When people come to me and tell me they want an all-around horse, I encourage them to think about what that actually means to them. When watching a good all-around horse in the show pen, it may look easy to go from class to class, but in reality, horses and riders are expected to handle long days that start long before the sun rises and end well after sunset, while competing in a handful of events that all require different skill sets.
If you’re looking to add all-around events to your repertoire, you need to set your horse up for success by competing in events that he excels at. It takes a special horse to be able to handle the work load an all-around horse has.
The following milestones will help you find out what your horse’s limitations are, and what he can and can’t do. These steps will help you clarify if your horse is ready to be an all-around horse or not.
Foundation For most all-around horses, Western pleasure is the foundation event. Every all-around horse has to walk, jog, and lope with collection, which is why most horses start with a rail class and gradually move on to pattern events. This class also helps your horse understand the basics of body control, leg control, and face control, so he can handle the maneuvers that come with a pattern class.
I believe that you can tell by the level of a horse’s brokenness and self-control how good his foundation is. To me, markers of that foundation include a horse being able to extend his limbs while under control of the rider. If your horse can stay calm and put together while you’re asking him to perform, that’s a good sign.
Quality of Movement
The number one thing an all-around horse needs to have is quality of movement. In some events, like horsemanship, part of the judge’s score sheet includes a section for it.
However, quality of movement does not mean that your horse has to be a world-show level Western pleasure mount. A cadenced, smooth-gaited horse is all you need. If you can’t sit a gait easily, and find yourself bouncing all over the saddle, your horse might not be the strongest mover. That natural gait is something that may not improve with training, and it’s nearly impossible to show your horse at his best if you can’t sit his strides to begin with.
A lot of the time you might run into a scenario where your horse is stronger at one gait over the other. It’s important to preserve the gaits in which he excels while you’re working to improve his other gaits.
For example, if your horse is a good jogger, and lopes great on the left lead, but needs help with his right lead, I would warm him up, jog him around, start by loping around on the left lead, and then spend some time working on the right lead. You need to know what the good lead feels like when you’re maneuvering your horse around, and then work to replicate that same movement going the other direction.
Another important skill set to have is a turnaround. Being able to complete a 360-degree turn is a great start to preparing your horse for all-around classes, as you’ll have to use this skill set to compete in events like horsemanship and trail. It’ll even help you teach your horse how to pivot for showmanship. When you’re working on a turnaround, your horse should be comfortable crossing his outside front leg over his inside front leg, without moving his haunches around.
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