Clinton G. Depew  |  12/10/2004 2:57:24 AM

Horsemanship as a class is designed to show the rider's ability to ride and handle his horse. However, horsemanship is more than a horse show class. It is a basic skill that every good horseman should know, and good horsemanship is an asset to the rider and horse in Western Pleasure, Barrel Racing or Trail Riding. Therefore it is important that every horseman know the basic riding position and have skills in handling his horse.

Horsemanship is judged on the rider's appearance and position in the saddle, and his ability to control his horse, as indicated by the horse's performance in the maneuvers prescribed in the class. The horse should move naturally, quietly and smoothly throughout his performance. The horse and rider should give the appearance of confidence and ease of movement. The judge will be looking specifically at the basic riding position, the smoothness and correctness of the class maneuvers, and the correctness of the pattern. A discussion of these points follows.

Riding Position

1. Legs - the legs should be carried naturally and allowed to follow the natural curvature of the horse's body. The legs should hang directly under the rider's body and be in contact with the horse through the thigh, knee and upper calf. Aids in developing correct leg position are:

a) Stirrup Length - proper stirrup length is essential. When the legs are out of the stirrups, the bottom of the stirrup should strike the horseman approximately at the ankle. With this length, the rider is two to four inches out of the saddle, when he stands in his stirrup.

b) The knee should be bent and the lower legs should be relaxed to the point that it drops back slightly under the rider. When the rider sits straight up in the saddle and looks down over his knee, he should not be able to see his toes if his leg is in the proper position.

c) The lower legs should be relaxed and in contact with the horse. The heel should be dropped and the toes turned out slightly in a natural position.

d) A straight line drawn down through the shoulders and hip should touch the back of the heel of the rider's boot.

e) The rider's position in the saddle should be equivalent to that of a man crouched on the ground with his back straight. If the rider has to move his leg to stand up in the stirrup, his leg was in the wrong position.

2. The Seat and Body - the horseman should sit in the middle of the saddle and in balance with his horse.

a) The body should be erect but not stiff. Correct body position can be developed by putting your hand two inches over your head and stretching to it. Avoid becoming stiff and losing the suppleness in the back required for good horsemanship.

b) The weight of the rider should be carried in the thighs and crotch and not on the hip. This is accomplished by rolling the body up on the knees. This moves you off of the cantle toward the middle of the saddle and develops more desirable leg position.

c) The head should be up, with the rider looking directly ahead and not down toward the horse. Ride by feel and not by sight.

d) Leaning is very undesirable. Leaning tends to hinder the horse's balance and indicates that the rider does not have a feel for the horse's movements.

3. Hands - the hands are judged primarily by the way that you handle your horse and the smoothness of your performance.

a) Light contact on the reins should be maintained at all times. The hands should be soft, kind and sensitive. All maneuvers in horsemanship should be accomplished with light, smooth movements of the hands. Any jerking or quickness in movement of the hand or body will be penalized.

b) The hands should be carried low and cues should be given with a minimum of movement.

c) The rein hand and the free arm should both be relaxed and natural. The free arm should usually be carried approximately at belt level. Excess movement of either arm will be penalized.

4. Equipment and Dress - All equipment should be well adjusted and functional. The horseman should look clean, neat and professional in his manner.

Class Maneuvers

All maneuvers should be natural, relaxed and smooth. They should be accomplished with a minimum of movement on the rider1s part, and practically unnoticeable cues.

1. Leads - In practically every class the horseman is required to take each lead at some specified point. Therefore, the horseman should learn to feel the lead and not try to look at the horse's legs. The rider can develop a feel for leads by the following methods:

a) If the horse is circling in a wrong lead, the saddle will tend to bump the rider on the inside and throw him toward the outside of his circle.

b) A horse has a natural tendency to bend his body in the direction of the lead. Therefore, by feeling or noticing the bend in the horse's body, the rider can determine the lead.

c) The leg position of the rider will give an indication as to the lead. The leg on the leading side will be slightly ahead of the other leg as a result of the bend in the horse's body.

d) The shoulder movement of the horse indicates the lead. In the right lead, the right shoulder will be slightly ahead of the left, and vice versa.

e) Leads from a standstill. Horses reach for a lope with their leading leg. The direction the horse is reaching indicates which lead will be taken. A shift of weight in the direction or the lead always occurs prior to lead departures.

f) If the horse is on the wrong lead, always stop and start him over. The rider must demonstrate to the judge his ability to distinguish leads.

2. Stops - All stops should be soft, quiet and natural. They should be accomplished with a soft pull on the reins. Even if the horse isn’t responding, the horseman should never jerk the horse. Quick hands are detrimental to performing a smooth stop. Therefore, a reining horse may have a slight disadvantage if he is not handled quietly. Remember that the rider is being judged on his ability to stop the horse quietly and in proper form. The horse is not being judged on his ability to slide.

3. Turns - all turns should be slow and easy. Rushing the horse tends to make him sloppy and wild. The turns should be accomplished with a minimum of movement of the hand and with proper leg aids.

4. Circles - All circles should be perfectly round and smooth. The circles, like all class maneuvers, should be accomplished with a minimum of movement and effort on the part of the rider, and with the natural cooperation of the horse.


1. The pattern should be very precise and followed exactly as requested.

2. Smoothness is essential in each maneuver. This can be accomplished by allowing the horse time to accomplish each movement and not rushing the horse.

3. Be logical in the presentation of the horse. Set the horse up properly for the start. When given a choice, the horse should be turned in proper direction to prepare him for the next maneuver that will be required, and the horse's natural flow and movement will carry him through the pattern. Allow the horse to move at his natural gait to avoid unnecessary irritation and possible breaking of gait.


Horsemanship is more than a class in a horse show. It is the ability of a horseman to ride and handle his horse properly and in balance. This ability is an asset to the horse and the rider in all events, from Western Pleasure to Barrel Racing. It is also pertinent to the horseman in Trail Riding because an incorrect riding position hinders the horse's balance and results in unnecessary fatigue in certain parts of the horse's body because of the poor distribution of the rider's weight. Therefore it is essential that all horsemen learn to ride and handle their horses properly.

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