-By Charles Wilhelm-
One of the things I have seen in the last year is the growth in popularity of Ranch Riding and Versatility and people buying Reining Horses that are not quite making it in the reining world and then using them for Ranch Versatility. However, most reining horses carry their heads down below their withers. When a horse gets relaxed and soft, the head drops lower and lower. While some reining trainers like it when the horse keeps its head low, the Ranch Versatility rulebook is very clear that a natural head carriage is desired. I am seeing a lot of Reining horses used for Ranch Versatility and while these horses do well, the low headset goes against what Ranch Versatility is all about and does not work well for the horse.
When a horse carries it’s head low to the ground, that naturally puts more weight on the front end because the horse has lost its balance. Horses are naturally heavy on the front end because most of their weight is in the head and neck. When we teach a horse to drop the head really low that puts even more weight on the front end. Where does that weight go? It goes to the front pasterns. In almost every discipline, jumping, eventing, reining for instance, horses get arthritic in their hocks. They use the hocks more because the engine is in the rear. In the cutting world, the horses break down in the pastern area because they are always down on the front end. If I have to treat arthritis, I would rather treat it in the hocks rather than the pastern joint in the front. Any performance horse will eventually have arthritis in the hocks. With my horse Tennison, I did not have to inject his hocks until he was about 26 and he was quite athletic. Of course, some horses do better than others.
The Ranch Versatility turn around does not need to be fast. It does not have to look fancy. We are looking for slow and correct. All we want to see in the turn around is how the horse handles through the maneuver. If you have to stop a cow or head off a cow are you able to maneuver the horse? When working cows, we are always using shoulder control. Many people who have done cow clinics with me want to circle around to head off the cow but if you do that you end up losing the cow. It is important that the horse handle the front end smartly. The horse must be able to do a 180 turn very quickly to head off a cow. You must keep your eyes on the cow because you should never take your eyes off the cow.
The back up should leave a good impression with the judge. The horse should lift up the shoulders and move backwards smoothly, driving with the hindquarters and up under itself. The typical backup on a ranch horse is obviously dragging a cow roping. You can’t have the horse backing up and resisting and throwing up its head when you are trying to maneuver a calf to doctor.
Sometimes in riding patterns there are logs incorporated to go over, gates to go through and even cattle to move. On the course, we want the horse paying attention, looking
where the logs are placed. If the horse blindly goes over them he is not paying attention to where he is putting his feet and he will tick or kick the logs or even trip. A horse that drops his nose to the ground and pays attention crossing the logs will get more credit. When the horse is attentive to the logs or other obstacles he must cross, he will not touch them and will cross smoothly.
Going through a gate should be done with ease. In the ranch patterns they are judging for fluidity and ease of handling the horse. Some of the riders I have gone out with who work on ranches are not so easy in handling their horses. They are familiar with the cows and have kind of been there and done that. They want to get the job done and are not very interested in how it looks.
A good ranch horse should be a very finished horse. It should be forward and have good, balanced carriage. It should move with fluidity and drive from the rear. It should be easy to handle and be a real joy to ride and to watch.