Horse Showing

Arena Geography

August 4, 2010

Find your landmarks in a confusing sea of patterns.

The pattern doesn’t usually tell you whether you need to be two feet or five feet off a cone -- you have to figure that out for yourself.

By AQHA Professional Horseman Tom McBeath with Larri Jo Starkey in The American Quarter Horse Journal

You wouldn’t set off on a journey without mapping out a course. Don’t set off in a pattern course without planning just as carefully.

Think of each new arena as a new territory to be mastered, and you’ll find yourself navigating patterns with ease – or at least with a plan.

AQHA Professional Horseman Tom McBeath has some suggestions on finding your way through tricky, hand-drawn patterns.

Pattern in Your Pocket

People who show with me have to have two things in their pocket all the time: a schedule of events for the day and a copy of patterns they’ll be doing that day.

If you have a schedule, you don’t have to be nervous because you’re not sure whether you’re in the next class or the fifth class or the 10th.

And it doesn’t matter how much you’ve studied the pattern, you need to have it in your pocket. Even if you have a photographic memory, you should have the pattern with you, because there is nothing worse than developing a plan for the pattern, then arriving at the arena and realizing the pattern isn’t what you envisioned.

When that happens, you need to be able to whip out your little paper and look at the setup and adjust your plan.

Most shows nowadays will give you an actual copy of the pattern, but if the show doesn’t, copy it yourself.

AQHA’s “Hunt Seat Equitation” DVD is a must-have for anyone interested in hunt seat equitation success. This DVD provides competitors with detailed descriptions of the proper show ring techniques.

Your goal is to take that pattern, read it, understand it, ride it and make it look so easy that anybody could do it.

The easier it looks, the higher you will score.

Location, Location, Location

The pattern doesn’t usually tell you whether you need to be two feet or five feet off a cone. You have to figure that out for yourself, taking into consideration what you’re going to be doing when you get to the next cone.

If you’re going to stop at Cone B and do a 360-degree turn, you need to position yourself differently than you would if you’re going to walk up and then trot. If you’re going to do a 360, you want to be in a position so you can do your 360 without running over the cone.

This is such a simple mistake, and it’s easy to fix. When you set up your practice cones, think about how much space you need to do each maneuver.

Also, be sure that your practice cones are the right distance apart. Setting them too close or too far apart create their own sets of problems, but the result is the same: You go to the wrong place.

Roll It!

At the 2009 AQHA World Championship Show, world champion Whitney Walquist Vicars shares her techniques in showmanship at halter.

Break It Down

When you enter the arena on your horse, find the spot where you and your horse need to be at each cone. If you need to be 10 feet off Cone B, look at the ground to find that spot.

Don’t look at the cone. If you look at the cone, you’ll ride to the cone. Look at your spot and then look up and past it so that as you ride to the cone, you’re able to keep your chin up. If you look down at your spot, you’ll drop your eyes, which drops your chin, which takes your whole body out of position and makes your job much harder.

Don’t envision your spot 10 feet beside the cone as being another cone in the dirt. Envision that cone six to eight feet in the air ahead of you. Look on the fence to find a mark. At every arena you compete in, there will be something you can use as a marker. There are posts on fences, banners – there are always marks.

Think about the whole pattern, but when you’re at Cone A, don’t worry about what you’re going to do at Cone E. At Cone A, your job is to think about how you’re going to get to Cone B so that you can get to C.

It’s like the old joke about how to eat an elephant – one bite at a time.

If you’ve ever wondered what AQHA judges are looking for in hunt seat equitation, AQHA’s “Hunt Seat Equitation” DVD is for you. Order your copy today!

With patterns in horsemanship, showmanship and equitation, there are a limited number of maneuvers, so it’s not hard as long as you focus on what you’re going to do from A to B, then B to C, then C to D, then smile, wave at the crowd and leave. That’s all you have to do. It’s simple if you’ll let it be simple.

The judge isn’t going to shoot you off your horse if you don’t do it right. He might say, “That wasn’t the best pattern that I’ve seen all day, but they sure looked like they were having a good time.”

That will happen if you’re relaxed and not rushing. Let things happen normally. The next time you compete, it will be easier if you let yourself relax and become a better rider.

If you become a better rider, your horse will become a better horse.

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