Understanding Horse Showing Score Cards

Learn how to climb the score card in your next trail class.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In each obstacle in a trail go, judges have two tasks:

1.    To assess penalties.
2.    To give a maneuver (obstacle) score, evaluating the horse and rider’s overall negotiation of the obstacle.

Understanding how judges approach the score card can help showmen learn how to show better.

AQHA Professional Horsemen and judges Leslie Lange and Charlie Cole go through a sample trail pattern to give you an idea of what judges look for in maneuver scores and point out common problems that riders have.

Leslie and Charlie both have trained and shown world champions in trail, and they instruct judges in trail at the annual AQHA judges’ conference. Here, they offer their perspective on a trail score.

First Go

1.    He gets through the gate as asked: Zero maneuver.
2.    He jogs into the chute, and as he backs around, he has one tick with a hind leg for a half-point penalty. It’s not fast, it’s not slow, it’s not done on an exceptionally loose rein, but the horse is willing: Zero maneuver score.
3.    He lopes out and isn’t an exceptional mover but gets three strides between each pole. He guides but there’s more handling than I’d like to see for a positive maneuver score: Zero.
4.    He jogs into the box and stops hard with all four legs together and then does a nice turn: Plus half maneuver.
5.    I see the same handling in the jog serpentines as I did in the lope. Ticks one pole for half penalty but gets through fine: Zero maneuver score.
6.    He does a nice job on the walkover, drops his head, rider drops the hand, loose rein, gets through walkover well: Plus half maneuver.
Score: 70

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Second Go

1.    Marches up to the gate with confidence, backs through on a loose rein with no stop in motion: Plus half maneuver.
2.    Loose rein in the trot to the back-through; continuous motion backing and through the slot. One front foot barely catches the corner – more of a rider error than horse error – for a half-point penalty. It doesn’t slow her down, continues to back level and fluid: Plus one that maneuver.
3.    Comes to the lope willingly guided, rhythm established before the first pole, meets each pole at the same spot, enters and exits at the same cadence and speed: Plus one maneuver.
4.    Trots into box and stops hard, but so hard the front foot slides up against the pole and incurs a half-point penalty, but gets turned smoothly and exits really well: Plus half the maneuver.
5.    Jog serpentine was good with forward motion, efficient gait and guided well: Plus one.
6.    Horse addresses the walkover and bridge and doesn’t hesitate, clean: Plus half maneuver.
Score 73.5

Third Go

1.    Horse doesn’t stand patiently at the gate; he fidgets and looks off to the left. When she asks him to back, he zooms back, and it looks like she’s trying to stay ahead of him. It was rushed and hurried and like he was doing it, not her: Minus half maneuver.
2.    Rider gets him stopped in the chute, but he puts it into reverse before it looked like she was ready. It looks like the rider is trying to herd the horse, not guide him: Minus half.
3.    We have forward motion and he does the lopeovers on a soft rein, guides and maintains a level topline: Zero maneuver.
4.    Break to a jog then into the box, gets stopped and spins like a blur, walks out efficiently and quietly – I don’t know how she got that done, but I’ll plus one that maneuver.
5.    Jog serpentine was better than average: Plus half.
6.    The extra energy we saw at the gate and in the back gets her in the walkover: Two ticks for half-point penalties, and I minus one the maneuver.
Score: 68.5

Fourth Go

1.    He has a nice gate, smooth and efficient: Plus half the maneuver.
2.    Jogs up into the chute quietly and has a nice, fluid back, not as fast as the second go, but she also incurred a penalty with her quickness: Plus half.
3.    Lopes through, not a great mover but guides willingly and on a soft rein, meets each pole in the same spot: Plus half.
4.    Gets into the box and stops with efficiency, doesn’t turn with exceptional speed, but it’s even. He stops square and exits smooth: Plus half.
5.    Jog serpentine is good: Plus half.
6.    And I like the walkover: Plus half.
Score: 73

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Fifth Go

1.    He had an average gate: Zero the maneuver.
2.    Nice back, very efficient: Plus half.
3.    I really liked the lope through: Plus one. More elevation in the lope would have given it a plus one and a half.
4.    Gets one leg out of the box in front for a three-point penalty but brings it back in without ticking it and has a good turn: Zero maneuver.
5.    Good jog serpentine: Plus half.
6.    Very patient in the walkover, and he is actually better at the end of the pattern than he was at the beginning: Plus one the walk and bridge.
Score: 70

Learning how runs are scored from the prospective of the judges will allow you to be more conscientious in both your practice and competition runs. Be deliberate in your training to improve your trail pattern at the horse show.

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AQHA Video - Watch it Now

Watch part-one of this three-part how-to instructional video series featuring Tim "The Trail Man" Kimura. Learn how to measure and set up trail class obstacles at home along with valuable tips and tricks of the trade that will help you excel in trail classes.