Know Before You Go

Don't get caught off guard in a horse showing pattern class.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Will 2013 be your first time to compete at the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show? Don’t get caught off guard!

The Journal asked some top AQHA judges and trainers what they thought you should know before you go if you’re going to face a pattern in horsemanship, hunt seat equitation, showmanship, equitation over fences or trail.

Check out their tips and “must-know” maneuvers.


AQHA Professional Horsewoman Karen Graham, Cave Creek, Arizona

Flying Lead Change. At the Youth World level, you can almost guarantee that you’re going to have a lead change.

If your horse doesn’t have a lead change, he needs to get one. Go get help; find a trainer.

If you can’t get a flying lead change, then absolutely perfect the simple lead change.

Turn both ways. You should be able to do at least two full turns both ways, and hold that pivot foot.

You must have control. I would drill one pattern after another, focusing mainly on control. You want to be able to extend the jog, come back down, stop on a dime and do it all fluidly. A smooth, extended jog is really important.

Keep coming through maneuvers and trying different patterns at home. If you find a weakness, dwell on it, work on it. You want to make yourself confident, so you can handle whatever they put out for you to do.

If you're off to your first Youth World Show, the "Showing to Win: Trail" DVD is perfect for you! Whether it's you just started showing trail or have had years of practice, this DVD is perfect for all exhibitors, trainers and judges.

Hunt Seat Equitation

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Stephanie Lynn, Fall Creek, Wisconsin

Practice “away from” the pattern. Don’t practice the pattern so often that the horse anticipates what’s coming up and gets ahead of you. Get the pattern as early as you can and practice it one time. Determine where your weak spots are and practice those weak spots away from the pattern

For example, if you have a difficult time doing a sitting trot to a posting trot to a canter transition, practice that away from the cones and the pattern. Then, when you get in the ring, if the cones aren’t exactly as you envisioned them, it’s no sweat because you practiced that transition away from the pattern. You’ve learned the maneuver so well you can do it anywhere.

Always use good equitation. At home, always practice with good equitation. If you suddenly get to the horse show and then change your position to good equitation, you’ve changed your complete line of communication from what your horse is accustomed to 95 percent of the time.

As instructors, we preach on equitation because it’s fundamental to how you communicate with your horse. You can’t change it for the horse show.

Know your horse. I see a lot of mistakes stemming from a rider not really understanding their horse’s strengths and weaknesses. Riders must play on their horse’s strengths and compensate for their horse’s weaknesses. That comes from practicing a lot at home.

If your horse has a difficult time doing a downward transition to a comfortable positing trot or a comfortable sitting trot for you, that’s a transition you need to help the horse with. You have to understand how to communicate that to your horse.


AQHA Professional Horseman Brad and Valerie Kearns, Grayslake, Illinois

Make a plan. Before you enter the arena, you should have a plan for how you are going to execute the pattern based on your horse’s ability to perform the maneuvers. Don’t change your plan as you are in the chute waiting to go because you see an exhibitor in front of you do it differently. Last-minute changes only increase the likelihood of making a mistake.

Setup and Smile. Showmanship is a class about presentation of the horse: You cannot rise to the top with a slow or inaccurate setup. You should practice your setup to gain accuracy and speed.

Bring your smile! Again, it’s about presentation. Prepare your horse and yourself and then enjoy your time in the arena.

Rhythmic and precise turns. Your horse should turn with some speed and rhythm. Executing a turn too slowly decreases the overall flow of the pattern. Executing a turn too fast can sacrifice accuracy, especially on the “shut off” (the end of the turn).

Closing the turn accurately is very important. If the pattern calls for a 360-degree turn to the right, it should not be a 345- or a 375-degree turn.

Ideally, on turns to

the right, your horse should plant the right hind foot.

Make the back-up. Showmanship can be won or lost on the back-up. Your horse should back easily and readily with some degree of speed. You should not have to force your horse backward, with him showing resistance in his neck. However, if you back at a speed faster than you are comfortable with, you could sacrifice accuracy.

You should be able to steer and control the back-up. Backing squares and circles in both directions will help you practice that. The head, neck and body should be aligned in a straight line when backing squares and in a curved line when backing circles.

The "Showing to Win: Trail" DVD is packed with information from some of the best-known and well-respected AQHA Professional Horsemen and -women, judges and exhibitors, including Charlie Cole, Leslie Lange and Jim Searles. They walk through the required parts of the pattern and explain the maneuver scores, pluses and minuses.

Equitation Over Fences

Shane George, Magnolia, Texas

Get your horse’s mind right. The most important thing is to have your horse’s brain at the right level. That may mean taking him out and longeing him or giving him proper exercise on the flat so that he’s mentally prepared for the class.

You often see horses that are too fresh; that can ruin a course. When you apply rider pressure and stress on a fresh animal, things just get worse and mistakes snowball.

In the schooling area, getting ready for the class, be there in advance. You want to be finished with your schooling so that you have time to let down and relax a little before you go in the ring. If you go in the ring from a quick rushed school, your horse will be out of breath and won’t be as focused.

But don’t overdo it. Don’t try and train your horse for the class in the schooling area. You want

to be trained already to do this class, so you don’t want to do too many tricky things in the schooling area.

The simpler the school – going over a few exercises like bending or a lead change or counter-cantering on a turn – the better your horse is going to be mentally prepared.

Counter-Canter. In these patterns, lately judges are having exhibitors counter-canter an obscure turn, normally at the end of the pattern. That really breaks a class.

Don’t rush. Remember, you have prepared and looked forward to this for most of the year. When you walk through the gate, that’s the time you paid and trained and worked hard for: That’s your time.

Don’t get in a hurry when you get into the ring. The more relaxed you are, the better for you to do your best. If you go in intimidated and in a hurry, you make mistakes. Stay level-headed and do what you know.


John and Kenda Pipkin, Canyon, Texas

Read the rule book. Be familiar with the rules and standards printed in the AQHA handbook! A lot of exhibitors don’t do that. The standards are pretty clear in the trail class; knowing them will help you avoid mistakes and penalties, and help you gain credit.

Transitions and steering. The key to being successful on a Tim Kimura-type pattern is to really work on steering, your cadence and rhythm flowing through an obstacle, and flowing from one obstacle to another. The obstacles are really connected one to another, and there’s a natural, smooth transition from one to the next.

A lot of obstacles will require you to steer and also do an upward or downward transition. And then a couple of strides later, you might have to change again. It comes down to a horse being really responsive in going through gait transitions and steering willfully.

Bombproof your horse. It has always been surprising how many horses will be fundamentally good, yet will be afraid of areas in the course where you don’t expect it.

Several of (the horses at the 2005 Youth World) were afraid of the carpet-covered roll-tops. They were just a boundary, but as the horses came around approaching another obstacle, they would see those and break gait or shy.

Don’t look down. Don’t look down when you’re steering through a maneuver. When you look down to watch the pole, your head goes forward, your weight shifts to the front of the horse, and it gets him off-cadence and off-stride. If you do that, nine times out of 10, you’ll hit not one pole, but every one of them.

This DVD illustrates the standards and provides information exhibitors need to successfully navigate a trail pattern and the judge’s score card. Using unique graphics and video technology, the “Showing to Win: Trail” DVD defines the trail scoring system and what the judges are looking for in a trail pattern.

Your First Youth World

Karen Graham says any first-timer to the Youth World should go through this checklist:

Start with your horse. Make sure your horse is properly conditioned: He’s not underweight, and his hair coat is slick and shiny. When I’m going to a big competition, I over-feed my horses to get them a little overweight because they always lose weight at a big show. It helps the horse hold up under the stress of it all, especially if they’re not used to it. Also, make sure your horse is shod at least 10 days before you leave.

Go over your tack. Check all your tack – saddle, headstall, bit and reins – and make sure everything is legal and conforms to AQHA standards. Make sure it’s clean and matches, whether it’s silver or leather. You want your reins even.

Look at yourself. A clean and neat appearance is extremely important. In horsemanship, for example, the outfit needs to be a solid color that flows from the top of your head down to the bottom of your foot, so it’s not distracting. Make sure your hat is creased and clean and has a nice shape.

It gives the appearance that you’ve been there before; it’s not your first time. Plus, a good appearance gives you confidence.

Go just to watch. If you are thinking about going to Youth World, you should go to watch the horse before you show. That way, you get a feel for what’s expected, and you’re not so overwhelmed when you get there.

Here's the winning run in showmanship at the 2011 Youth World Show!