Western Pleasure – Selection of a Horse

  • – By Charles Wilhelm –
  • This is the first of three articles for amateur riders wishing to show in Western Pleasure who are working without a professional trainer. This article will discuss the selection of a western pleasure horse.

    Attitude is very important for a western pleasure horse, any arena horse or any performance horse. If you are purchasing a horse for western pleasure, the number one quality to look for is a quiet attitude. A high-strung horse is not considered a quiet minded horse. A horse with a high emotional level does not normally make a good western pleasure horse. A western pleasure horse must be able to handle pressure. For example, the horse must accept being trailered and being tied to the trailer for periods of time. He must tolerate the noise of the crowds and the activities going on. The horse must tolerate other horses in the show arena who come up behind or pass too close. A horse with a good, quiet mind is easily trained and makes a good western pleasure horse.

    Conformation is also important for a western pleasure horse. A horse with a relatively short back and a thin throat latch is preferred. The hocks should sit up underneath the horse. The horse should be naturally balanced and able to carry itself easily. A horse that naturally carries its head at wither height is a good prospect. The withers should not be lower than the hips as that makes it more difficult for a horse to have self-carriage at a slower speed.

    It goes without saying that the horse needs to be sound and stay sound. The horse does not need to be flashy but a horse that stands out and catches a judge’s eye can be an asset. A sorrel or bay horse with four white stocking feet or a paint horse will usually catch a judge’s eye. Any horse that has eye appeal to the judge is going to stand out. This could be good or bad, depending on the horse’s performance. If you are in a class with thirty horses and you have a lot of average looking horses, a stand out horse can make the difference. So, looks are important but if the horse does not have a presence, it will still be hard to catch the judge’s eye. In a class of five it may be different but if the class is large, you want a horse that has a presence, will stand out and catch the judge’s attention.

    It is desirable to have a horse with a naturally slow gait. The best western pleasure horses I have worked with have a naturally slow, quiet gait. This doesn’t mean that you can’t take a thoroughbred and make it into a western pleasure horse. I’ve seen thoroughbreds with a pretty lope and jog. You probably want to start with a horse that has a slow, pretty lope and jog already and then fine tune those gaits. If you have a horse that has the looks but is a little more forward, you can work with the horse to bring it down. If the horse is too forward, the pace of western pleasure will be too much work for it and it will probably not be able to maintain the gait.

  • These are the things we want to look for when selecting a horse for western pleasure. We always want to select a horse that is right for the disciple we have chosen. A horse that would be a good western pleasure horse would probably not
  • be a good candidate for jumping. Every horse has its area of expertise where it works best and is most comfortable.
  • Next month we will discuss training the horse and then we will follow up with the proper show clothing and equipment.

Charles’ warm and relaxed demeanor has made him a favorite at regional and national clinics and demonstrations. Charles offers extensive hands-on learning programs for every level of horsemanship.  He may be reached through his web site: http://www.charleswilhelm.com/