This article is part three of Mark Sheridan’s lesson series, on the basics of horsemanship.
In this third installment of horsemanship tips, I want to talk about the first steps up to the cone and the start of your pattern. The first major things that I look for other than what we discussed in earlier articles, is for proper adjustment of tack, equipment, and communication between horse and rider. I want to see stirrups that are not too short, not too long. Too short of stirrups will put too much bend in the knee. Too long of a stirrup will have the toes down, lack of contact in the stirrup and to straight of a line with little bend in the knee. I see both of these situations in all the shows that I judge. Most of the time it is the latter with the longer stirrup and reaching for the stirrup and always trying to keep the leg way too far behind the hip of the rider. I realize that the line must start at the shoulder, drop through the hip, and finish up through the ankle. However, many times I see the riders constantly pushing their legs back too far, which puts the ankle too far behind the line. This will only put the rider out of balance as they are riding on their crotch. Too short of a stirrup will tend to keep the legs ahead of the line. Proper stirrup adjustment will make it possible for the rider to apply pressure to the ball of the foot, with the heels down and slightly out so that the calf of the rider is close the barrel of the horse. This will make it able for the rider to maintain constant contact and communication with horse at all times.
An obvious observation is incorrect bridle adjustment as well as cinches not tightened up and tucked away. It is easy to tell how the pattern will ride on most occasions when there is communication between horse and rider before the pattern starts. If the horse is pushing on the bridle and the rider has that worried look in their face of lack of communication with their partner, it is very easy to see from our point of view. Most good judges start to get a feel of the rider and the pattern from the time that they nod their head for them to start the pattern. It is very important to start a few feet back from the start cone, so that one can let their horse walk a step or two and un-track them from standing still. Flow is the most important part of the pattern. Do make sure that if the judges are looking up and if you see that one of the judges in a multi judged show nods for you to go, that you definitely go! Do not under any circumstances make the judge wave to you, or nod more than once for you to commence with your pattern. If there is a work order, listen for your order of go. Do not be goofing around and not paying attention to the announcer or ring steward. If they call your number and you are not up to the cone and ready to go, you will be dropped a sufficient amount of points. Pay attention and be ready to go, and make sure that you are not training or jerking on your horse’s mouth when you are in the ring, especially when we are looking. That applies as well as when you are finished with your pattern and waiting on the other end of the arena until the other patterns are finished. It is amazing what we can see from our vantage point, and always assume that we are always looking at you. And always pay attention to your rind steward and give them the utmost courtesy that they deserve. They work hard and are directed by the judges as what to do throughout the day. I often see exhibitors treat the ring stewards, and gate people with little respect. Trust me here on this, we usually hear about things like this throughout the day.
When you start your pattern, make sure that you always look up and forward. The only vision down should be between your horse’s ears. Ride with confidence and keep your focus forward. A look of confidence will go very far in convincing us that your pattern will be ridden correctly.
Stay tuned for more installments with helpful information and insight for making all your rides the best!