Pleasure Power with Gil Galyean

January 19th, 2018 12:47 PM | No Comments

by Barbara Aiken

Gil 4Gil Galyean’s name is synonymous with the AQHA and NSBA Western Pleasure events. Accurately referenced as the “Million Dollar Man,” Galyean lead the NSBA earnings to reach the first ever NSBA Million Dollar earnings mark in 2015 and continues to be a leading force in the Western Pleasure industry.

Like most professional athletes in any sport, the better the horse and rider, the easier it looks. Galyean makes Western Pleasure look effortless, a true pleasure to ride.

To achieve that graceful look in the show pen, Galyean’s training style is a foundation built on hard work, consistency, and extremely well broke horses.

Galyean describes the “perfect” pleasure horse “as conformationally attractive, have eye appeal, and a good topline with a soft eye.” He adds, “I want to walk into the show pen and the judge to say, “That’s a neat looking horse.”

Like in every other discipline, the starting point to creating a quality Western Pleasure horse lies in bloodlines and breeding, which opens the door to the horse possessing the physical ability to move correctly, based on the Western Pleasure standards.

The 2017 AQHA Rulebook states:
 SHW402. WESTERN PLEASURE. A good western pleasure horse has a free-flowing stride of reasonable length in keeping with his conformation. He should cover a reasonable amount of ground with little effort. Ideally, he should have a balanced, flowing motion, while exhibiting correct gaits that are of the proper cadence. The quality of the movement and the consistency of the gaits is a major consideration. He should carry his head and neck in a relaxed, natural position, with his poll level with or slightly above the level of the withers. He should not carry his head behind the vertical, giving the appearance of intimidation, or be excessively nosed out, giving a resistant appearance. His head should be level, with his nose slightly in front of the vertical, having a bright expression with his ears alert. He should be shown on a reasonably loose rein. He should be responsive, yet smooth, in transitions when called for. When asked to extend, he should move out with the same flowing motion. Maximum credit should be given to the flowing, balanced and willing horse that gives the appearance of being fit and a pleasure to ride. This class will be judged on the performance, condition, and conformation of the horse.

Gil 1Galyean strives to teach his horses to have good rhythm in the trot and a “kick me in the seat” style lope. The horse must be collected and soft in the body to achieve power from the hind or to stay consistent and rhythmical in their movements.
“The horse should be able to hit its diagonals easily in the jog and should swing its hock and point its front toe in the lope,” he explains.
Galyean touts the importance of “completing the stride” in a full fluid three beat lope. “I don’t want a horse who lopes sideways with its hip pushed over 6 feet, but it’s got to push from behind.”

He helps his horses learn to “complete the stride” by using counter circles.  “I do counter circles where I ask  [the horse’s stride] to get bigger while I tip the eye to the inside.” He continues, “I ask with my legs in its ribcage to take a bigger step and reach and push from behind. If I feel like it’s reaching enough, I’ll come out of that counter circle and lope the other direction.”

Galyean explains that he might complete this sequence with 4-5 circles each direction until he gets the desired result of the horse reaching its hind legs correctly up underneath.  He explains where he wants the hind leg to reach using the example, “If I’m in a left lead, I want the left rear foot to land a little to the outside of the left front foot’s track.”

His training method is self-described as “We teach them. We don’t push them.”
He explains that slow is the last part of a maneuver that he teaches his horses.
“I don’t force horses to go slow.”  In fact, Galyean offers, “Young horses get galloped a lot. You must let the horse find his own rhythm. The horse must learn to create ‘hang time.’ Slow doesn’t just happen automatically.”

Galyean’s horses focus on more than just the walk, jog and lope. He instills all the foundational maneuvers as part of his training.  “Every horse should back up willingly on a loose rein.”

Gil 3Working on maneuvers that will “break up the monotony” of day-to-day rides is emphasized. He encourages riders to enter their pleasure horses in all-around classes. He likes to mix up a horse’s “job” by teaching them how to do non-Western Pleasure maneuvers like turning and side passing. This helps teach the horses to work off of leg pressure, which ultimately aids in the slack rein, and effortless look on the rail.

If a horse is struggling with completing these various maneuvers and is “rebellious against his legs,” Galyean believes that many times, the root of the problem lies with the horse being resistant in its body. He will “break the horse loose” by softening the horse’s body. However, Galyean is adamant that in order to be successful with softening the horse, the rider must at all times, use a soft approach.

“You can’t ever jerk on a horse,” states Galyean. He uses the example of a horse’s head rising up when the rider lifts their hand up to cue for any maneuver.
“You have to almost sneak your hand in to lift it up and sneak it out. Pick up your hand slow and release it slowly,” stresses Galyean.   “I like horses to be soft in my hands.”

If the horse is still resistant in its face, Galyean often times puts a snaffle bit in its mouth (even aged horses) and asks the horse to trot while he quietly asks the horse to turn its head to the left then to the right, which ultimately softens the head and neck.

Gil 2In addition to riding, Galyean is an advocate of turn out time.  “Before you can do anything, you have to get ‘the fresh’ off the horse. I never want to keep a horse up in a stall all the time and think I’m going to be able to hop on and get the most out of my horse.”

Galyean believes consistency is the foundation for success for all horses, across the range of disciplines. “A pleasure horse or any show horse has to be worked on a consistent basis.”

In and out of the show pen, Galyean strives to have a well broke horse that is soft, moves athletically and is willing. In order to have success, he encourages riders to be slow with their hands and feet, be consistent with what they ask their horse to accomplish while giving the horse the time to learn what the rider wants from them.

Consistency coupled with a soft approach will ultimately lead to success in the Western Pleasure show pen.

Leave a Reply