Riding the Perfect Horsemanship Pattern

Horse Showing 101: Approach a horsemanship pattern with your best skills and a solid plan.

Horsemanship is about creating a dance between you and your horse that everyone else watches and thinks, “Wow, how did they do that?” It’s about showing off your partnership.

You have to think of it as a dance, and you are your horse’s lead. You must be the lead and tell your equine partner where to go, and guide him to his most graceful position correctly. A good lead can make a partner look a lot better than he or she might actually be.

That’s what a great horsemanship pattern is all about: showing what you’ve got, the best you can.

Here are a few strategies I teach my students and how they apply specifically to parts of this pattern.

1. Have Plan A and Plan B

Any time you do a pattern class, the most important thing is to look at the drawing of the pattern and read the words. Then make sure you understand it and you know where to execute each element as instructed. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t take time to do that.

Like with this pattern - it has no start cone. You have to work out how to get in your 20 feet of walking and jog on the centerline to the center of the arena.

Check out Brad Kearns' full Ride the Pattern lesson. The full clinic is available on DVD. Purchase AQHA's "Ride the Pattern: Horsemanship" DVD to discover more of Brad's advice.

Once you understand the pattern, then you can make your plan to ride it. So, in this pattern, you need 20 feet for the walk. You know that in trail, the walkover poles are about 2 feet apart, so plan for 10 steps and count them as you ride, up to 9, 10 and jog.

This pattern has a lot of maneuvers and a lot of places where things can go wrong. When I work out how I will ride a pattern, I always have a Plan A and a Plan B.

Plan A is what you want to do; Plan B is what you’re going to do if something goes wrong so you can recover and go on. A judge might never know you made a mistake and didn’t do your Plan A if you just move right into your backup plan.

2. Find and stick to your center

You have to know where the center of the arena is, and you have to stick to it. Especially in a pattern like this, where so many things happen in the center.

Pay attention to banners, marks on the wall, things in and around the arena that can help you establish your center.

When you walk and jog in, look up and find your center spot on the other end and ride straight to it. Be aware of your side marks in your peripheral vision to time your stop in the center.

Plan A is to stop with that center mark at your horse’s hip, so when you compete your one-and-a-quarter turn to the right (the next maneuver) you are on the center line to face the judges.

What happens if you stop too soon, ahead of center? You move to Plan B and you make that your new center just like you intended it that way, and you stick to it throughout the pattern.

3. Take one thing at a time.

When you close your turn, lined up with your center marker on the wall, your next maneuver is to “lope a large circle to the right with speed.”

But you can’t think “I’ve got to lope with speed” until you think “I’ve got to lope off with quality.” Don’t get ahead of yourself. Set your horse up for a good lope departure, get it and then move out.

In any pattern, you have to think through it and ride one thing at a time.

Brad Kearns' full Ride the Pattern Clinic is available on DVD. Purchase AQHA's "Ride the Pattern: Horsemanship" DVD to view the complete lesson.

4. Ride your repertoire.

In the circles, you want to make sure that there is an obvious difference in size and speed between the large circle and the smaller circle.

However, you need to ride your horse to the best of his ability and your ability. In that larger circle, go the speed that looks good for your horse.

You need to ride your repertoire and have a mindset of showing the judge what you do have, not what you don’t.

In the rulebook, there is a list of maneuvers that can be asked for at any horse show, and we all know coming that we could be asked any of those in any combination.

You are not going to miraculously do something that’s not in your repertoire of skills. Apply the tools that you do have to the pattern, the best that you can, and be proud of what you accomplish that day.

AQHA Professional Horseman Brad Kearns of Grayslake, Illinois, has been successfully training and coaching horses and riders for more than 25 years, specializing in all-around rail and pattern classes.