Pattern Chaining: Ranch Horse Classes

Pattern Chaining: Ranch Horse Classes

Practice putting pattern maneuvers together to maximize your scores.

horse with rider trotting in a field

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The American Quarter HOrse Journal

By Andrea Rego with Andrea Caudill


Horse shows are a test of where we as riders are in our horsemanship journey, and pattern classes are one of the most enlightening tests, showing our strengths and weaknesses. 

Training at home is a time to improve yourself and your horse, but in the days right before a show, it’s better to use  the time left to solidify what my horse and I are already capable of. That’s where the exercise of chaining or linking comes in, whether I’m getting ready to show myself, or preparing my collegiate team for a national competition

In competition, every little point counts. In my team’s most recent national competition, we got reserve by a point. One point! Every maneuver within a pattern gives me the chance to bump up my score. So you can’t discount anything in the show pen, you truly have to give your best in the pen.  If you know what you and your horse are capable of before you even load up the trailer, you’re going to be better prepared to get everything out of that horse you can in a balanced and effective way at the horse show.

This exercise is not super revolutionary, but I don’t think a ton of riders think about preparing in this way before showing. Chaining is one cue (or maneuver) building upon another cue (or maneuver) to the next cue (or maneuver). Think of each chain link attached to the next one – the goal is to build a strong chain, to build those links together into one solid pattern executed before the judge. This is the exercise I use for my collegiate riders before their shows, and an exercise I use for myself.

This exercise specifically is really geared toward someone that is ready to go show a pattern that calls for all the maneuvers that could be requested. This wouldn’t be something I’d do on a green horse that’s still trying to get confident in the show pen. This is for the rider who is trying to just get that extra half-point or point, that edge in the show pen.

Evaluation

The first step to this process is to do some evaluation, both of the pattern and of the rider and the horse. If you’re doing this alone, I’d recommend setting up a way to video for you to review each maneuver.

If the show sends out the pattern a week or so before the event, I first look at the pattern and break down the maneuvers according to my horse’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, I might start with the extended trot of the ranch riding pattern if that is what my horse excels the most in.

I like to look at the pattern and give thought on how I will practice without overdoing it or getting my horse burned out or anticipating maneuvers in a certain spot of the arena.

Typically, I’m going to take the pattern maneuvers and practice them, but not as the pattern is drawn, and hopefully somewhere other than a typical arena setup, if possible. I’m not going to do the pattern in the exact formation it asks for in order to avoid anticipation.

Each day leading up to the event I typically do something different during the ride. One day I’ll set up some marker cones in a large open flat field, wherever you can do these maneuvers. Change the pattern up a little bit; if it calls for a 50-foot extended trot, in practice I’m going to do a 120-foot extended trot. That sort of thing. The next day I might ride in an arena but only practice one or two of the transitions the pattern calls for.

The next thing I want to do when making a plan, is honestly evaluate how well the horse and rider team can score in each individual maneuver. Honesty is usually best policy, and being truthful in your own ability only allows for you to maximize the areas you and your horse can perform the best, and work on maneuvers that may need to be brought up to average scores.

Maybe I know that in this point in his training, my horse is capable of a +1 extended trot, but only a 0 turnaround. If that’s the best this horse can do one week out from the show, that’s what I’m probably going to expect. I’m not going to try to get that +1 in the turnaround – we’re going to leave that for training sessions after the show and maximize our potential in other areas of the pattern.

Run The Pattern

Now it’s time to start putting everything together in practice. 

I’m going to have my student start the pattern for the first time, maneuver by maneuver, and I’m going to score them. If you don’t have eyes on the ground, try to catch your ride on video. Don’t worry, I’ve set my phone up in some odd places in order to catch my ride for someone else to watch! 

If the horse does the maneuver to the best of his ability – if he nails that 0 turnaround he is capable of – move on to the next maneuver in the pattern. Focus on the horse staying relaxed and having an ease in transitions.

If the horse does not perform the maneuver to par, I’m going to stay on that maneuver until I know I’ve gotten the best I can out of that horse that day. Obviously there are limitations, and if there’s something holding that horse back, I’m not going to do focus much on chaining that day, but rather just that maneuver. With horse training, plans change all the time. If we’re looking at any major missteps or issues, let’s say the horse breaks to a lope in the extended trot, we’ll work through why that’s happening. We’ll find a focus point and work on our lengthening of stride, effective cueing, or maybe that horse needs to work out a little energy before we go back to it. 

 Often times I find that it rarely takes more than 3 or 4 times to get that maneuver correct, and we can move on to the next maneuver. If the corrections are timely, gentle, and the horse is rewarded through release effectively, I find that moving onto the next maneuver is easier.

Often in training, we focus on just one thing during a session – maybe today we focus on extended loping, and tomorrow we focus on turnarounds. With the chaining, the expectation is to work on ease of transitions between each maneuver. That’s the logistical chaining of maneuver to maneuver, as the pattern is written. If we only practice one thing at a time at home, how can we expect our horses and ourselves to perform well at a show, when more is called for? 

If I have a student or horse that are particularly anxious, I might use something called “backchaining,” which is when we run the pattern or a few maneuvers in reverse, typically starting with the easier maneuvers for the horse. 

Backchaining really helps with decreasing anticipation and increasing confidence in both the horse and the rider. I often find it’s the rider anticipating, they’re building up to the cue they’re about to make and the horse feels it. I’ll verbally make this correction to the rider, having them assess their amount of leg, seat, hand, and/or voice they are using to cue the maneuver. I really like using video for this, having both the rider and myself looking at what might be causing the maneuver to be below average, which might be something we both didn’t catch the first time.

If I find my student has mastered the chaining of the exercises, I might do a random mix of the maneuvers. Almost like a game of Simon Says.  Can you do these maneuvers wherever I want you to do them, in whatever order I want? We want that level of fluidity in our teams. But that also just comes with traditional, everyday training.

Show Time

Breaking a pattern down by maneuver really helps the rider expect a certain result when they get to the show.  I’m not necessarily talking about placings. I want my team to be able to show in the competition  what they can do in the practice pen at home. This also helps me select team riders for collegiate competitions. 

If I know one of my riders is capable of a +1 in that maneuver, and did that translate to the show pen? Did they score the same, or was it different? If it was different, why do we think it was it different? How can we address our issues to train the horse and improve for next time? 

Try it out, and see if you’re able to improve your scores at your next show. Also, never forget to look at your score sheet and understand the rules governing your event.

About the Source: Andrea Rego

Andrea Rego is the stock horse team coach at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee

An active exhibitor herself, Andrea placed Top 5 in the open ranch riding at the 2021 AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships. Just recently she coached her collegiate stock horse team to be Division 1 National Champions in the American Stock Horse Association , and reserve champions in Division 2 at the 2022 Hughes Trailers National Intercollegiate Ranch and Stock Horse Association Championship Show. The school has an active horse science undergraduate and graduate program, as well as equestrian and horse judging teams. 

For more information on Middle Tennessee State University, visit their horse science page. For more information on the National Intercollegiate Ranch and Stock Horse Association, visit the NIRSHA’s website.