small saddle

This picture shows a saddle fitting the horse, but it is too small for the rider and puts her in a poor position with a lack of balance.

Welcome back to Western Pleasure 101. This is the final article in the three-part Western Pleasure series. First, I’d like to thank; the readers; Sandy Baldwin, who has put my words into print, and my clients; who have supported this project. These articles are for individuals who are not able to commit their horses to full training, but who are still interested in Western Pleasure. If you have problems at any time throughout the training process, you may want to ask a trainer for assistance.

Equipment and Dress

Saddle. Today, you can purchase a quality saddle for $1,900 to $2,700. If you purchase a show saddle designed for Western Pleasure, there should be some silver on it, although it will cost more. For a show saddle with silver, you can spend from $3,500 to $8,000. You don’t have to have a show saddle, but you should use a saddle that is clean, oiled, and looks nice on your horse.

Proper fit of the saddle is most important. Approximately 90 percent of the people I see are not using a saddle of the correct size. If you are buying a saddle, always have the option of returning it, in case it doesn’t fit. Your equipment must fit your horse and make your horse comfortable.

When you enter an arena and your saddle and pad are not fitting properly, you are not going to make a good impression on the judge.

Headstall. Also, be sure to buy a quality headstall. If you buy a headstall for $19, you are not getting a quality piece of equipment. A quality headstall can cost anywhere from $80 to $150.

Reins. The quality of your reins is also important. A quality, supple, leather rein, like a Herman Oak rein, can cost anywhere from $45 to $75. Reins come in different widths, depending on the level of sophistication. For example, with a snaffle bit, the reins are wider, whereas reins used with a bridle (leverage bit) are usually narrow, about ½ inch. The use of romel reins, made of braided rawhide, is also acceptable in the show ring.

Color of equipment. The color of equipment is starting to change. A darker, medium oil color is now acceptable in the show ring and is beginning to be very popular. Light oil used to be the color of choice.

Blanket. A quality blanket can be very affordable. You may use a pad with a Navajo blanket on top of it. A quality Navajo blanket can cost anywhere from $85 to $150. It is really not necessary to spend more than this, as the blanket is solely used to showcase your horse. A good judge will quickly notice how the blanket improves your horse’s presentation.

Dress. Image is everything; therefore, you should carefully choose what you wear. If you are in junior classes, you should wear brighter colors, like lime or pink. In an adult class, you want enough color to showcase your horse and get the attention of the judge. However, something that is too loud may be offensive to the judge and detract from your horse. You should dress appropriately, wearing colors that coordinate with your pad and compliment your horse. You should try to be somewhat conservative but, at the same time, catch the judge’s eye.


Preparing your horse. Your horse should be bathed and brushed thoroughly, including his tail. The style or length of your horse’s mane is not nearly as important as the mane being nicely groomed. If part of his mane is rubbed out, you should shorten it to be less noticeable and more tasteful. You should also sit your horse in the proper position for Western Pleasure. Your horse should look as though he is a pleasure to ride.

Showing your horse. I encourage my clients to show because when you are at home and are schooling your horse, the horse always seems to do well. But when you are in a show ring for eight or ten minutes, and are being asked to perform in a specific way, it really lets you know where you are with the training of your horse. This gives you the opportunity to work on the things that gave you trouble. You can also take your horse to different horse shows to expose him to different situations. The more you do this, the better trained your horse will become. What you should really be looking for is long term improvement in your horsemanship skills, as well as being a better teammate to your horse. Always remember that showing should be fun!

Talking to the judge. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to a judge after a horse show and ask if he may have any tips for you. Most judges are more than willing to give you suggestions. Just because you don’t place, you should not get discouraged. Some judges have their own ideas about what a horse should look like. I have one client who showed her horse and the judge remarked that it was homely. Two weeks later she went to another show and the judge loved the horse.

Getting Started. Everyone starts at the local shows. They are often called schooling shows because they are where you learn to work with your horse in competition. As you get better in the local shows, you may need to raise your standards and compete in regional shows.

Remember: Consistency, Patience, Persistence, and Follow through. Never give up.

Charles Wilhelm is a world-renowned and respected trainer and author from California. Visit his website at