Riding the rail: winning tips for horse show flat classes part 2

What’s the judge looking for in flat and rail classes?

The big idea.  What’s the point of this class? As a judge,  I survey the group of horses moving around the ring and visualize the ideal- the entry illustrating the original intent of the class. Could that hunter under saddle effortlessly jump a course?  Would that road hack fit the hunt field?  Is that horsemanship rider not only elegant, but effective?  Is that pleasure hack truly a “pleasure” to ride? 

Clues in the descriptives

Let the adjectives and adverbs from your rule book guide you.  Matching your horse to the description is one part training and one part God-given talent.

  • The hunter under saddle  takes long, sweeping  deliberate strides, extending from his shoulder. His hocks swing forward to step into his front footprints. His self-carriage is evidenced by light, relaxed contact. In contrast, the animated, “on- the- muscle” horse, moving in up and down motion, may suit other classes – but not hunter under saddle.
  • The western pleasure winner lopes “slow- legged” with a steady relaxed top-line. Each stride has lift – a moment of suspension- flowing consistently into the next stride. Yet, western pleasure is not a contest of slow. Trying too hard not to pass typically manufactures a head-bobbing, laboured stride or scuttling along in a four- beat lope.
  • Hack division. The ideals of all three classes in the hack division vary somewhat. Show hacks display vitality and animation, adjusting between extended and collected gaits. Road hacks have the strength and substance of a field hunter.  Pleasure hacks are a smooth and sensible ride.
  • Equitation on flat assesses the rider’s position, poise and effectiveness at all gaits, in both directions. Though the horse itself isn’t being judged, how it performs will influence how the rider looks. Savvy “equitators” discern the balance between poise and pose. Poise is to be secure, yet supple. Trying too hard looks stiff and starchy.
  • Western horsemanship evaluates the exhibitor’s balanced, functional and correct position, regardless of the gait being performed. The western position is foundationally the same as for english equitation – long leg, deep heel, flat and supple back. The subtle cueing of winning horsemanship calls for more rein connection than the western pleasure drape,  guiding the horse with no more than slight hand movement .