Horse Activities: Ranch Riding

A relatively new but popular division in Western riding competition, Ranch Riding uses patterns to show off a working horse’s abilities. The patterns might include obstacles such as gates, logs or poles and might also require the horses to work around cattle.

In Ranch Riding classes, judges are looking for the following:

  • Versatility: the horse’s working ability as exhibited performing a pattern of required maneuvers and obstacles
  • Quality of movement: straight, free-flowing, naturally ground-covering and forward at working speed, with an even cadence and smooth transitions, ideally on a soft rein or light contact
  • Manners, attitude and responsiveness—a horse that looks willing, seems pleasant to ride and gets the job done

One of four prescribed patterns may be used, and the maneuvers may be performed in various combinations with the judge’s approval. Each horse and rider work through the pattern individually; there is no time limit.

Different association rulebooks may specify different requirements for Ranch Riding patterns, and they may vary, too, according to the level of the class. However, the required maneuvers almost always include: walk, jog and lope in both directions; extended jog and lope in at least one direction; a stop; and a back. The optional maneuvers might include: a side pass; a simple or flying change of lead; a walk, jog or lope over logs or pole(s); turns of 360° or more, in either direction; or some other maneuver that might be typical for a ranch horse.

Scoring is generally on the basis of 0 to 100; each maneuver receives a score that should be added or subtracted from the average score of 70 and is subject to a penalty that should be subtracted. Penalties may be given for issues such as breaking gait, inappropriate speed, incorrect lead, going off pattern, lack of natural ranch horse appearance, illegal equipment or disobedience.

The most successful horse breeds in Ranch Riding are generally American Quarter Horse, Paint Horse and Appaloosa or other stock types, and standard working Western tack is preferred in these classes.