This horse has the short back and low head Charles recommends for a western pleasure horse.

This month is the beginning of a series of three articles for amateur riders who wish to show in western pleasure and are working without a professional trainer. This first article will discuss the the importance of selecting the right horse for the western pleasure show.

Attitude. Look for a horse with a quiet attitude. A high-strung horse would not be considered a quiet-minded horse. A western pleasure horse must be able to handle pressure. For example, the horse must accept being trailered, the noise of crowds, and the activity going on around it.

Conformation. A horse with a relatively short back and a thin throat latch is preferred. The hocks should sit up underneath the horse. The horse should be naturally-balanced and able to carry himself easily. A horse that naturally carries his head at wither-height is a good prospect. The withers should not be lower than the hips as that makes it more difficult for a horse to have self carriage at a slower speed. The horse also needs to be sound.

Appearance. The horse does not need to be flashy, but a horse that stands out and catches a judge’s eye can be important. For example, a sorrel or bay with four white stocking feet or a paint horse will be noticed. If you are in a class with 30 horses and have a lot of average-looking horses, a horse that stands out can make the difference in how well you place. Be aware that standing out can either be good or bad, depending on the horse’s performance.

Gaits. You also want a horse with a naturally-slow, quiet gait. This doesn’t mean that you can’t take a Thoroughbred and make him into a western pleasure horse; I’ve seen thoroughbreds with a pretty lope and jog. If you have a horse that is a little more forward, you can work with the horse to slow him down. If the horse is too forward, though, the pace of western pleasure might be too much work for him.
Next month, I’ll discuss training the horse and then I will follow up with the proper show clothing and equipment.

Charles Wilhelm is a world-renowned and respected trainer and author from California. Please visit his Web site at