Pattern Analysis

AQHA Professional Horseman Matt Mills walks you through AQHA reining Pattern 11.

In AQHA reining Pattern 11, which is only for novice amateurs, novice youth and youth 13 and under, you will walk to the center of the arena, similar to some of the other patterns.

When walking in, stay on the right side of the arena, looking for the center marker.

It’s important in every pattern to find the center marker but especially in this pattern because novice riders and youth need to really pay attention to where they are in the arena.

When you walk in, find that center cone on the right side of the arena and walk to it. At the cone, make a 90-degree turn to the left and head straight toward the other center cone, which is across the arena. About seven or nine steps into it, look left and right to find the middle of the arena and stop right in the center.

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Depending on the rider, I might or might not have the rider stop. If I have a rider who can do a lead departure well, I’ll have the rider stop and show that off. I think it looks a little better. But if you’re a rider who is not 100 percent confident in your lead departure or you have some troubles with your horse, just go ahead and walk into the lead departure and ask for the lope when you’re in the center. Sometimes when you stop, you might have a hard time getting the horse going forward straight and getting that hip pushed in to take the correct lead.

Either way, when you do the lead departure to start off the circle to the right, it’s very important to pull your outside leg back, pick up slightly on the horse’s face and push the horse’s hip to the inside of the circle to the right to ensure that the horse takes the proper lead. The wrong lead is a common problem for novice amateurs and youth. You don’t want to take the wrong lead because that is a one-point penalty, and then if you break gait to get your lead back, that’s another two points. You’ll be avoiding a lot of major penalties just by taking the time to do that.

After loping off for the large, fast circle, make sure you’re looking up and using the entire half of the arena. Many times, a novice rider will lope off with his or her head down and cut off the first quarter. What you need to do is look up and pay attention to where you are. Novice amateurs and youth shouldn’t be as concerned about speed or degree of difficulty as much as about correctness. Because of the way this pattern is written, those who pay attention to correctness of the pattern are usually the ones who win. So be correct first.

About three-quarters of the way into the large, fast circle to the right, back off the speed just a little bit and slow the horse down some. Go with a little bit shorter rein. Actually, I might have a novice rider start with a little bit shorter rein to begin with.

When you come into the small circle, keep your hand down and steer. I see a lot of novice riders pick up their hand and fight their horses’ mouths. That makes an ugly picture.

When coming into the small circle, relax and steer. Get your hand down and steer with your hand, and use your outside leg to guide your horse through. Try to make it look pretty.

Again, come through, find the middle marker and lope right up to the center and stop. When coming into the middle, look to the right. Most novice amateur and youth horses have been shown a bunch. When the horse gets to the center of the arena in a small slow circle, he wants to change. But if the rider is thinking and looking to the right, the body language is telling the horse he is going to go to the right, therefore he should not change leads.

When the horse stops in the middle, the rider should still be looking to the right. Once stopped, loosen up the reins, take a deep breath, relax and count to five. Start the spin to the right. You’re only doing two spins and when you count, you want to count “One” and at the second one, say “Whoa.” If you count to two, that’s when you can overspin. So “One” and then “Whoa.”

When you finish spinning, loosen the reins and let the horse settle. When you take off into the left lead, push your outside leg back, walk forward a couple of steps to ensure the horse is taking the proper lead for the left. Lope off to the left, do the one fast circle, looking up and making sure you’re using the entire arena, staying fairly close to the rail, going to the center for the slow down. Don’t make it too complicated. Just lope straight through the middle and then come into the small slow.

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Same thing coming out of the slow circle on this pattern: You want to be looking to the left and stay committed to the circle. Get stopped in the middle, loosen the reins, try to relax and take a deep breath. Start the spins to the left. “One” and then “Whoa.” After stopping, loosen up the reins again.

I can’t stress enough to take the time to properly set up before you lope off.

For the third departure, you want to do the same thing, pushing the hip to the inside. Lope off and do the figure eight by loping the pattern the same as you did in the beginning of the pattern. Nothing has changed.

Go through to change leads, make sure to stay nice and straight and find the center cone. After the second lead change, slow the horse down just a little bit, and when you’re past the judge, bridle the horse up a little bit to get his attention and ease him up.

Coming to the top side of the arena, turn your head and look down the arena and find a clean spot to stop in and a target to look at. You don’t want to stop in the same tracks as everyone else.

Turning for the stop, make sure it’s a nice square turn. So many youth and novice riders forget to make a nice square turn, instead rounding that turn so much that they are pointing straight toward the side rail and then can’t run straight. The key to a good stop is running straight, and you can’t run straight if you’re running toward the rail right off the bat.

After making a nice square turn, take your time and wait until you’re halfway between the first and second cone before you start to build speed. And if you can, even though the pattern says to run past the center, try to run past the last cone. It’s a higher degree of difficulty, and it’s better for the longevity of the horse’s show career if you make a habit of getting past the last cone.

Go down and get that stop. Really push down on your heels and keep your legs out of the horse’s side. That’s something I see on a daily basis with amateurs. They run down and stop and actually kind of squeeze with their legs in the horse’s side, mostly to help keep their balance, and actually push the horse out of the stop. Really commit to pushing down on your feet and making the horse stop.

After stopping, relax for a split second. Put your hand down on your horse’s neck and make the complete 180-degree turn for the rollback. Lope out and go around to do the same thing on the left lead: squaring up that turn and making that horse wait, even if you have to bridle him some before you build speed between the first and second marker. Try to get past the end if you can. Get your stop, hesitate, hand down, roll back to the right; do the same thing for the last stop.

The horse is now going to be thinking about setting up a little because you’ve just stopped him twice. On this last rundown, you still should go past the last cone, but if you feel the horse really setting up and you know you’re past the center, go ahead and stop.

A lot of times, riders can’t make a decision on what they want to do, and their horses start to set up. They have an ugly rundown and get an ugly stop. That’s the one spot on the last rundown where I give my amateurs and youth a little leeway and say, “OK, if you know you’re past the center cone and it’s as good as it’s going to get, shut it down and stop them.”

After the last stop, you have your backup, which riders should pay attention to and practice often. The backup can make or break your last stop maneuver.

Try to get the horse to back as fast as he can but obviously without flipping his head up. You want to have a nice, smooth backup. You have to back 10 feet, but if you have a really good backing horse, back all the way up to the center to show off how good your horse backs.