Elvis and the Versatility Class

Elvis and the Versatility Class

In certain open shows in North Carolina (and probably elsewhere), there is such a thing as a Versatility Class… and it is awesome.  Rules vary per show, but the format is always as follows:

One horse & rider combination for roughly four classes with major tack changes back and forth.  The horse & rider must stay in the ring for tack changes, and can have 1-2 helpers.  The helpers stand at the edge of the ring while the classes are going on, and in-between classes the horse & rider have 3 minutes to change tack and clothing.  It’s crazy, but it’s fantastic!

When I entered Elvis in a big open horse show, I saw that they had a Versatility class.  My interest was peaked… but we had never shown western and I didn’t own any western show clothes.  Lucky for me, I know someone who did and begged/pleaded with my riding buddy Rebecca to show Elvis in Versatility for me.  It didn’t take much convincing since that girl loves to horse show, so we headed in for a night class of chaos with my trusty Quarter Horse.

The first class was English Pleasure.  Even though Elvis is a Quarter Horse, he never went stock hunter style.  He was more upright/equitation framed up, so he stuck out a bit in a ring full of 30+ peanut rollers.  Even though he’s a pretty cute mover, we didn’t place in this class.  Still, they looked nice and he was a good boy!


Next up was Western Pleasure, which means they had to come over for a tack change.  Now, changing your horse’s tack rapidly in 2-3 minutes is a bit faster than you think.  Rebecca also had not shown western since high school, and I believe was cursing when she was zipping up her chaps over Tailored sportsmans and throwing on a western silky show shirt.  Meanwhile, I tried to help her with clothes while holding Elvis and throwing on his western tack.  The key word here is throwing on… I gave her a leg up and they headed back to the centerline for the western pleasure portion.


Now Elvis has never been a western star.  He didn’t have a true jog and his head was always too vertical for Western pleasure, but as they came towards me he seemed a lot more tense than usual.  This is when Rebecca said through her pleasure smile, “THE GIRTH IS SOOOOOOOO LOSE.”  Turns out he puffed up, and I didn’t re-check the girth with the fast time.  So down the rail they went, with her sitting the trot for about 5 strides and then massively shifting weight to the inside to keep the saddle on straight.  Needless to say, we did not get a placing in western pleasure.


After Western Pleasure was an equitation pattern, and when they came back for the tack change Rebecca was super eager to get out of that Western saddle.  We threw all the english garb back on, and they headed to the lineup to wait for the pattern.  Elvis is a very obedient horse, and they did a really nice pattern.  I was hopeful for a placing, until we realized after the fact that she was on the wrong side of the cone for one small section.  Easy mistake, but no placing nonetheless.


At this point, I had given up any hope for an overall placing and was just choking this up to a fun experience.  The last class was Texas barrels, and when she came over for the tack change I was ready to throw western tack back on.

“No way, I’m not having a loose girth when we do barrels!”  So instead, we put on Eksadron boots and called it a go.

In the lineup of almost 40 horses, she was one of very few riders in huntseat tack for the barrel racing portion.


Since everybody was standing around for a long time, horses and riders were given about 30 seconds to do a little trotting behind the timer to start the barrels.  When Rebecca and Elvis got to go, she did some sitting trot circles and some leg yields.  I heard the crowd around me:

“Silly english rider, what is she doing?”

“Oh, isn’t she so fancy in her braids”

To the naked eye, it did look like they were warming up for dressage instead of barrels… that is until she straightened him out and TOOK OFF across the ring.  True to his Quarter Horse heritage, Elvis was a sprinter… and he was fast!

The crowd remained skeptical until she approached the first barrel, half halted, and whipped around it with no trouble what-so-ever.  That’s when the doubts turned into “Wooo’s!” and I heard “GO ENGLISH GIRL GO!” from more than one person.


Out of about 40 horses, there was only 1 person faster.  I don’t remember the exact time, but they ended up 2nd in barrels.

We laughed and celebrated all the way back to the barn, and later found out that she ended up 10th overall from just that barrel run alone.  It was one of my favorite memories with Elvis!

28 thoughts on “Elvis and the Versatility Class

  1. Your Elvis reminds me of my first horse. Did we fit in with the peanut rollers? No way! But we sure had a good time and he could do a lot of things they couldn’t so there!

    Our shows always had a versatility class but I was too chicken to enter. I think ours were pleasure driving, english pleasure, western pleasure, and barrels. Watching all those pleasure horses do barrels was always a hoot! I miss seeing stuff like that. We’re all so specialized these days.

    1. Yes! That’s exactly like Elvis. Good solid guy who would try all day (jumping sometime a different story) but totally not a peanut roller.

      Versatility with driving would have been INSANE. No way we could have played with that. I think my favorite part of any open show with a high point award is watching the pleasure horses try and do barrels. Many lolz for all.

  2. I’ve never heard of that kind of Versatility class but it sounds like blast! And a very fun learning experience. People used to comment on me barrel racing my OTTB in English tack… But they loved it none-the-less. It’s more of balancing act if I do say so myself! Awesome job guys.

  3. Haha so awesome. Elvis is a total star. English riders can RIDE, open show people!

    They used to have a variation on this at some of the Morgan shows I attended, but it was a ride-and-drive class. Horse would drive in, do a class, then change into tack in the middle of the ring and go out to the rail for the riding portion. Unfortunately they lost a lot of popularity, and I think I only ever saw that class with two entries. Sounds like the versatility classes enjoy a lot more popularity on the open circuit!

  4. I giggled aloud as soon as the part about “GO ENGLISH GIRL GO” was said. LOVE it. Especially because I’m usually the ONLY person riding in a non-western saddle around here ALL the time; I get so much crap for it. It’s GREAT that such a large venue was able to see that good riding is good riding no matter what the tack! What a super star, Elvis!

  5. Awesome!! A few of our fall fairs have a versatility class. No eq pattern though, if memory serves…just HUS, WP and barrels. Sounds like a riot though!

  6. This is amazing thanks for sharing this!!! Brings back so many memories of Versatility in my NC 4-H days. I never did it as my OTTB was not western material LOL. I did get to be a “runner” several times and help my friends change clothes and throw on the tack. Fun fun times!!! 🙂

  7. Hahaha!!! Elivis running barrels!!!

    About a year and a half ago I took my little Conemarra/Tb cross to a very local open show series and rode him in English in the morning and then attempted to ride barrels in an English saddle in the afternoon 🙂
    Gus missed the GO tb gene so we usually sucked on the speed but it was for the laughs and fun that I entered him in the speed classes 🙂

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