A good pleasure horse should appear accepting and pleasant. He should be unhurried and have pure movement in his gaits-a four-beat walk, a two-beat jog, and a three-beat lope.

His hocks should be connected to his face, or bridle. By this, I mean you want your horse’s body to move into his head. He shouldn’t get “stuck,” or leak to the left or right. Your horse should move forward, meeting the bridle; then, he should soften and carry himself in a collected manner.

When it comes to impressing a judge in the show pen, it definitely helps when a horse has a lot of quality, or that “pretty” factor. But what I’ve learned in the past 35 years is that you can take a horse who may not have ideal quality, beauty, or conformation, but if that horse can carry himself well, and if you have control over his body and he can supple his neck and go forward on a soft rein, he’s going to excel in the show pen.

Gait by Gait
At each gait, a judge wants to see a horse that carries himself well, is balanced and round, and looks as if he could hold the gait for a long period of time without being forced into position. (See slide show, above.)

The walk: At the walk, a horse should be moving energetically forward with cadence, while also being relaxed. Every step should be the same distance, while your horse maintains his frame. He should be engaged, but relaxed and comfortable in that engagement.

The jog: As a judge, I like to see a “soft moving” horse at the jog, but I also want to see him collected, meaning his hocks should be reaching underneath him. In Arabian pleasure, the jog shouldn’t be flat-I like to see a horse’s hocks bend slightly. If a horse’s knees and fetlocks bend a bit too, that’s OK, as long as the jog isn’t overly animated. As in the walk, the jog should be flowing, with every step the same. There shouldn’t been an abrupt movement; it should be flowing.

The lope: The lope should be a pure three-beat gait, and the horse should be engaged in his movement. If your horse is not engaged, the lope will appear sloppy, and he will look as if he doesn’t have a sense of purpose in his forward movement, ultimately lacking impulsion. At the lope, a horse should also be round, comfortable, and collected-it shouldn’t look as if it’s being restrained.

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