Western Showing 101 - Trail

Trail is an arena class and allows you to demonstrate that your horse is adaptable and pleasurable to ride through an obstacle course. The trail class is judged on the performance of the horse over obstacles, with emphasis on manners, response to the rider, and quality of movement.

Most western associations have a trail class; AQHA describe the trail class as “The trail class tests the manoeuvrability of an American Quarter Horse through an obstacle course. Mandatory obstacles include one in which the rider will open, pass through and close a gate. Scoring is based on the horse’s willingness, ease and grace in negotiating the course. The other two mandatory obstacles are riding over at least four logs or poles and one backing obstacle.”

The UK’s Western Equestrian Society description of trail “This class requires horse and rider to negotiate a series of obstacles placed on the arena surface. The horse is marked on its attitude on approaching and dealing with each element of the course. Obstacles include a gate, walking, jogging or loping over poles and backing between poles or around cones. Other obstacles can be four poles forming a square of between 5 and 6ft in which the horse must turn 360 degrees, side passing over, in front of, or between poles in both directions, and carrying an object from one point to another.”


Trail Manoeuvres
The course contains 6 to 10 obstacles, including mandatory and optional obstacles, there are three mandatory obstacles which will be included in all patterns, there are then a number of optional obstacles that can be added.

Mandatory obstacles are:
Open, pass through, and close gate
Ride over at least four logs
A backing obstacle


Optional obstacles are:
Water hazard
Serpentine at walk or jog
Carrying an object
Ride over wooden bridge
Put on and remove slicker
Side pass

Unacceptable obstacles:
PVC pipe
Dismounting or ground ties
Rocking or moving bridges
Water box with floating parts
Flames, dry ice, fire extinguisher, etc.

Judging and Scoring

Scoring (Based on the AQHA scoring system)

  • Basis of 0 to infinity, with a score of 70 as an average performance

  • Each obstacle is scored on a range from a +1½ to -1½

  • Points added or subtracted from the manoeuvres:

-1½ extremely poor, -1 very poor, -½ poor, 0 average

+½ good, +1 very good, +1½ excellent.


  • Contains ½-point, 1-point, 3-point, and 5-point penalties, with the most severe due to:

Dropping slicker or object

Letting go of gate or dropping rope gate

Use of either hand to instil fear or praise

Stepping out of, falling, or jumping off an obstacle with more than one foot

Blatant disobedience (kicking out, bucking, rearing, striking)

  • Obstacle score of 0

Ride outside course boundary

Wrong lead through entire obstacle

Fail to complete an obstacle

Wrong line of travel

Touching the horse to lower the head

Third refusal or evasion of the obstacle

Use of two hands when riding with a curb bit

Useful Resources
If you are thinking about giving trail a try, here is a roundup of resources you might find useful


One Pole at a Time is a how-to instructional video series for those interested in trail competition at American Quarter Horse Association events. This three-part series features Tim "The Trail Man" Kimura who designs the trail class courses for the AQHA World Championship events. Learn how to measure and set up trail class obstacles at home along with valuable tips and tricks of the trade that will help you excel in showing your American Quarter Horse in trail classes.

One Pole at a Time Part 1 https://youtu.be/XKH19ZryMdc

One Pole at a Time Part 2 https://youtu.be/lpR8WSVZfB4

One Pole at a Time Part 3 https://youtu.be/tLqcmub_wy4


We asked Avril Wilson, a talented British show clothing designer, what should be worn for trail classes:

Trail, Western Riding and Pleasure are informal classes. This means the judge is focusing on your horse, so you can wear whatever you like! These classes give you so much freedom. For women riding jackets and vest sets look vibrant, smart and fun with all of their leather appliqué. Vest sets are especially good options because you can change the colour of the shirt under the vest, creating a whole new look!


TIP: Block-coloured shirts also look great in these classes, especially if you or your horse is a novice.

Men, should wear starched jeans and smart shirts. Make sure the sleeves and body are long enough that the sleeves don’t ride up your arm when reaching out, and you don’t become untucked!

Look out for Avril’s stunning Collection 33 outfits in the show pen and if you are interested in your own one-of-a-kind, custom piece then look for Collection 33 on Facebook or call 07970462486.

Western Showing 101 - Halter & Showmanship


What’s the difference? 

Halter focuses on the horse’s conformation whereas showmanship concentrates on the handler and the performance. 

In a halter class, horses are judged on their conformation and whether it represents the breed ideal. They should be well-mannered and show balance, structural correctness and good movement and characteristics appropriate to their breed and sex. 

Classes are typically split by sex (mares, geldings and stallions) and age (weanlings, yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds and aged horses), but sometimes they may be grouped together. These classes are usually affiliated with a breed association such as AQHA or APHA. 

If you’re unsure whether your horse will be competitive in Halter classes, ask a trainer or more experienced competitor for their opinion. However, just because your horse may not be a multiple Grand Champion does not mean you can’t still have a go. Halter classes provide valuable show experience, especially for younger horses. Additionally, remember that different Judges have different preferences. It is not unknown to see a horse place low under one judge only to win under another.  

Differing from Halter, Showmanship does not focus on the horse’s conformation but instead on the handler’s ability to show the horse. The class is judged on the ability of an exhibitor and their horse to execute a pattern consisting of a combination of manoeuvres. The horse must be well conditioned and groomed, and the pattern executed smoothly and precisely. The exhibitor should be poised and confident, and their body position is also judged. Turnout is important, but in this class, unlike Halter, the horse is not judged on its conformation. Any horse (and anyone) can excel in Showmanship! 

For most associations, Showmanship is a scored class. For example, the AQHA judging system scores each manoeuvre from very good, to very poor. An overall final score from 0-100 is chosen. Minor, major and severe faults result in point deductions. The overall presentation of exhibitor and horse is also a factor. Showmanship is usually a class for Amateur or Youth exhibitors; however, some associations and unaffiliated shows will put on Open Showmanship classes. 


Why not would be a better question. There are many reasons to have a go at these classes. These classes teach a horse to have good ground manners, something which is important in any successful partnership. Learning to control your horse on the ground has many benefits including helping to build a relationship and ensuring your horse is safe to handle. This relationship can also make your horse easier to handle for farriers, vets, etc. – particularly useful in critical times. Having a horse that will stand calmly for a vet can help in a stressful situation. Good control on the ground can improve your ridden work too. Another reason may be that your horse may be too young to be shown in ridden classes yet. Also, they are an excellent way to get points on your horse if you are competing in affiliated events. Last but not least, a key reason to have a go is that they’re fun!

Showmanship Manoeuvres 
-Extended jog
-Backup (straight and curved)
-Turn 90 (1/4), 180 (1/2), 270 (3/4) or 360 (full turn) degrees. Pull turns are not used.
-Set up (setting the horse up to stand squarely) 
-Inspection (where the judge ‘inspects’ the horse) 


Halter and showmanship require less equipment than ridden classes. All you need is a halter and lead. A show halter is leather and often adorned with varying amounts of silver. A leather lead with a chain is then attached. The halter must be well fitted, and they do come in different sizes. It may be worth asking others to try theirs on for size before investing in your own. The quality can also vary widely.

Turnout & Presentation

Turnout is crucial in these classes. Horse and exhibitor should be immaculate. Horses need to be well conditioned and groomed. Many exhibitors also clip their horses’ facial hair (whiskers and ears), around the coronet band and sometimes the white markings. Turnout is now often influenced by the other classes the horse may be shown in. For example, an all around pleasure type horse will often have a short mane that will be banded whereas a reiner, or ranch horse, may have a longer mane left un-banded. Furthermore, a horse shown in ranch riding won’t wear hoof black. 

The exhibitor’s presentation is also paramount in Showmanship. You need to be smart and tidy. Remember, you can be up close with the judge in this class so details matter. Makeup and clean, manicured nails can be the finishing touches that make a difference in a close competition. In Halter, there is less emphasis on the exhibitor with more focus on the horse, but as with any class, you should always try and present yourself as best as you can. 

Get Practising
The best way to get started, and succeed, in these classes (especially Showmanship) is to get practising. In both classes, your horse needs to be able to be set up to stand squarely – something that takes practice. However, methods will differ between the classes. In Halter, you can manually move their feet. In Showmanship, the set up must be achieved 'off the halter' in other words you cannot touch the horse or point at their feet. Teaching a horse to stand still and quietly can take time. Showmanship manoeuvres take practice; it is the key to success. Ten minutes a day can make all the difference. If you don’t get to see your horse regularly, there are still things you can practice in the comfort of your home. Hang a halter on a chair and practise your footwork for the inspection. Make a conscious effort to move with good posture, poise and confidence. Showmanship can be addictive and very rewarding when you start to see the results of your hard work. Halter has fewer manoeuvres and is not centred around executing a perfect pattern. However, this does not mean there is nothing to practice! Your horse still needs to be able to lead at the walk and jog, be able to be set up to stand squarely and stand still and quietly to be judged. They must also be well mannered. It is worth spending time on this at home in preparation, especially with younger horses. Remember on the day of the show horses can be more unsettled so if you can’t do these things at home, it’ll be even harder in the class.

Western Showing 101 - Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is a rodeo event dating back to the 1930's, starting as a sport for women. At that time the event alternated between a cloverleaf and figure-eight pattern and speed was not key. It wasn’t until 1949 that barrel racing was judged by the shortest time and not of the appearance of the girl and her horse.


In 1948 the Girl's Rodeo Association (GRA) was formed, and Barrel Racing started to look more like the fast and thrilling event we see today. The Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) replaced the GRA in 1981. The sport now attracts prize money that competes with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).

Modern barrel racing is open to both women and men with associations such the Nation Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) and others welcoming women and men into their membership and competitions.  

The IBHF (International Barrel Horse Foundation) are now responsible for the development of barrel racing around the world. There are NBHA’s in over 20 countries around the world including Brazil, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Venezuela, Canada and France.

The UKBHA has been set up to promote barrel racing and increase participation in the sport. Aiming to provide coaching and riding opportunities for barrel racers around the UK and to provide a support network that enables an increase in the quality and quantity of riders, horses and competitions in barrel racing.

Barrel Racing Basics
There are three barrels which are set up in a cloverleaf pattern, and each rider must turn each barrel as fast as they can. Riders may choose to run a pattern that requires one right-hand turn, and two left-hand turns or vice versa. The rider must complete the required pattern and number of turns.  The pattern is essentially a series of straight lines and quick, tight turns. 

Remember, you and your horse won't be able to compete at speed without first working at slower gates, as with any competition accuracy is critical, and in this case, accuracy will save you seconds when you are ready to compete. Per the International Barrel Racing Association, “The horse’s athleticism and mental condition and the rider’s horsemanship skills are crucial.” Practice riding your horse in a figure eight pattern and circles to help your precision. You should consider stamina and conditioning work (for you and your horse!). 


Getting Started advice from UKBHA
Working at a walk, as you head across the start line you should be roughly in line with the third barrel and gradually curve towards the first barrel. About 2 metres before each barrel you should stop your horse, this is to teach them to slow down before you turn. Once you start to ask for more speed, it is important that your horse has the understanding that you must slow down to make the turn accurately. If you go into the turn with too much speed, then you risk overrunning the turn, and then you will be out of position going on to your next turn. 

When making your turn, you want it to be a smooth circle around the barrel. When working slowly, it’s important to stay around 6 feet from the barrel, and as you build up the speed, your horse will bring you in closer to the barrel. Start too close when you are working slowly, and once you add the speed you risk that your horse will start to turn too early and run you into the barrel and remember, the most important rule of all, have fun with your horse. 
Facebook: UK Barrel Racers/UKBHA or email ukbha@outlook.com

Judging and Scoring
Rules may vary by association so be sure to read the rule book!
The first and second barrels are spaced 90 feet apart with 105 feet to the third barrel. 

Barrel racing is a speed event, so as you would expect penalties are dealt in seconds and in a class where seconds can mean the difference between winning and losing a five-second penalty can be significant. Many associations will use electronic timers and sensors to ensure accuracy when recording the start and finish time.

To be successful in this class, the competitor must complete the pattern without knocking over any barrels. Tipping a barrel may result in a five-second penalty and deviating from the pattern results in a zero score.

Sports boots to help to protect the horse’s legs against injury.

Barrel racing saddle, these tend to have deep seats and short skirts. A barrel racing saddle will position the rider to be able to “sit deep” and “step out” through fast, tight turns with the rider’s legs slightly forward. Any saddle used should fit properly.

Western hat or safety hat, long sleeved western shirts or blouses, riding jeans, western boots, and a western belt is considered a standard dress code. 


Showing 101 - Reining

Reining is a pattern class and each horse and rider are judged on the accuracy of the pattern, to be completed from memory. The National Reining Horse Association have 10 patterns and AQHA events have 11 patterns.

Reining is often described as the western form of dressage as it requires the horse and rider to be in tune with each other in order to perform the movements, without the rider aids being seen.

Reining originates from cattle work as the work required responsive horses that could change direction quickly and “stop on a dime”. These horses needed to be ridden with leg aids and weight and only a light rein so that the cowboy’s attentions could be on the task at hand.


Each pattern includes the following manoeuvres, which the horse and rider should must perform smoothly and accurately, which includes controlling speed.

360-degree spins
The horse should turn around a full 360 with the inside hind leg stationary, in other words pivot around the inside hind leg. Spins are judged on correctness, smoothness and cadence.

Flying lead changes
To complete a flying change, the horse switch the leading front and hind legs during the lope during the moment of suspension in the lope gait. The transition is judged on precision; early or late changes will have points deducted.

Small slow circles and Large fast circles
Circles should be perfectly round and the change of pace between small slow circles and large fast circles should be without any difficulty.

Without hesitation, the horse will perform a 180 turn after a sliding stop and immediately lope off (on the correct lead).

Sliding stops
The horse stops by driving his hocks underneath him and sliding on his hind feet, while the front legs continue to walk. The stop should be in a straight line. Before a sliding stop is the ‘rundown,’ this is where the horse runs along the side of the arena building up speed before the stop.

Back up
Back up quickly, but in a straight line for at least 10 feet. Judged on speed, smoothness and straightness.

Each riders starts the pattern with a score of 70, the judge will then either add or subtract points for each manoeuvre, the points range from -1.5 to +1.5. 

-1 ½ for an extremely poor execution

-1 for very poor

– ½ for poor

0 for correct with no degree of difficulty

+1/2 for good execution

+1 for very good

+ 1 ½ for excellent

A final score of 70 is a good score and one that reiners aspire to achieve. A manoeuvre that is correct, with no degree of difficulty, will nether gain or lose points.

Equipment and Attire

For protection, horses usually wear splint boots on the front legs and skid boots on the back. Reining horses often have special horseshoes known as sliders, these shoes have wider plates which are smoother than regular shoes.

Riders must wear a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. In most competitions, they also wear chaps.


Have a go at …



A new year means it is the perfect time to try new things. Some horse owners would love to have a go at showing, but either don’t know where to start or don’t feel they can. Some simply believe it isn’t for them. Here, we cover some of the basics so those who want to can have a go. For those who don’t think they want to: Give it a go, you never know!

But I’m not competitive
There are many more reasons other than winning prizes to attend a horse show. Some of us just aren’t competitive and don’t feel the need to compare ourselves to others – and that is completely fine. However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing horse shows can offer you. Showing under a judge offers you the chance to get valuable feedback on your and your horse’s progress. You can practise refining your training and get an expert opinion, without worrying about where you will place. Shows also offer a fantastic opportunity to socialise and make new friends. There is more to shows then rosettes and winning, but, equally, you never know where the journey may take you.  

Unaffiliated and All Breed
Unaffiliated and all breed classes provide something for everyone. These classes are great for those starting out or who don’t want to spend out on membership fees. It also means you don’t have to have a particular breed of horse to enjoy showing. They are the perfect opportunity to have a go. An unaffiliated class is not affiliated to a particular breed, association or organisation. This means your horse does not need to be a particular breed, does not need to be registered and you don’t have to be a member. However, unaffiliated classes can often still be found at affiliated shows, opening it up to more people. Often, they may be run under the rules of a particular organisation, as far as judging is concerned. They are also a great stepping stone for those who wish to compete affiliated, but want to have a go first. 

Walk jog
Walk jog classes are a fantastic way to get into showing. Walk jog classes are completed entirely in two gaits, either walk or jog. These classes provide an environment in which people can feel confident to have a go. Whether it is because you or your horse are new to showing, inexperienced, young, green or simply lacking in confidence, a walk jog class could be perfect for you. There are also those, both equine and human, who may not physically be able to do more and these classes mean they don’t miss out. They provide a great entry point for many, and those who don’t feel they wish to progress to more advanced classes can still take part. 

Breed Associations and Organisations
Breed associations and organisations have a lot to offer. There are various associations; those for different breeds, those for all breeds and those with a more specific purpose or discipline. These shows can often be larger and have more classes at different levels. Also, they sometimes offer the chance to show under some high-profile judges, giving the potential for some very useful feedback. However, these shows often require a greater financial contribution. Associations and organisations often provide high point awards, which reward consistency as much as winning.   

Breed associations and organisations have a lot to offer those who want to step up their showing or take it more seriously. Equally, don’t be intimidated. There is still something for everyone. There is competition ranging from entry level for novices and beginners (including walk jog), to the open classes at which you can see the best riders show their skills.

One of the main things associations and organisations have to offer, and something that is appreciated the most by their members, is community. Socialising with like-minded people is an attraction for many and lifelong friends can be made. Don’t be intimidated. You will often find people are excited to welcome newcomers and offer help and support.

  • Some of the associations and organisations in the UK are:  
    Western Equestrian Society (WES)

  • American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA)

  • American Paint Horse Association (APHA)

  • British Reining (BR)

  • Nations Reining Horse Association (NRHA)

  • UK Barrel Horse Association (UKBHA)

  • Western Horsemans Association (WHA)

Basic Equipment
Different organisations may have different rules on equipment and attire and you should always be sure to check which rules you are competing under before attending a show. This can also depend on the level of competition. However, there are some basics that are a common theme at most shows and if you just want to have a go, attire rules aren’t restrictive. Show holders want to encourage everyone to have a go and would hate to think people weren’t because they don’t have a top dollar show wardrobe. Although you don’t need to splash out on expensive equipment to show, try not to sacrifice safety for economy. 

Some basic attire/equipment includes:

  • Hat – either a western hat or hard hat

  • Heeled boots

  • Long-sleeved shirt

  • Jeans or show pants -- many also like to show in chaps

  • Usually western tack – there are some exceptions; for example, the hunter classes and some unaffiliated shows may be more lenient

Class Overview
The wide range of classes means there is usually something for everyone. These include:

  • Halter

  • Showmanship

  • Horsemanship

  • Trail 

  • Western Pleasure

  • Ranch Riding

  • Western Riding 

  • Reining 

  • Hunter Under Saddle

  • Hunt Seat Equitation

  • Barrel racing and speed games