One of the fastest growing disciplines in APHA and AQHA circles is that of the Ranch Horse. Whether the classes are called Ranch Horse Riding or Ranch Horse Pleasure, the excitement surrounding them cannot be denied.
When AQHA introduced Ranch Horse Pleasure (now called Ranch Riding) in 2012, total entries were 6,461. In 2014, Ranch Horse Pleasure entries totaled a whopping 37,100, according to AQHA Publicity and Special Events Liaison, Sarah Davisson.
This year, APHA divided the Working Ranch Horse Competition into four classes to meet demand: Ranch Pleasure, Ranch Trail, Ranch Cow Work and Ranch Reining. “There’s something new and fresh about the ranch horse classes that has riders from all backgrounds—including some who have never shown with APHA before—clambering to come play with us. After a great first year in 2014, we’re welcoming this crowd with open arms by offering even more ranch-type classes this year,” says APHA Senior Director of Show and Contest Holly Slaughter.
As these classes continue to grow, questions arise from both exhibitors and judges about what’s appropriate attire while maintaining respect for the concept of “ranch.” Although some exhibitors are still unsure of what to wear, some in the industry are already well-versed in what is in and what is out.
“The class isn’t an excuse to not consider the total look,” says Maggie Bellville, who recently started showing in this event and uses show clothes designer Paula Diuri of Paula’s Place to create her look. “It’s not about being a dusty cowboy, but representing the ranch horse and what it represents – heritage, efficiency in teamwork and a horseman’s look.”
We conferred with Barbara’s Custom Hats, Harris Leather, Justin Boots, and Woods’ Western to hear more from those in the know about this subject.
Start at the Top
When it comes to Ranch Horse classes, Barbara Maitia of Barbara’s Custom Hats has embraced the discipline in her typical wholehearted fashion. Barbara is offering a complete line of hats just for Ranch exhibitors this year.
Barbara advises no bling, with a simple whip stitch or painted design if a rider wishes to demonstrate personality. “The best thing about the fashion in ranch horse pleasure is you can create a style all your own and have fun with the old west look. That is what is so fun about this class. We can help our customers carve out a style that fits their winning ranchy look,” says Barbara.
She explains that several different styles of hats are acceptable for this “working” type class and says that even though the workman look is desirable, there’s room for individual ranch style. “When we were at the Ranch Horse Pleasure World show in Tunica, we saw everything from the flattop vaquero-style with bound edge and stampede string to the Buckaroo, pencil-rolled 5 inch palm straw,” Barbara explains. “Men typically wore the big ranch brimmed hats just like they were driving cattle back at the ranch and the women were a bit stylish and rocking some of our cool burned palm straws.”
Barbara even has suggestions for what to do with your hair. “Underneath the hat, women can wear their hair in a braid or neat pony tail in keeping with the theme for the classes. Hair down can be a distraction to the overall picture while doing your pattern. Just very neat and tidy is best!” she exclaims.
In the Middle of It All
Well-fitting and neat is the clear message for the Ranch Horse classes when it comes to even the most basic piece of clothing, the shirt. Phil Harris of Harris Leather and Silverworks explains their featured men’s Cinch brand shirts are a great option, due not only to the large selection of colors and patterns they offer, but for practicality as well. “The shirts offer the rider extra length in the body and sleeves so that they stay tucked in the jeans and the sleeves are not too short while the rider is holding the reins. They look great and are functional to the showman. Cinch is the most trusted cowboy brand in today’s market,” Phil explains.
Harris has not forgotten the ladies of Ranch Horse competition either. “We also offer a line of stretch fitted show shirts for the ladies of this class. It is monogrammed with the Harris logo and has a zip front. They are form-fitting in a large color selection and can be ordered without the crystals,” adds Harris.
One of the few wardrobe elements that are the epitome of the ranch style are the chinks, and although chaps are not required for the classes, it is where exhibitors can show some style and individuality. Woods’ Western has become legendary for show chaps, so it’s only logical they provide the same service with a line of chinks.
“Bringing the chinks back was an easy decision for us,” Babe Woods told us. “The tack and clothing are very ‘ranchy’ so why not add the chinks, which were a very essential part of the attire for a ranch hand? These still offered most of the protection that a pair of work chaps provided but were a little less restrictive. They can be quite plain or verge on going over the top,” she explained.
“Chinks should fit just as nicely as your regular show chaps,” says Babe Woods. “Traditional chinks usually had three straps and buckles on the leg versus a zipper. We chose to use a short zipper in for ease of putting on and a little smoother fit. These also offer the chance of a rider to show off the tops of a special pair of boots that would normally be covered up with pants and traditional chaps.”
Get to the Bottom of It
Since the boot is another signature piece of the cowboy’s tool kit, components such as comfort, fit and unpretentious style are must-haves for the Ranch Horse division. True to the other wardrobe pieces for the division, the style of boot worn is uncomplicated and realistic, but brands like Justin added a line this year called the Justin Ranch Collection, which offers features like square toes and durability, and some with a bold upper for individual flair.
Lisa Albert of Justin Brands told us, “The Justin Ranch Collection was created for the cowboy working on the ranch. This collection was inspired by the need for a line of boots dedicated to those working long hours in and out of saddle at the ranch. We built this boot with comfort and fit in mind, which is why all styles are handcrafted in the USA, three of which feature 13” uppers for leg protection when working in brushy terrain and all of which have the J-Flex comfort system insoles. A few boots in the Ranch Collection also feature a longer lasting butyl injected leather outsole, which is key to withstanding slippery conditions but also allows for better stirrup control. Fit and comfort were specifically important when creating the Ranch Collection as we knew it needed to be something a cowboy could live in,” she says.
Underneath It All
While you may have the clothing part down, that’s not quite the complete picture. Just watch any old Western, and besides the horse, a saddle was often a cowboy’s prized possession. Harris Leather, known for their amazing show saddles, found they were called upon to offer a ranch saddle to their customers who are crossing over to this event as another area of competition.
“We understand that this is a growing segment and a great number of our loyal customers that have used Harris products for years, have become accustomed to the quality, durability, functionality and value of our saddles,” explains Phil Harris. “These are precisely the people that choose quality, fit and feel over the price. They realize that ours are not factory made saddles and offer a handmade one of a kind look in that class. Our ranch saddle will connect the rider with their horse to give them a perfect balance and a means to make that horse fulfill the commands of that rider. These saddles feature a custom seat that will help with both the pleasure and performance aspects of the class. They can be ordered with variety of options like the rear cinch or cowboy strings to give the owner a taste of individuality.”
So when you’re getting ready to show off your skills in any of the Ranch Horse competitions or classes, simplicity and respect mixed with individuality is the best route. However, Babe Woods of Woods Western probably sums it up best: “As with showing, the main focus should be on having fun with your horse and friends in this great horse industry we have!”