What Makes A Good Western Pleasure Horse?

Last Updated on May 30, 2022

From beautiful tack adorned with silver to slow, steady gaits, western pleasure is a popular discipline. So, what makes a good western pleasure horse? In this competitive division, there are many key factors that can make a horse stand out in the crowd.

Western pleasure is a proper discipline within many different breeds. Though standards may vary by breed, there are still key factors to look for regardless when looking for a western pleasure horse. A good western pleasure horse should be reliable, athletic, and possess good conformation.

What Is Western Pleasure?

Western pleasure is a type of western riding where the horse appears to be a “pleasure” to ride. The class is judged at horse shows on the manners and suitability of the horse. A western pleasure horse is relaxed and slow but possesses collected gait cadence, along with a calm and responsive disposition.

Western pleasure horses perform at the walk, jog, and lope in both directions of the ring. A western show saddle and a western show headstall without a noseband are used, with the tack often having lots of silver accents. Bits vary depending on the horse and class, but curb, snaffle, and hackamore bits are most common.

Riders in western pleasure classes wear chaps, show shirts, cowboy hats, and cowboy boots. Shirts often will feature elaborate designs and embellishments to stand out in the show ring. Classes can be open to any breed or designated to a specific breed.

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Western Pleasure In Stock Type Vs Saddle Type Horses

Though any breed of horse can compete in western pleasure, the most common western pleasure horses include stock type and saddle type horses. Western pleasure will vary slightly between stock and saddle type horses.

Stock type horses have muscular builds with necks that come forward from the shoulder. Saddle type horses have refined builds with high head carriages, as their necks come straight up from the shoulders.  Stock type horses include Quarter horses, Paints, and Appaloosas, whereas saddle type horses include Morgans, Arabians, and Saddlebreds.

In stock type western pleasure classes, horses are shown at “level topline.” Horses have very little knee action and have a level topline where the ear is level with the wither at the lowest point or the eye is level with the wither at the highest point. They have slow, steady gaits with the head slightly nosed out.

In saddle type western pleasure classes, horses should have a naturally comfortable headset, which due to their conformation is higher than a stock horse. This generally entails a lightly arched neck and a balanced headset, with the nose slightly tucked in. Saddle-type horses generally exhibit more action and should have steady consistent gaits that are not too slow or too fast.

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What Makes A Good Western Pleasure Horse?

Though the standards will vary slightly by the breed, there are still foundations as to what makes a good western pleasure horse, no matter the breed. A good western pleasure horse should be reliable, consistent, and meet their breed’s western pleasure guidelines.


A western pleasure horse should be steady. They should not be fussy with their head or mouth and should not speed up or slow down when performing a gait unless asked to. A steady horse will stay in frame at all gaits.

Manors – What Makes A Good Western Pleasure Horse?

Manors are key to a good western pleasure horse. A horse should listen to its rider’s cues and not act out. When asked to halt, the horse should stand still until instructed to move. A good horse will be responsive to its rider at all times.


Consistency is important, as it shows that your horse is reliable and well-trained. Your horse should maintain a consistent headset, as well as work at a consistent speed until you ask them to change gaits or speed.


Balance is key to a top-performing western pleasure horse. A horse that is balanced can successfully perform all gaits with style and collection. Horses should be balanced in conformation, gait, and disposition.

What Makes A Good Western Pleasure Horse - Balance

Soft And Smooth – What Makes A Good Western Pleasure Horse?

A good western pleasure horse should be soft in the mouth, and able to work off light contact. Horses should have a smooth, comfortable way of moving that makes them a pleasure to ride. They should have a free-flowing stride of reasonable length for their conformation.

Good Conformation

Regardless of breed, a western pleasure horse should have good conformation. They should not have any conformation faults that would affect their performance.

Relaxed, Slow, And Collected

Western pleasure horses should exhibit a relaxed but attentive demeanor. They should move in a way that is steady and collected. The gaits are smooth and steady, performed in a slower manner than in English disciplines, though too slow or too fast can be penalized.

Athletic – What Makes A Good Western Pleasure Horse?

Horses should be athletic and be able to maintain themselves throughout a class without becoming tired or unbalanced. Horses should be flexible and agile, as you do not want a stiff, sluggish horse.

What Makes A Good Western Pleasure Horse - Athletic

Riding Western Pleasure

Western pleasure is a fun, competitive division that is popular in many breeds. Horses should be relaxed and slow, with collected gait cadence, along with a calm and responsive disposition.

Do you have any questions regarding what makes a good western pleasure horse? If so, please ask any questions regarding western pleasure in the comments.


What Should I Look for in a Pleasure Horse?

A pleasure horse should be a "pleasure" to ride as they should be smooth, collected and responsive. Pleasure horses should be relaxed, possessing excellent manners and steadiness.

What Horses are Best for Western Pleasure?

Traditionally, stock type horses including Quarter horses, Paints and Appaloosas, have been the favorite choices for western pleasure. However, Morgans, Arabians and Saddlebreds also make great western pleasure horses and are becoming more and more popular. Gaited horses like Tennessee Walkers and Missouri Fox Trotters are also becoming popular choices for western pleasure horses.

What is Ideal Western Pleasure?

The ideal western pleasure horse is smooth, steady, soft, responsive, consistent and balanced. They should adhere to their breed's guidelines for western pleasure, as it does vary slightly by breed.

How Do You Make a Western Pleasure Horse?

To make a horse into a western pleasure horse, you should teach self-carriage, collection, manners and softness. You should work on your horse having steady, relaxed gaits that are comfortable while not being too fast or slow.