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Photo of Ivory Pal by Cheri Prill   Tennessee Walking Horse  Issue August 2010
Versatility Ranch Horse (VRH). . . This is an exciting equestrian sport that consists of five classes.  The same rider and horse must perform in work classes of Ranch Riding (RR), Ranch Trail (RT), and Conformation along with the cattle classes of Ranch Cutting (RC) and Working Ranch Horse (WRH). This is a multi-skilled event which requires a truly versatile horse. 
If you want to be a cowboy (or cowgirl) this fast-growing western event provides an opportunity for riders and horses from different disciplines, ages, breeds and levels of experience to come together.  So if you’re into finding an exciting new sport for you and your horse, put on your cowboy hat, and grab some chaps and find an association near you to compete in this family-friendly environment.

Don’t worry if you or your horse has never worked with cattle or roped before.  That is not a problem; many new cowboys (girls) come from different areas of interest such as trail riding or open show classes such as western pleasure, trail, and reining. Maybe some have done working cow horse . . . but, all will need to add to their skills to enter this competition.  

The minimum qualifications for all are to have a good understanding of how to ask your horse’s to go, stop, turn or back-up.  The rider must have the ability to:
Have an independent seat with good co-ordination and balance, where the rider has to do one thing with their hands, another with their bottom, and something different with their legs.   This is good for all horse riding sports to gain the ability to move one part of the body without interrupting other parts or the fluidity of the horse.  
Ability to use natural aids/cues effectively such as your:

Hands - Good hands are steady, light, soft and firm in their actions. You can achieve this only if your body is in balance and rhythm with your horse.

Legs - Responds to leg cues, less cueing is required by your reins. Balance pressure on the horse by using contact in the seat of your saddle and your thighs. Maintain only light contact with your knees so your lower legs can be used for cueing

Voice - Horses have learned the words walk, trot (gait- walk-up), lope and canter from hearing them repeatedly during lunging, training.  Use them consistently in training.
A rider must also have an understanding of how to ask for separate parts of the horse to move such as to turn on the: Forehand   - Moving or hold its hindquarters in response to pressure from your heel or the calf of your leg behind the front cinch or girth. This control is very important in backing, side-passing,       two-tracking, holding the hindquarters on pivots and roll-backs, and for correct leads. Turning on the forehand is not a forward movement. The horse pivots on the inside foreleg while the hips move away from pressure in the opposite direction of the nose.

Hindquarters - With the turn on the hindquarter, the inside hind foot remains stationary. The forehand moves around the pivot foot with the front legs crossing over with each step. The turn on the hindquarters is the basic movement for controlled, smooth, fast turns in pivots, roll-backs, pole bending, barrel racing and working cattle. The horse learns to roll back over its hocks. 

Side-Passing – The side-pass is a sideways lateral movement of your horse by stepping to the right or left with both the forequarters and hindquarters moving evenly together. The horse’s legs should cross in front of the opposite supporting legs.

Two-Tracking - is when your horse moves laterally (to one side) and forward simultaneously at any gait. This movement is helpful, because you don't have to stop your horse, then change direction to move him away from the potential hot spot - you can keep him going forward while moving laterally at the same time.

How long it takes to learn this event is really up to the horse & rider’s commitment.  Depending upon how adaptive the rider and horse spend putting all the pieces together to perform. 

The Versatility Ranch Horse (VRH) event is a relatively new event in its current format. Various ranch horse associations are available with different rules, classes, and patterns. Some things in common are an emphasis on good horsemanship, preserving the western traditions and culture, and classes that highlight the versatility of the ranch horse.

There are a number of different associations that will help you compare the
Versatility Ranch Horse Programs to find the right one for you.  I will highlight the NVRHA to show what is expected when you compete.  You should check in your state to see where to attend and to compete locally.

You should check the association’s Handbook for complete rules and regulations for each association. Some of the associations are the:
AQHA - (American Quarter Horse Association), www.aqha.com
Registered quarter horses; rider must compete in all five classes: Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail, Ranch Cutting, Working Ranch Horse (with roping for Amateur and Open riders), and Conformation Class.    
ASHA - (American Stock Horse Association), All breed; rider chooses which classes to compete in of four classes: Ranch Pleasure, Ranch Trail, Reining, and Cattle Work (with roping or circling). No Conformation Class. Horses of all ages may be shown in a snaffle, bosal, or curb bit.     
NVRHA (National Versatility Ranch Horse Association), All breed; rider must compete in all five classes: Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail, Ranch Cutting, Working Ranch horse (with roping for Intermediate & Advanced riders), and Conformation Class. 

This is a partial example of this one association’s rules and point divisions to get an idea of what to expect in competition, was taken from the original site. See their handbook for full details.

Mission: The National Versatility Ranch Horse Association (NVRHA) provides a program and place for showcasing the ranch horse and will maintain a strong link among breed associations, the ranching community, the professional horseman and versatility ranch horse riders.

Horses – All breeds
Classes: Ranch Riding, Ranch Trail, Working Ranch Horse (includes roping in Intermediate and Advanced Divisions), Ranch Cutting, Conformation

Format - The rider must own the horse being ridden except for Professional Riders. Rider must show the same horse in all five classes. Riders can choose to ride in the clinic only, competition only, or both.

At the beginning of each award year division placement is based on the score received in the previous year and each participant will begin the new event year with zero placement points. An Open or Amateur rider may compete with two horses in a competition. The rider must identify an individual prior to the class to exhibit the second horse in Ranch Conformation during the registration process.  

Excerpted Rules of Interest Generally abides by current AQHA rules except as amended within the NVRHA Handbook. 

Conformation class differs from the AQHA Handbook. Judging of this class will be based on structural correctness, balance and a horse’s form-to-function as scored in the four performance classes. The goal is to place well-conformed horses that can also perform well.

Points - Earn NVRHA points to qualify for several end-of-year awards and life-time achievement awards. NVRHA uses a Point Based Scoring System to maximize the amount of feedback provided to the participant and the best possible critique of riding skills. Each maneuver is evaluated on a scale of 1 – 10 points.

www.nvrha.org      (866) 430-8114 Phone    contact@nvrha.org
Ranch Horses that are successful in doing “real ranch work” are good candidates for this event.
These horses have been exposed to a variety of challenges, working cattle, roping, opening gates, and know how to partner with their rider.  If you find a cowboy or cowgirl to part with this horse, you are extremely lucky. 

Conformation class is 20% of the overall score. Good conformation usually results in good balance.  Minor conformation faults can be overcome.  A naturally willing mind is a big factor in horses that progress and succeed in this sport.  A good mind is paramount for learning the many skills while keeping you safe and relaxed so you’re able to concentrate on your own learning curve.

Look at your horses whether you have English, reining, cutting, roping or pleasure, trail, speed, versatility or an outside trail horse, it doesn’t matter.   You may have an added advantage with one over the other, but they can all learn.  If you think you and your horse are ready to take the challenge – then jump right in.  This sport may be where you and your horse excel.
Have fun with this new challenge and ….Remember that there are no perfect horses. Each horse is an individual with their own set of strengths and weaknesses . . . just like us.

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