Showmanship: Thinking a Step Ahead

Trainer Jackie Lee Jackson guides you through a challenging showmanship pattern that requires focus and advance planning.
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Trainer Jackie Lee Jackson guides you through a challenging showmanship pattern that requires focus and advance planning.

Study the pattern diagram and instructions and think ahead. Then, start far enough to the left of Marker A to be able to trot a straight line to the left of Marker B and have plenty of room to circle around B when you get there. Stand at your horse’s throatlatch to begin, and stay there as you lead him forward. Your horse should be attuned to your movements, and react to your slightest body language as you step off. He should step out at the same instant you do, without needing to be tugged.

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Between Markers A and B, achieve a comfortable trot pace that you’ll be able to maintain as you circle Marker B, where you’ll have to increase your own pace to keep up with your horse. Keep your distance from him steady as you trot with light contact through the shank.

The circle at Marker B presents a real challenge. Strive to maintain the same distance from the marker as you travel around it. Right turns in showmanship are considered “push” turns in which your horse must move away from you as you step toward him. If you’ve practiced enough at home, he should quickly read your body language and obediently turn without bulging out and impeding your movement, or stepping on you. Since you’ll be on his outside around this circle, your path is longer than his, which means you’ll need to increase your pace to keep up with him, while his pace remains steady.

When you get to the bottom half of the circle you’ll need to improvise its shape a bit to line your horse up with the judge. Lining up with the judge is more important than keeping the circle perfectly symmetrical, so keep your eyes up, know where the judge is, and put your horse on a direct line with her as you finish the circle.

As you’re completing the circle, you must be prepared to stop immediately to line your horse up straight with the judge, and then flow smoothly into a 180-degree pivot turn to the right. Your horse must clearly stop trotting, but don’t hesitate between the halt and the pivot, or this maneuver will look choppy and break the rhythm of your performance.

Apply the same fluidity to the transition between the pivot and the back-up. The two maneuvers should flow together like you and your horse are dancing partners. Any hesitation will disrupt the dance. As you back, face the judge, keeping your hands in the same position on the shank at all times. Your horse should back obediently and straight.

Practice at home to develop your distance judgement so you’ll know how far to back your horse to the judge. Back him until his hind end stops exactly one of his body lengths and one arm’s length from the judge. This distance is critical—if you back him too close, he’ll jeopardize her safety as he pivots 180 degrees around to face her. If you don’t back him far enough, she’ll have to walk to him when you set him up for inspection.

Set your horse up for inspection as quickly and simply as possible, but make sure you’ve set your horse up correctly. Keep your movements minimal and use the quarter system to present your horse to the judge. When the judge nods to you, perform one-and-a-quarter pivot turns, maintaining even spacing between you and your horse. He should step cleanly away from you, and stay straight from nose to tail, with no arc in his body.

Out of the pivot, promptly pick up the trot and make a square corner around Marker B. When your horse’s nose is even with Marker B toward the bottom of the pattern, drop smoothly down to a walk for exactly five steps. Glance back at the judge over your shoulder as you pick up the trot again to finish the pattern.

Jackie Lee Jackson operates Top Step Farm in Aubrey, Texas. As a trainer for 30 years, she’s developed numerous national and world champion showmanship horses in several breeds. Last year, she trained A Sudden Attraction to the ApHC national championship in novice non-pro showmanship.