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AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse Competition

The Versatility Ranch Horse competition offers a variety of classes.

The Versatility Ranch Horse competition promotes the athletic ability and versatility of the horse and is demonstrated in six classes – ranch riding, ranch trail, ranch cutting, ranch reining, ranch cow work and ranch conformation. There are divisions for open, amateur, cowboy and youth. For complete rules and regulations, refer to the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations.

The Classes

Ranch Riding – For ranch riding classes, horses show individually, and the class can be conducted inside or outside an arena. In this class, judges are looking for relaxed, responsive horses with soft and cadenced gaits. The horse should make timely transitions in a smooth and correct manner, plus the horse should be soft in the bridle and yield to contact.

Ranch Trail – Obstacles found in a ranch trail pattern are approximate to those found during the course of everyday work. Judges are looking for a well-broke, responsive and well-mannered horse that can correctly navigate and negotiate the course, and to do so in a correct and efficient manner. Rule SHW561 outlines the class, including prohibited and mandatory obstacles.

Ranch Reining – Ranch reining measures the ability of the stock horse to perform basic handling maneuvers. This class can be held with or separate from the ranch cow work class; if the two are held together, they are still scored and placed as individual classes. This what the judges are looking for in ranch reining: “To rein a horse is not only to guide him but also to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely.”

Ranch Cutting – Similar to other cutting classes, ranch cutting is judged on the ability of the horse to work a cow by separating it from the herd and holding it. The objective is to cut one or two cows, based on the division. For open, cowboy and amateur division competition, there is a two-minute limit where each exhibitor must work two head, but has the option of working the full two minutes. In youth competition, on the other hand, there is a one-and-a-half-minute time limit where the exhibitor must work one cow but has the option of working the full minute and a half.

Ranch Cow Work – When it comes to the ranch cow work class, riders have the choice between ranch cow work or limited ranch cow work for youth and amateur exhibitors, where riders are allotted one minute and forty-five seconds to complete the work. There are three parts to the limited ranch cow work: boxing the cow; setting up the cow and driving it down the fence to the opposite end of the arena; and boxing it at the opposite end of the arena.

For ranch cow work, there are three parts to the class: boxing, fence work and roping or circling. The horse and rider must accomplish all three parts in three minutes.

Ranch Conformation – To be eligible to compete in the ranch conformation class, the horse must be shown in at least one class one of the other categories the day of the show. Judges are looking for balanced, structurally correct horses with adequate muscling. You’ll need to show your horse in a good working halter – rope, braided, nylon or plain leather – exhibit your horse at a walk and trot, then line up for inspection by the judge.

The Divisions

Open  If you have a current AQHA or AQHYA membership, you are eligible to show your American Quarter Horse in open competition. Open competition is usually for the most experienced exhibitors, trainers and professional horsemen but many amateur and youth members can be tough competitors as well. Open division classes may be offered for junior and senior horses. 

Amateur – American Quarter Horse owners who do not join the professional ranks may enjoy a full spectrum of competition in the amateur division. 

Youth – Exhibitors 18 years of age or younger (age as of January 1) may show in this division. 

Cowboy – The cowboy division is for working ranch cowboys. The rider of the horse must either be an owner, family member or full time employee of the ranch that owns the horse. Employees must have been employed for a minimum of 90 days prior to competing in the ranch horse competition. The rider must have less than $5,000 per association lifetime earnings in any of the following: NRHA, NCHA, NRHA, ACHA, RHAA, ASHA or SHOT or less than 25 AQHA or American Paint Horse Association open points in reining, cutting, working cow horse or Versatility Ranch Horse within the previous 10 years. No exhibitor can have earned more than $5,000 in any individual association.

Points, Awards and Zoetis VRH World Qualifying

Points earned in individual classes count toward qualifying for the Zoetis AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships

For AQHA year-end high-point awards, all-around versatile ranch horse titles are tracked. (In other words, high-points will not be awarded on the class-by-class basis). 

All-around versatility ranch horse titles are awarded at every VRH show to the high-placing horse-and-rider team in the open, cowboy, amateur and youth divisions. To be eligible, the duo must enter and show in a minimum of three categories – meaning at least one cattle class (ranch cow work or ranch cutting), as well as conformation, plus at least one of the additional classes (ranch riding, ranch trail or ranch reining). See Rule SHW555 for more details.

Changes for 2016

Beginning January 1, 2016, all AQHA shows can begin offering one or all six VRH classes along with their regular roster of AQHA show classes. Again, the points that exhibitors earn in these individual VRH classes count toward qualifying for the Zoetis VRH World.

Also, at the Zoetis VRH World, champion titles will be awarded for each class and the world champion title will be awarded to the all-around winner in each division. And only the all-around points count toward AQHA ROM, Superior, AQHA Champion, Supreme and year-end high-point titles. The all-around points also count toward AQHA Incentive Fund payouts.

“Our goal with this division is the same as it has always been with Versatility Ranch Horse classes: to demonstrate the performance, versatility and conformation of the Quarter Horse as a working ranch horse,” Hemphill said. “And we’re excited to be able to meet the requests of our exhibitors to make that happen. And for the individuals wanting to compete in specific ranch classes.”

Read a full article about the changes being implemented to AQHA’s ranch horse classes at www.aqha.com/journal.