How to “show” a Morgan?

It seems to me that there are all these ”things” to showing a horse on the rail that I just plain don’t know and/or understand.  A walk is called, and horses continue to trot down the rail, and apparently this is okay.  A horse breaks to a canter twice in a road hack, judge sees it, horse wins.  I’ve read the rulebook and judging standards – what am I missing?

So for all of us out there like me who just don’t “get” all these insider “rules” – someone please explain?

14 Responses to How to “show” a Morgan?

  1. I have certainly seen a trot continue when the rider was positioning their horse away from other riders/in the clear/closer to the corner before dropping to a walk in anticipation of then having a canter called. That is just plain showmanship. Ignoring the call to “walk” because your horse won’t walk is another matter entirely.

    Not to give away trade secrets, but how about a discussion of clever tactics which readers have seen on the rail?

    I still remember watching a young man at Bluegrass last year out-maneuver and out-show a herd of young ladies in a saddleseat class. Somehow he managed to be in the clear and on the rail every time he passed in front of the judge. He also managed to wring out at least 2 more passes than just about every other rider. He won the class despite the disadvantage of being a tall man on a smaller horse.

  2. underdog88 says:

    I’m not sure if you are genuinely inquiring about what you call “insider rules” or if you are just being bitterly sarcastic to put forth a rhetorical question.

    Once in a while there are judges who you will question a little, but there are certainly no “insider rules” that allow faults to be consistently rewarded. I don’t know what show you are referring to, what classes, what horses, etc. But I can almost guarantee that there was a sound reason for why that judge made the decision he/she did.

    I have shown on this circuit for almost 20 years and I’d consider myself an under dog (hence the name). I’ve seen classes where a judge will pin a horse that I saw make an error over another who maybe didn’t make many, or any in fact. But there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration. There’s the conformation, movement, overall performance.

    If an individual is a 10 and makes a bit of an error, and then there’s an individual who is a 5 that makes none…the 10 will probably still pin above the 5 depending on the severity of the error. If all we judged on was manners….the classes would be called “jr. ex. manners” and “amateur manners”…OF COURSE manners are of high importance, but you have to remember that it is not the one and only factor in the judging process.
    To make a completely correct assessment of the situations you’re describing, I would have had to have seen the classes. But I think 99.9% of the time there is some very legitimate reason why the judge made the decision he/she did.
    Maybe the horse in the road hack class was far superior than any of the other entries, so breaking was still not enough to bump it below the other horses. Or possibly the other entries had faults which you overlooked, and the judge saw. It’s been said countless times that the view from inside the ring is much different than the view in the stands- something that should always be remembered.

    I can assure you that horses continuing to trot when they are required to walk is NOT okay, and neither is breaking…there are absolutely no “insider rules” that you are just not “getting”. Those are errors and I can guarantee you that they were not being rewarded by the judge. It was something positive that accounted for those entries winning, not their errors.

    You said “showing a horse on the rail”- are you coming from an over fences background? I am not sure what your experience is with pleasure classes or the Morgan circuit, but conformation is a factor in our judging. I’m not sure if you knew that already, but if you’re coming from a discipline where it is not a factor, maybe that is something else that is confusing you. In normal qualifiers, the performace of the horse is more important than conformation, but actually in a championship it’s technically 50/50 (although performance still tends to outweigh conformation in importance). Sometimes you might see a horse that has made no mistakes as far as manners go, but the individual’s conformation and/or headset is very very poor- in that case the manners will usually not be enough to overcome the horse’s other faults. Just food for thought.

  3. leslie says:

    Since it’s not a command class and you’re not being judged on how quickly you follow orders, you can take a little time to put yourself in a good position for the next gait. Usually that means getting away from other horses so you don’t get stuck should the horse in front of you decide to misbehave.

    As for the horse breaking gait, I think underdog gave a pretty good explanation for why a horse that makes mistakes can still win. Performance comes before manners in the road hack judging standards, so a couple of mistakes wouldn’t necessarily put you behind a horse who is technically perfect but unexceptional as a show horse. When the same thing happens in a classic pleasure class where manners are supposed to be paramount, that bothers me, but road hack? I’d probably let a few bobbles slide for a horse that does a true road trot, a real hand gallop, and will still walk off on a loose rein.

    This isn’t a judging phenomenon restricted to rail classes. Totilas made technical errors during the test with which he first broke the Grand Prix world record score. Sometimes the positives just outweigh the negatives.

  4. underdog88 says:


    In reference to the horse continuing to trot when calling for the walk…did you mean that a horse was jigging or prancing while it was supposed to be walking, or a horse continuing to trot for a rail/rail and half before coming to walk?
    Because prancing/jigging IS a fault, but if (like the other 2 posters said) the horse merely continues to trot for a rail after the walk has been called for, this is OK. Many people do this to get an ideal position before starting the next gait. This is not occuring because the horse is out of control, doesn’t want to walk, rider doesn’t have control, etc.- it has nothing to do with those factors, it is deliberate and it NOT a fault or error. Think of it like taking your time.

  5. pattnic says:

    underdog, these are honest questions. I’ve been involved (though not heavily, due to time and budget constraints) with both Morgan and hunter-jumper shows for at least ten years, but I was never part of a big show barn, so I never learned many of the more “showmanship” aspects of showing in a pleasure class, including the concept of “finishing the pass” (I’ve tried to read up a bit more since posting my question – this is to what I was referring). It was always surprising that it is OK. To put it within the context of “taking your time” makes sense.
    In regards to the road hack, it was apparently mentioned by the judge that seeing the horse break was what they were looking for? Now, this was not said directly to me, so I’m sure something is being lost in translation, but I still feel that there must really be something I’m missing here.
    I am aware that correct Morgan type and conformation are also considerations. I guess to sum it up, I kind of know just enough to not make a complete fool of myself, but not enough to present my horse well enough to necessarily win in equal company.
    I guess I’m trying to get more at what Chris Nerland mentioned, about clever tactics to best show your horse.

  6. StacyGRS says:

    OK…I promise you no judge said they were looking for a horse to break into a canter during the road trot. The question/answer have been WAY lost in translation past any hope of learning from them so, let that one go and don’t even try to figure it out.
    As for the walking one…If the judge calls for a walk and the rider clearly does not ask the horse to walk until they get to a good spot for them and when the rider does ask the horse to walk it does so, THAT is what the judge is looking for…a horse that obeys it’s rider…not the rider that can act fastest to the announcer’s request. Same thing with waiting until the horse in front of you goes when they call for a canter…no judge is going to punish you for waiting for the horse in front of you to go if they can clearly tell that when you asked your horse to go it did so obediently and that it waited obediently when asked. The point is to see that these horses will listen to their riders and do so with a willing spirit, not that their riders are the fastest to react to the announcer. Common sense goes a long way. I’ll take a horse that works hard and takes a canter step or two while being an over achiever, and then politely fixes a small mistake over one that never makes an effort the whole class, personally. That lends itself to the heart aspect of the the breed, IMO. Not to say I’ll forgive lots of mistakes like that, but in the situation of an over achiever and an under achiever, obviously the under achiever runs no risk of breaking simply out of not making the effort while the over achiever may make a mistake. I am not likely to punish that horse any harder for that mistake than I am the horse that made no effort for, well, making no effort.
    I think that ringmanship is one of the most beneficial things a person can have when showing, and yet something that is very hard to teach. It is something that can help you in everything from spacing to being seen to making your horse happier by not being in a crowd to not getting yourself in bad traffic situations, etc. So many problems that happen in the show ring could be avoided if good ringmanship were common.

  7. dressagemorganrider says:

    For some of us in the sport world, this kind of stuff really doesn’t make sense… I mean, in a dressage test, if it asks for a canter at E (the middle of one long side) you canter *at* E … even if your horse might have a better canter depart in the next corner. And breaking gaits is one of the biggest no-nos out there. Similarly… in a hunter class, if you know your horse jumps a particular type of jump better at a trot, no, you don’t trot, because a consistent steady canter is essential. Nor do you get to circle your horse to slow it if it gets a little too quick before a jump.

    Is the walk really that important in Morgan EP, CP, and park classes? I don’t remember seeing a single horse in that sort of class actually doing a true 4-beat walk rather than a jiggy short trot when “walk” was called for.

    At one point, I had a desire to show my horse in rail classes, but now I’m thinking we’re better off sticking with dressage, where the tests are very clear.

  8. StacyGRS says:

    Well, in dressage you don’t have to worry about spacing, traffic, etc. In dressage everyone has the same advantage, or disadvantage as it might be, as to where they are when they have to make a transition. If it’s at “D”, they all make it at “D”. Not one person making it in the quiet corner and the other on the rail in front of the announcer’s stand with 3 other horses right in front of them and one behind acting up. In this case, the horse in the quiet corner has a serious advantage. Therefore, when the walk is called for, all horses are given a very reasonable amount of time (we’re not talking a minute here…we’re talking you can finish the rail you’re on or finish passing a horse you might be passing and get back to the rail) to put themselves in a similarly advantageous position. In dressage you know where your transitions are going to be and can plan ahead for them…not the case on the rail. So, you would never be asked to suddenly walk in the middle of a circle or something in dressage. If one has to walk immediately upon the announcement in a rail class, a person could end up walking the wrong direction in the middle of the ring because they were mid circle. Over fences is the same…you know everything ahead of time and you do get to choose if you cut a corner or make it wider and get a straighter line to a fence, but, at the end of the day the gait is not what’s primarily of interest there, it’s the jumping so it’s pretty much apples to oranges.
    If you’ve never seen a horse in a CP or EP horse do a flat footed walk, I’m not sure what to tell you…it happens all the time. It is often a rapid walk…as the Morgan walk is described in the standards…but I see it, and do it…all the time. Is it on a long rein with a long stride like a dressage walk? No…you won’t see that, most likely. It will be a collected walk as it is a short period between 2 collected, animated gaits…but it’s a walk more often than it’s not.
    Personally, I love the showmanship and freedom of the rail classes. I love that the better horseman can make a difference and you don’t have to do every little detail at every letter, but can make decisions that can improve a horse’s performance. I like the concept that my decisions matter and I love watching my riders learn the value of ringmanship. There’s alot more to it than just doing exactly what you’re told…there’s thinking and planning and when you’re better at it than the others, you get rewarded:) It makes smart riders…not just riders that can follow instructions, but riders that can see what’s happening around them, have some foresight, know their horses reactions and make situations work in their favor…I love doing it myself and love it when my riders achieve it! So, while a horse that doesn’t do a 4 beat walk might get away with it here and there, I still believe that every trip in the show ring with other horses is valuable to gain showmanship experience and confidence and make a rider more ring smart and, IMO, the more ring smarts a rider has the better off they are and the more fun showing is because they know they can handle anything and big classes become fun to maneuver thru and situations become fun to try to turn to your favor.

  9. underdog88 says:

    Great points Stacy! I really don’t think comparing what is required in a dressage test or hunter/jumper round to what is required in a rail class is a very good comparison. Again- apples and oranges.
    That’s like saying (to mention a class someone else already mentioned), “Well in a command class you are required to stop or go within 3 seconds, so that should be required in any class”. That’s just not how it works. When you are riding a class with lots of other horses, you don’t just slam on the breaks or pick up the canter or trot wherever you are just because the announcer has called for it.
    Like in the case of the canter, you ask your horse to wait patiently before the horse in front of you has gone before picking it up- this simple act makes the presentation of your horse so much better than if you just asked the horse immediately and then had to quickly swerve around the horse in front of you. Waiting is much more intelligent than just asking right away.

    And an example where you would want to wait a second before walking-
    You are behind someone. They bring their horse to a walk but you are still trotting and because they have walked, you are approaching them more quickly now, and are right behind them. Instead of slamming on the breaks to stay behind them, and have your horse’s nose up their horse’s bum at the walk, you simply continue to trot for a few more seconds, pass them, and find your spot on the rail in front of them to walk. This, as everyone has already said, is horsemanship. Simply following the command over the loud speaker the INSTANT it’s announced…is NOT. The circumstances in rail classes vs. dressage or hunter/jumper are totally different, as Stacy pointed out. And just so it’s clear…when we’re talking about someone waiting to walk, we’re not talking like a minute after it’s been announced…more like 10/15 seconds TOPS.

    Also, dressagemorganrider-

    You don’t remember seeing a SINGLE horse walk in any EP, CP, or park classes EVER??????? How many classes have you seen? Because I find that remarkable. I find that extremely hard to believe. There are plenty of Morgan horses with walking issues- no doubt. But, from my 20 years showing, I would say that overwhelmingly, the majority of the horses in the classes I’ve seen (which is thousands I can only guess) do indeed, flat walk. As Stacy said, it is not like a dopey QH WP walk, definitely not, but it is definitely flat, and 4-beated. Actually, in CP it would be a major fault for a horse to be jigging since manners and such are of such paramount importance for CP mounts, so that I find even more odd that you have seen no entries walking.
    A note on park though, I should tell you, if you don’t already know, that the “park walk” is NOT the same as the walk that is required in any of the other classes. In HP, WP, EP, and CP, the walk that is required is more or less the same- flat, elastic, four-beated. But in park, you will hear them call not for the “walk”, but for the “park walk” which to most people will look pretty much like a slower, but still animated, trot. In park classes both in harness and under saddle, you will see some people bring their horses down to an actual four-beated walk, but most of the time they do the animated, trot-like, park “walk”- this is not incorrect for park to do this gait. For other divisions though, a flat walk is required, and I see it performed much more often than not- truly.

  10. dressagemorganrider says:

    everything’s based on what I saw at Mass Morgan last year… so not exactly some backyard show. And I do know that the “park walk” is usually not a walk, though it seems to me that even a fancy park horse should be able to do a flat-footed 4-beat walk if asked. (and know from friends that training a former park horse to walk under saddle can be very, very difficult.)

    BTW — I do agree on delaying a transition for safety reasons. I showed a little in flat classes — “Hunter Under Saddle” type things — as a kid, and took group lessons, so I know about this.

    BUT — maybe what pattnic is confused about is something that’s alluded to in other comments. Example: say your horse has a bad walk, and the call to walk comes just before you pass in front of the judge, and you know that the walk won’t last more than about 30 seconds, and then you’ll be asked to canter. So you keep trotting your horse until you’re out of the judge’s line of sight, and bring the horse back to the walk when you know it will only have to walk a few steps, which the judge won’t see, before being asked to canter.

    In my world, this would be called cheating, because the judge does not witness you performing a required gait in the class, because you made sure he would not. In your world, this is “showmanship”???? The fair thing would be to give the judge enough time to see each horse walk, even if only for a few steps. Is part of the reason some Morgans have a bad walk is that people know it will never count for much in the ring? Is the same true of the canter?

    (Comment from my world: many trainers say seek a horse that has a good walk and a good canter, because those are the hardest gaits to improve, while a trot can be changed, to some degree. And we have to demonstrate all the horse’s gaits. There isn’t a lot of walking in dressage tests, but the free walk is scored with a double coefficient in many tests, and judges find good free walks, with the horse straight, stretched down, and relaxed, very rare.)

  11. StacyGRS says:

    In answer to the scenario you gave, there shouldn’t BE a place in the ring that is out of the judge’s line of sight. Judges should, and do, generally, do a “sweep” of the ring with their eyes at the walk before calling the next gait. they may not stare, but it doesn’t take but a second to see a horse walk or not walk. And, generally they wait for that last horse to walk and that one is specifically watched before the next gait is called for. That fast glance can put one at just as much of a disadvantage as an advantage…if your horse walks 25 steps and jigs 2 and the judge only sees those 2, you only get judged on those 2…such is life…but they can get a pretty good idea if everyone is walking. If they glance at each horse at the walk twice each direction, even quickly, they can get a pretty solid idea if the horse, on the whole, walks. And, that is the idea. Not that they walked like a machine with absolute perfection every single step, but that they are willing walkers and the judge feels comfortable that this gait is not an issue for them. Not to say some judges put less weight on that than others…or than they maybe should, but that’s another conversation.
    And, I don’t know if I quite agree that putting your positives in front of the judge as often as possible and your negatives in front of them as little as possible is cheating. I mean, hiding behind a gazebo or another horse or something would be cheating, but as long as you DO a walk within the reasonable amount of time expected and aren’t hiding, not advertising your horse’s weak points isn’t cheating, IMO.
    I think it comes down to wanting to judge positives…I don’t necessarily want to see every little hole a horse has advertised, I want a rider to show me a horse at it’s best. Show me that horse and make it the best it can be. Give it the advantages you can give it, within the rules and reason, and let me judge it on it’s positives, not what I can catch it doing wrong. If that makes sense. I want to see, given it’s best chance at success, how much it can do right. I understand every horse has flaws and I’ll find those, they’re usually pretty easy to spot:) Show me the good, the bad will not need pointing out.

  12. underdog88 says:

    “In my world, this would be called cheating, because the judge does not witness you performing a required gait in the class, because you made sure he would not. In your world, this is “showmanship”???? ”

    Never at any point did any person say that “hiding” is what is considered horsemanship. What we were referring to as horsemanship is when the delay is used to find the ideal spot, finish your pass, get around another horse…things like that. And I don’t think we should refer to eachother as “others” as you do with “your world” as if you are not in it! We are all Morgan people here, in a big community. So I think we should refrain from using that kind of language. I’m part of your world, you’re part of mine (in the Morgan world, that is).

    Here’s something else I want to mention about the whole “putting your positives in front of the judge, and trying to hide your negatives” as “cheating”….In freestyle dressage it’s common practice to intentionally choose certain lines at a particular gait which your horse does not excell at in order to “hide” that as much as possible. The rider will design the test to show off the horse’s best attributes, and call the least amount of attention to its weaknesses. Nothing wrong with using your noggin to put out the best looking performance. And I agree with Stacy that the bad will usually not need pointing out to a judge! They have a skilled and knowledgable eye and they are able to detect most faults…even if you try to hide them!

    About the “park walk”- I disagree and don’t think they should necessarily be required to perform the same walk as all the other classes. And just because they aren’t required to perform a flat walk in the show ring doesn’t mean that none of them can at all. Hunter/Jumpers aren’t required to walk…so should we assume that none of them can?? Or that the jumper classes were intentionally designed with the walk ommitted so that exhibitors wouldn’t have to make their horses do it….NO. It’s the only class that has this specific gait…who cares, it’s something specific to this class. All disciplines, classes, styles, etc etc etc are different! Criteria that’s required in this, doesn’t neccessarily have to be required in that. Are you proposing that the requirements for ALL classes in the whole horse world have the exact same guidelines? That it is homogenous throughout??

    As to your statement about seeing absolutely no saddleseat entries walk- here are just a few videos that I found very easily on youtube:

  13. underdog88 says:

    ***meant to say ‘showmanship’ in the first paragraph!

  14. leslie says:

    It’s the judge’s job to turn around and look. Arguably, if you could avoid the judge’s scrutiny just by trotting out of her line of vision, then the people who happen to be on the opposite rail when the judge calls for a new gait could be doing backflips without it affecting their placings. Fortunately, any good show judge knows to look around the ring after calling for a walk. It only takes a brief glance to see who’s jigging or going sideways.

    I agree that park horses should be able to come down to a flat walk, but the fact is, they don’t have to, and that is in the rule book. We don’t have to like it, but it isn’t the judges’ fault.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a Saddlebred show, but it’s pretty funny (perhaps not funny ha-ha) to see the horses that win the open five-gaited classes. Sometimes it looks like the riders break the horses to canter for the first time when the judge calls for it. It’s only 1/5 of what they’re being judged on, and not nearly as important as the trot, slow gait, and rack, so they don’t spend time on it during training. Does that make any sense? Not to people from other disciplines, but if you look at the rule book, you can see how judges can pin horses that, at first glance, appeared to have just bombed the class.

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