October 1 - 5, 2014
Las Vegas

September 30 - October 5, 2014
Murfreesboro, Tennessee


October 4, 2013

More All Around Advice

At the SmartPak AQHA West Novice Championship from AQHA Professional Horsemen Karen Graham and Jim and Deanna Searles.

By Christine Hamilton
The American Quarter Horse Journal

AQHA Professional Horseman Deanna Searles

AQHA Professional Horseman Deanna Searles

It’s nothing but the best advice from top AQHA Professional Horsemen for the free Ride the Pattern clinics at the SmartPak West and Nutrena East AQHA novice championships.

In Las Vegas, the last two clinics featured trainers based in Arizona – Karen Graham of Cave Creek on trail, and Jim and Deanna Searles of Scottsdale on horsemanship.

In both clinics, the horsemen went over the competition patterns, the judges’ expectations and how the class procedure would flow. They all emphasized the importance – despite the nerves – of having fun, and enjoying the spotlight with your horse, no matter what.

“A lot of (the trail) questions were about scoring and how to plus,” Karen said. “I think a lot of their concerns focused on looking at an obstacle and how they should ride it. Of course it changes for each horse and you have your stride rules.

“For example, in the triangle (in this pattern) you have to trot over one point and then circle around and trot the next point. Some of them were doing three strides coming in and two strides coming out, etc., and I was trying to show them how to ‘shape up’ which means to get in there on the right angle so that you get two strides on each side.

“They need this information,” she added, in support of AQHA Professional Horsemen giving free Ride the Pattern/Ride the Rail clinics at the novice championships. “They need a lot of confidence. Some of them are coming here without trainers or they are coming here facing for the first time patterns that require so much precision… and they are worried about it.”

Memorize the pattern, and then don’t stress over it, “just let it flow,” Karen said. Remember that at this level you’re trying to improve your riding, and you need to focus on just feeling good about the ride you end up having.

“I just want them to slow down and think about what they are doing," she added. "Relax, and just take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.”

Here are some words of wisdom from the Ride the Pattern horsemanship clinic with AQHA Professional Horsemen Jim and Deanna Searles of Scottsdale, Arizona. Horsemanship shows October 5.

  • Because you are starting at the cone, be at the cone ready to go. Do not be behind the cone. Have your horse’s head at the cone.
  • You want a nice, forward walk. (The walk is actually) the hardest part about this pattern, and the judges are going to want to see it. Show the walk and be sure to give it several strides
  • Because you don’t have a cone (to mark the transition), just ask for the jog, don’t goose your horse into the jog, just bump.
  • Ideally, you’d spin (complete your turn) and step off into that lope. But show your horse to his best capability: Some horses need to balance and then lope off. Some horses need a walk step and a lope off.  
  • The judges want to see forward motion – they don’t want to see you pitter-pattering at the lope or walking really slowly – have forward impulsion going through the whole thing.
  • Ride it how it’s drawn – if there’s a straight line, the judges want to see that; don’t loop.
  • If your horse is a western rider, a simple lead change can actually be very hard for it to do. As soon as they feel you adjust, and you think they’re going to do it, you switch your leg and they are trained to change leads, not break to the jog and change leads. You want to slow yourself down and think, I’m loping and now I’m jogging and now I’m loping. If you rush yourself through it you won’t jog. They want definition of the gaits. If you rush, the horse will slip that lead change in quick.
  • You want to use as much of the arena space as you can without being on the rail. (With the split pen) it’s a very small pen.
  • When you come out of the corner, get straight and then break down to that extended trot, and don’t dribble into your stop.
  • Before you go, practice your walk. Not very many people practice the walk in show position, usually you walk all relaxed. And your horse can feel the difference, too. If he’s only used to you being relaxed at the walk, when you go to show position, he might misread that and jog.
  • (Part of) your hand position is your own style. I hold my rein hand over the horn, and the other (a little back, shoulder at her side). You want your shoulders square, and don’t be too tight and stiff, or then you can’t steer.
  • Don’t exceed (in the show) what you’ve practiced at home. (For example,) I see a lot of people practice a nice, consistent turn and then (at the show), the horse in front of them does a rocket spin, and they go in and try to do that, and it’s a lot uglier than they could have done. If you try to exceed the talent of your horse, usually it makes things worse.
  • Breathe out there, enjoy it! You’ve worked really hard to get here.