Heads Up Horsemanship Part 2

Set yourself up at home for a winning horsemanship run at the show.

This is the second in a two-part series with AQHA Professional Horseman and Team Wrangler member Charlie Cole.  Need to review Part 1?


Two of the most confusing things about horsemanship are where to start the pattern and where to perform a given maneuver in relation to the markers.

First of all, you always want to ride the pattern as it’s posted. If you ever have a discrepancy between the written explanation and the drawing, or any questions about what to do, ask show management for a clarification from the judge before you go in the class.

Solid fundamentals are the key to success in the saddle.  AQHA’s Fundamentals of Horsemanship will give you the inspiration, skills and confidence to create a more rewarding relationship with your horse.

To start the pattern, some judges want you at the first cone. But what most judges look for is for you to be up there, set and ready to perform your pattern when the judge looks at you. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for you to be back one to two steps from the cone. For me, the most important thing is to have the next gait at the cone; being late is worse than being early. By giving your horse room to start, you can have your horse engaged by the time you pass the cone. If you start at the cone, you’ll look late by the time your horse is jogging or loping.

Most patterns don’t specify whether you should stop with your horse’s nose, shoulder or hip at the cone. So especially for a stop at the marker, what part of your horse should be even with the cone?

In my opinion, it’s like a horse race that starts and ends with the horse’s nose. I usually tell my students to stop with the horse’s nose at the cone. For most people, that means you’re going to overshoot a little and wind up at the horse’s throatlatch, which is perfectly acceptable. If you try to stop perfectly at the horse’s shoulder and you go too far, the cone is going to be back at the horse’s hip – or worse.

Roll It!

Help your horse learn how to navigate obstacles on the trail. Clinician Tammy Pates aids QuarterFest participants in building trust with their horses out on the trail.

If the pattern calls for a transition at the cone, you really need to make the transition at the marker. Most beginners wait too long to ask their horse to transition gaits or change leads. When a pattern calls for a difficult transition, say a lope to an extended trot, help your horse by breaking down the maneuvers. Transition from the lope to the jog first, then build up to your extended trot. Get one part at a time then put it together.

Get your copy of the industry’s most-comprehensive horse teaching tool. AQHA's Fundamentals of Horsemanship Steps 1 and 2 now available exclusively through Quarter Horse Outfitters!

Leave a Good Impression

A lot of patterns end with a stop and back. We really work on good stops, because if you have a good run and a really clean stop, it kind of says, “There, how'd you like that?”

At this point in the run, the tension gets to be too much for some riders, and they just want to get done and get out of the arena. Work on a clean, crisp stop and then ask your horse for a nice, soft back. Then move forward and check with your judge.

You’ll get rewarded for maintaining a great position, riding your horse and performing the pattern – and it all starts at home.