Get Started in Ranch Horse Events

Take your arena career in a new direction with Colorado horseman Mike Major’s strategies for making the right start in ranch-horse versatility.

MikeMajor RVMike Major on Cowpony Express, winning the 2016 SHTX World Championship. Photo by Ross Hecox.

Ranch-horse versatility became part of the Western horse-show scene over a decade ago, and has since become one of the fastest-growing and most popular events in the stock-horse culture. Recognition by the American Quarter Horse Association, and the creation of an AQHA world championship event, can only mean greater growth in years to come.

Getting the right start in this event, says Colorado horseman Mike Major, requires a smart strategy, one that’ll ensure you enter your first event with the right horse, the right gear and the right attitude. Major, a trainer and clinician, earned the reserve title at AQHA’s inaugural versatility world championship show, held in Denver this past January.

“There’s so much to this competition, it can be mind-boggling,” Major says. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to just ride your horse. The more time you spend on your horse, the easier it’ll be.”

Choose Your Group
One of the first considerations is where you plan to compete. In addition to AQHA events, the American Paint Horse Association, National Versatility Ranch Horse Association, Ranch Horse Association of America and Stock Horse of Texas offer their own versions.

AQHA and NVRHA require a halter class. RHAA gears itself toward horses that enjoy cattle work. SHOT hosts Texas events, exclusively. And as breed registries, APHA and AQHA limit their entries to horses registered with them.

“For someone who doesn’t want to do the trail or halter classes, RHAA is a pretty fun association,” says Major. “It’s basically the working ranch horse portion of AQHA’s program. I’ve had some people come to me with horses that wouldn’t halter very well, and that made RHAA a great fit.


 “Be honest with yourself about your strengths and your horse’s strengths. Don’t let your pride get in the way. Then you can strive to be the best in the association that’s the best fit for you and your horse.”

All versatility competitions require some cattle work, so riders with experience reading cattle have a distinct advantage. If you’ve spent little or no time working cattle, take the time to learn this skill before adding versatility competitions to your competitive resume.

Some associations, such as SHOT, allow lesser-skilled competitors the option of circling cattle, rather than roping. To move up the competitive ranks, though, a rider must develop his or her roping skills.

Versatility clinics offer the best opportunities to learn the roping and cattle-handling skills necessary for competition. Major, like some other top versatility riders, offers clinics throughout the year. NVRHA and SHOT offer clinics at each of their events.

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Tags: Mike MajorRanch Horse Versatility