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Last-Minute Tips: Western Pleasure – with RJ King & Blair Townsend


Many non-pro exhibitors joke that they put a lot of work into preparing for their classes, then it all goes out the window the moment they ride into the arena. We spoke with some top trainers to get the scoop on the “last-minute” tips they give their own clients right before they enter the show pen.

Today, we focus on Western Pleasure tips from RJ King and Blair Townsend of King Show Horses.

Use Your Practice Wisely

Both Townsend and King feel very strongly about the importance of using your warm-up wisely.

Our experts find that many non-pros seem to feel most comfortable loping small circles on the inside track of the rail during warm-up. While this can be helpful at first, it doesn’t set your horse up for success in the class itself.

Townsend advises their clients to get on the outside rail of the pen and navigate through traffic while keeping their horses properly collected. She says this will allow for last-minute tweaks and confidence boosters to better set you up for success right before your class.

Blair believes that using your warm-up to simulate your actual pleasure class will allow you to get tailored last-minute advice from your trainer about dealing with issues. Additionally, doing this close to your class will help keep that advice fresh in your mind.

King suggests using your warm-up to “practice going to your feet to check your breaks and make sure your horse is responsive to your buttons. You want to make sure they are moving correctly in the warm-up in anticipation of the class. If the horse doesn’t come back to you when you go to your feet, stop, back them up, and get the horse responding to you in the warm-up pen before entering the show ring.”

Know Your Horse

Both King and Townsend agree that a strong knowledge of your individual horse is critical to success in the pleasure pen.

Specifically, it is important to acknowledge your horse’s strengths and weaknesses to present them in their best light. “If your horse is not a super strong jogger, you don’t want to enter the ring behind a 10+ jogger,” RJ warns. This will only make your horse’s weaknesses stand out further and may put you in a position where you need to pass or come off the rail sooner than you would hope.

Also, if your horse really struggles in traffic, make a point to give as much space as you can between your horse and others. It is ok to allow the horses in front of you to depart and give you some space before you do the same.

Focus On Rail Positioning

To best present your horse, you also need to be aware of your surroundings and position on the rail at all times.

King advises that his non-pros remember to put their horse in the best spot to exhibit them in their best light. In addition, he reminds his clients to use their corners to set their horses up for correct movement on the straightaway.

Corners can also serve as an aid to obtain a better rail position. If you need to get around traffic, cut the corner and make up some ground. If someone is passing you, use the corner to make for more space, so your horse doesn’t get blocked on the rail.

RJ also says that gait changes are the perfect time to ride smart to avoid traffic issues. Specifically, he likes to use the extended jog as a tool to set his horse up for better rail position. “The extended jog is the perfect time to get around horses where it is ok to add some speed,” he says.

King believes many non-pro exhibitors fear speed in the pleasure, but it can be used strategically to put your horse in a better position, as long as you keep the horse moving correctly through the speed changes.

Keep Showing

Both King and Townsend emphasize that it is critical to keep showing through the entire class.

Often, the pleasure classes are large, and it is easy for judges to miss little bobbles. They remind all of their clients to show through mistakes and not get too worked up over foibles. If you know your horse and practice recovering from spooks, speed bursts, gait breaks, etc., it is entirely possible that the judges won’t even see an issue. But, if you panic and stop showing, one or many judges will likely catch it.

Have Fun

King and Townsend always try to remind their riders to have fun in the pleasure pen as a parting thought – it is called “the pleasure,” after all.

Having an attitude of trying your best and enjoying the ride, sets you up for a more relaxed show experience, which, in turn, sets your horse up to be more relaxed and have a better go. “Horses aren’t machines,” Blair laughs. “If you can set them up to be comfortable, responsive, and relaxed, you will have a much better go.”


About the Author:  Megan Rechberg has been riding horses on and off since she was in sixth grade. She works as a full-time mom to son Jackson and daughter Sterling, part-time litigation attorney, and social media manager for up-and-coming coming APHA stallions.

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