Strategies for Riding a Winning Pattern

Mississippi State University instructors teach riders to have a mental plan to perfect their riding patterns at the AQHA International Horsemanship Camp.

Over the last three weeks, Mississippi State University instructors and I have had the privilege of promoting the American Quarter Horse as we have traveled through Austria, Italy, Slovenia, and now Kreuth, Germany for the 2016 AQHA International Horsemanship Camps.

The AQHA International Horsemanship Camps have been an incredible experience thus far, from which our greatest takeaway has been how the AQHA International Horsemanship Camps truly foster an environment of friendship, where riders reconvene annually to attend the horsemanship camps to develop their horsemanship skills and share their passion for their horses. This past weekend, the horsemanship camp in Germany was just as fulfilling.  We were hosted with tremendous hospitality, developed many new friendships, and had the pleasure of working with over twenty riders at the phenomenal Gut Matheshof equestrian facility in Kreuth, Germany; where the Federation of European Quarter Horse Associations' European Championships is hosted annually.

The Mississippi State University instructors explained that practicing patterns is beneficial to both the rider and horse's preparation because it serves as a way to "test" the horse's training progress and allows the rider to develop their mental strategy for riding through patterns effectively. Additionally, the MSU undergraduates, Samantha Miller, Hannah Miller and Ashley Palmer shared some of their specific knowledge of the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations from their experience from the Mississippi State University Horse Judging Team, in which the 2015 team was the reserve champion team at the All American Quarter Horse Congress, third high team at the AQHA World Championship Show, and fourth high team at the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity.

Review the AQHA Rulebook for Pattern Class Descriptions

First, as a foundational introduction for perfecting a riding pattern, the MSU instructors delivered a “From the Judge’s Perspective” lecture,  in which they explained the AQHA Rulebook's scoring system for pattern classes, the ideal presentation of the horse, and the correct position for the rider. Specifically, the instructors discussed the pattern class' scoring systems and correct maneuvers for each class, as well as what constitutes minor faults, major faults, and severe faults.

Importantly, the instructors explained that above all, the rider must strive for accurate maneuvers before adding speed to the maneuver. Further, the instructors encouraged each rider to review the AQHA Rulebook to familiarize themselves with their preferred class, so that they can develop a mental plan for their pattern classes.

Developing a Mental Plan for Riding a Perfect Pattern

Next, the MSU instructors explained the rider should take some time to visualize the pattern and develop a strategy for the pattern before they actually practice the pattern.

The rider should consider their horse's strengths and weaknesses, and develop a plan on how to effectively guide their horse through the pattern in such a way that positively showcases their horse's ability.

The rider should prepare their horse for the pattern maneuvers before actually practicing the pattern, meaning that their horse should be warmed up before practicing the pattern. The MSU instructors explained that the rider should identify the specific components of the pattern, and then prepare their horses according to the maneuvers in the pattern. For example, if the pattern calls for small circles, then the rider should practice guiding their horse in small circles prior to practicing the pattern.

Specific Tips for Riding a Perfect Pattern 

Gait Transitions

The rider should be prepared to execute each maneuver in a prompt and correct manner. So for instance, if the patterns calls for a lope at the cone, the rider should cue their horse so that they pick up the lope departure at the cone as required by the pattern. The instructors also emphasized that the rider needs to have a mental plan for where in the pattern to cue for their horse's lope departure depending on their  horse's promptness to pick up the lope.

Additionally, the instructors explained that the rider needs to  have a specific plan on where to guide their horse in the pattern depending on what kind of maneuver is required in the pattern. For example, if the pattern calls for a 360 turn at a cone, the rider needs to halt their horse far enough from the cone to ensure that the horse can execute the 360 turn correctly.

Straight lines and Circles

At all times, the rider should keep his or her eyes up, and focus on guiding their horse, rather than looking down at the cone to guide their horse through the pattern. Whether the pattern requires straight lines and/or circles, the rider should have a visual reference in the arena when practicing the  pattern. For example, the rider could refer to specific flag in the arena, which could serve as a point of reference to keep their horse straight, as well as keep the shapes of the circles consistent.

Practice Makes Perfect

As every rider knows, horses are highly intelligent animals, so it's common that the horse will begin to anticipate maneuvers in the pattern. Once the rider  has practiced the timing and shape within the pattern and can effectively execute the pattern; the rider should stop practicing  the pattern. Further, the instructors also emphasized the horse's weak areas should be schooled outside of the pattern.

Thank You for an Excellent Horsemanship Camp in Germany! 

As Mississippi State University has completed their final horsemanship camp in Kreuth, Germany, for the 2016 AQHA International Horsemanship Camps, we would like to thank all of the riders and our hosts for the wonderful hospitality and friendship that they showed us in Germany! Up next, I will be joining Oklahoma State University in Sweden for the next AQHA International Horsemanship Camp.

Check out AQHA's Horse Showing board on Pinterest for even more winning tips!