20 Tips for Perfecting Horse Show Patterns

20 Tips for Perfecting Horse Show Patterns

Improve your horse show pattern-class performance with these tips.

black horsemanship horse pattern (Credit: Journal)

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You wouldn't set off on a journey without mapping out a course. Don’t set off in a pattern class at a horse show without planning just as carefully.

Think of each new horse show arena as a new territory to be mastered, and you’ll find yourself navigating patterns with ease – or at least with a plan.

Pattern in Your Pocket

When you set off for the day, make sure you have these two things in your pocket all the time: a schedule of events for the day and a copy of the patterns they’ll be doing that day.

Your goal is going to be:

  1. Take that pattern everywhere. 

  2. Read it. 

  3. Understand it. 

  4. Ride it. 

  5. Make it look so easy that anybody could do it. The easier it looks, the higher you will score.

If you have a schedule, you don’t have to be nervous because you’re not sure whether you’re in the next class or the fifth class or the 10th.

Plan and Prepare

  1. Bring your own practice cones with you and set them up as closely as possible to the way the pattern shows. It’s beneficial to be involved in setting the cones, because making sure they are set the way you envision them on that pattern is part of understanding where to go.

  2. Draw conclusions from text and drawings. Judges draw patterns specifically, and the drawing may help you understand what should happen.

  3. Don’t worry about how the people ahead of you do the pattern, because those people might not have studied the pattern. If you study the pattern and practice it, you should know what you’re doing. 

  4. Don’t change your game plan just because someone else does it differently. If you did your homework correctly, more than likely, you are right and they are not.

  5. Think about what’s normal when you’re setting your practice cones. If you’re going to be riding in a huge arena, the cones will be farther apart. If it’s a tiny arena, they have to be set closer together.

Practice the Pattern

  1. Run through the pattern a time or two so you can realize where the hard parts are. 

  2. Don’t overdo it. There is nothing worse than going out and practicing the pattern 28 times, because your horse will start to anticipate and take over, saying, “Hang on, buddy, we practiced this a while ago and I can do it for you.”

  3. Focus on loosening up your horse and getting him mentally prepared to do his job the best he can that day. You’re not going to train your horse in one day to do a maneuver you’ve never done before. Just do the best you can and realize what you need to work on tomorrow to be better.

Location, Location, Location

  1. Make consistent decisions. The pattern usually doesn’t tell you whether you need to be 2 feet or 5 feet off a cone. You have to figure that out for yourself, and then stick to that decision.

  2. Consider the next maneuver when preparing for a current one. If you’re going to stop at cone B and do a 360-degree turn, you need to position yourself differently than you would if you’re going to walk up and then trot. 

  3. Pay attention to your practice cones. Setting them too close or too far apart create their own sets of problems, but the result is the same: You go to the wrong place.

Break It Down

When you enter the arena on your horse, find the spot where you and your horse need to be at each cone. If you need to be 10 feet off cone B, look at the ground to find that spot.

  1. Don’t look at the cone. If you look at the cone, you’ll ride to the cone. Look at your spot and then look up and past it so that as you ride to the cone, you’re able to keep your chin up. 

  2. Keep your eyes up. If you look down at your spot, you’ll drop your eyes, which drops your chin, which takes your whole body out of position and makes your job much harder.

  3. Envision the cone 6 to 8 feet in the air ahead of you. Look on the fence to find a mark. At every arena you compete in, there will be something you can use as a marker. There are posts on fences, banners – there are always marks.

  4. Focus on one step at a time. When you’re at cone A, don’t worry about what you’re going to do at cone E. At cone A, your job is to think about how you’re going to get to cone B so that you can get to C.

  5. Keep it simple and smile. In patterns with a limited number of maneuvers, it’s not hard as long as you focus on what you’re going to do from A to B, then B to C, then C to D, then smile, wave at the crowd and leave. It’s simple if you’ll let it be simple.

The pattern will fall into place if you’re relaxed and not rushing. Let things happen normally. The next time you compete, it will be easier if you let yourself relax and become a better rider.

If you become a better rider, your horse will become a better horse.

In the Practice These Patterns e-book, professionals break horse show patterns into parts to better help you conquer them. The e-book is free for AQHA members!