The western pleasure event is judged on the horse's ability to be a pleasure to ride, which includes these characteristics:
- being broke and quiet
- soft and smooth
- responsive to the rider's cues while being on a loose rein or with light contact
- Horses are worked both directions of the ring at all three gaits:
- Riders may be asked to show their horse with a lengthened stride at all three gaits.
- During change of direction, riders may be asked to reverse at the walk or jog and should do so away from the rail or to the inside of the ring.
- Throughout the performance, a smooth, cadenced, and balanced ride should be given preference over speed.
- The walk is a natural, flat-footed, four-beat gait.
- The horse should be alert and move straight with a stride of reasonable length in relation to its body.
- The jog is a smooth, ground-covering, two-beat diagonal gait.
- The horse should exhibit forward movement that is square and balanced.
- The lope is a three-beat rhythmical gait.
- The horse should appear relaxed and smooth and be ridden at a speed that is natural to the horse's way of going.
The western pleasure event should be judged on the degree to which a horse exhibits the following criteria:
- Broke and quiet
- Light bit contact or reasonably loose reins
- Soft and smooth
- Functionally correct
- Reverses to inside of arena
- Backs when asked to back
- Travels at prescribed gait: walk, jog, or lope (on correct lead)
- Quality of movement
- Impulsion – driven from the hock
- Symmetrical and equal lengths of stride
- Well cadenced
- Head set/Head carriage
- Head set – slightly in front of vertical line from poll to ground
- Head carriage – neck parallel or slightly above parallel to ground (poll level with or slightly above withers)
The following faults should be considered when judging western pleasure and counted against the horse based on the severity:
- Excessive speed or excessive slowness at any gait
- Being on the wrong lead
- Breaking gait
- Head carried too low or too high
- Excessive nosing out or over-flexing such that the horse's nose is carried behind the vertical
- Excessive opening of mouth
- Quick, choppy stride
- Being overly canted at the lope
Below is a video on How to Judge Western Pleasure.
Below is a video from AQHA which describes the movement desired in a western pleasure horse at the walk, jog, and lope gaits.
Please refer to specific breed or show handbooks for their rules and guidelines.