Ranch Riding: 7 Tips to Improve Your Scores

Ranch Riding: 7 Tips to Improve Your Scores

Prepare for AQHA’s ranch riding class with these tips from trainer Trevor Carter.

Trainer Trevor Carter and his red roan horse trot over a log on his ranch to prepare for ranch riding classes (Credit: Abigail Boatwright)

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By Trevor Carter for The American Quarter Horse Journal


Ranch riding is challenging because it has elements of speed and a pattern to follow that requires you to learn how to adjust under the pressure of competition. I really recommend this class for getting comfortable in the show pen, whether you’re an experienced rider but new to showing, or you’ve got a well-trained horse and want to get started competing.

Here are seven things you need to know before you show in ranch riding.

1. Master the basic maneuvers.

A typical ranch riding pattern includes these gaits:

  • Walk

  • Extended walk

  • Trot

  • Extended trot

  • Lope

You’ll be going through all the gaits as you work your pattern solo in the arena. Some patterns call for simple lead changes, some call for flying changes. Some patterns include side passing, spins and stops. Basically, all the maneuvers you need to start prac­ticing for any higher-level class, whether it be reining, cow work or just going out and riding. If you master ranch riding, you’ll find it will help your horse perform maneuvers for other classes a lot better.

A typical run includes more walking, trotting and extend­ed trotting than loping. You really want to focus on that extended trot transition, from lope to extended trot. It’s a really good maneuver that’s not offered in any other class, and that extended trot can really impact your score.

2. Practice makes perfect.

Don’t practice the exact patterns at home, otherwise your horse can start anticipating. By practicing the maneuvers and transitions for these classes correctly at home, you and your horse become so familiar with the moves that it is easy to show your horse doing them in compe­tition. You learn how to set up the next maneuver and the position in which you need to keep your horse.

3. Know your landmarks.

Some patterns will have cones to mark points in your pattern, but sometimes the patterns are more open. In any case, you’ll need to know where the pattern calls for the next maneuver. Knowing your landmarks is probably the most important part of nailing a ranch riding class. Find the center of your arena, find the quarter mark and find points that help you know where you’ll be performing parts of your pattern.

Once you know those landmarks, you can go through your pattern at the gait required. You want to make sure you know where you are going to turn, where you want to make your next transition, if and where the pattern calls for you to go through the middle of the arena, or if you have to go on a diagonal. As you’re looking at the pattern, try to identify the land­marks to define each part.

4. Break down your pattern.

Many riders have a hard time remembering their pattern, especially with the pressure of competition. To help you learn the pattern, you can print out a copy of the pattern and draw it on another piece of paper.

When riding, don’t focus on an error you made, think about what’s coming next in the pattern. If there are 14 maneuvers in a ranch riding pattern, I try to break it down and think about four maneuvers in a row at a time. Instead of trying to go from one to 14, or thinking about the entire pat­tern at once, think about your first part, your middle part and your end part. Break it down piece by piece so you and your horse don’t have to bite off so many parts when you get into the show pen.

5. Get the right mindset.

Before you go in the class, pretend you are out riding on the ranch. Of course, you’re in front of a judge, so you’re already putting enough pressure on yourself, but you just want give your horse a good experience in that arena.

Do: Look for quality time in the arena and quality maneuvers. Whether you make a mistake as a rider, or your horse makes a mistake, just move on to the next maneuver.

  • Don’t: Fixate on a missed marker, transition or something you forgot.

Do: Use all of the arena. This is your time to show­case your horse.

  • Don’t: Cut off the corners.

Do: Ride like you’re at home. If you practice well at home, going into the show pen should be a little bit easier as a rider, even if your horse is a bit more unpredictable.

  • Don’t: Stop riding or give up. One of the hardest things to recover from in the show pen is drawing a blank during your go. Just be sure to continue showing, even if you’re struggling. You don’t want to show disappointment or frustration to the judge. If you know you made a mistake, just move on to the next maneuver.

6. Try a video replay.

After your ride has already been completed, it helps to analyze what the judge is seeing, what spectators are seeing and what you as the rider are experiencing during the run. This is why I try to video all my classes. Reviewing video is a bonus to help you improve in competition.

7. Watch and learn.

I recommend watching really skilled horses and really skilled riders, and match them up with their scores. I used to only watch who was next right after me, and it might not have been the best-quality run for me to compare myself and my horse against. You can learn a lot from watching good-quality runs, and you can then work on having those types of runs with your own horse.

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