This article is part four of Mark Sheridan’s lesson series, on the basics of horsemanship.
How do I give my horsemanship patterns the polished look that can win, and what are the first things that catch your eye as a judge?
On this installment number four, I want to get into the finer parts of riding your patterns. Consistency is the key on maintaining good scores on your patterns. Most scores are based on a 0 to 100. As soon as your pattern commences, the judge will start to analyze where your range should be, 60’s, 70’s 80’s or higher or lower. Riding your pattern will raise or lower that score like a thermometer. There are obvious major penalties that can drop your score such as break of gait, wrong leads, riding the pattern incorrectly, kicking out, etc… One of the most common issues is just simple lack of communication between the horse and rider, including lightness in the bridle and hands, and response to the rider’s legs and spurs, among other issues. There is no substitution for an extremely well broke horse. It is easy for us to tell if you did your homework or not. It can sometimes take up to as long as a year to work together and gel with your horse. You should also notice that your patterns and communication with your horse is getting better with every ride or show, and not decline. If there is not at least a small amount of improvement going on with your horse, it is time to reevaluate things.
At the beginning of the show, make sure to get your patterns plenty of time ahead of your class. Sometimes you will be able to pick up the patterns the day ahead of time. Study your patterns and know them well. I usually have my riders practice the pattern once or twice at the most. Practicing the pattern over and over with your horse will only end up making them anticipate the pattern, and you will end up riding on the defensive side. Horses are smart, so practice parts of the pattern, not the entire pattern. It will all come together when you go in the arena. If your horse anticipates stopping or loping off at the cones, then ride them in the practice arena to fix that. Lope past the cones and stop at places where they are not supposed to in the pattern. Mix it up. Get your horse to trust you by the way you train and ride him.
Make sure to ride your patterns with symmetry! Ride your circles round and exactly as written in the pattern. Riding circles does not come easy for everyone and is a maneuver that must be practiced at home. Most patterns involve the use of cones, however sometimes I will design a pattern without cones to see how much vision the rider has. Sometimes riders get lost without the aid of cones. Practice at home with and without them. If cones are used, keep the same amount of distance from each cone in the pattern. If you start your pattern six feet to the left side of the cone, and you end up stopping and completing the pattern two or ten feet away, your pattern is not symmetrical. Having peripheral vision is very important to executing correct patterns. Keep your head up and your eyes forward. Vision is very important and I sometimes see trends that bother me. When some exhibitors execute a turn, they will look so far into the turn that they lose vision and feel of the horse’s head, neck and face. They are looking so far into the turn that they don’t realize that the horse’s head is tipping the other way and now they are also crooked with their shoulders. Looking slightly into your circles and turn are important. Just make sure that you don’t get caught up in trends that are not true horsemanship fundamentals.
On riding your pattern, make sure that you pay attention to all the other patterns that are being ridden that day. You will have to take your level of competition up to beat the others. This will make you aware of how good you are going to have to be that day. Don’t get psyched out, just take your game to the next level and ride up a notch. This will also make you aware of any problems areas with the pattern. If everyone seems to be having issues with a particular part of the pattern, find a way to ride it better. Like I said in earlier articles, if there is a work order, be ready and at the cone. If there is not work order, volunteer to go first. Confidence is an attractive horsemanship quality. Jump up there and set the standard for the others to beat. If things start to go wrong, keep riding and finish strong. Never quit riding and showing. Complete your pattern and move to the rail with your head up. It is not necessary to nod to the judge or hesitate for approval after finishing your pattern. Keep your head up and smile, and show confidence!
There is much more to come in following installments. Next issue # 5, will continue with more tips and some of my pet peeves that will kill scores. Things you will not want to do in the ring.