The horsemanship class is a technical class that in the end, comes down to who has the highest score on the judge’s scorecard. You start with an even 70 — and it’s up to you to increase that number.
We sat down with nationally carded judge Kathryn Kope to see what judges look for in a horsemanship rider that will help boost their overall score. She explains what the judges are looking for in a pattern, how to look and feel confident, and gives tips for laying out a picture-perfect pattern.
1. Learn the Parts.
Learning your pattern is probably one of the most important things you can do to prepare; but you don’t want your horse to know the pattern, too!
Rather than drilling the entire pattern over and over again, just practice each element separately. Then when you put it all together in the class, your horse will know the maneuvers but won’t look like he is anticipating the transitions.
Horsemanship is about how you show your horse — not how your horse shows you.
For More on Horsemanship: Lower Leg Drills
2. Pick Your Spots.
Before you go into the class or even practice the pattern in the arena, go to the ring on foot and analyze how you’re going to lay the pattern out. Find visuals and markers in the arena to reference during the pattern so you know exactly where each maneuver and transition is going to happen. Show the judges that you are capable of planning the pattern out instead of just winging it and ending up with uneven circles or too short of lines.
Some examples of markers to look for in the arena are specific fence posts, gates, sponsorship banners on the rail, flags, and anything that you are able to easily see and navigate towards during the class.
3. Be Ready.
The easiest way to think about it is to treat horsemanship like a job interview. Be ready at the cone before the judges even look up to signal you to start your pattern. This shows that you are prepared and confident in the pattern you are going to present.
You want to have a positive expression and radiate confidence; confidence in you, your horse, your pattern, all of it. If you accidentally make a circle a little lopsided, don’t show it, act like you meant to do it that way.
Just like in a job interview, you want to look polished and professional. You don’t have to have a fancy horsemanship top or saddle to impress the judges. Find a button or zip-up oxford that is wrinkle-free, clean, and well-fitting and it will help the judges notice your riding ability rather than be distracted by a blingy or poorly fitting shirt. Make sure your tack is clean and appropriate for the class and your horse. Add to your polished look by putting your hair in a neat bun and tame flyaways with a hair net and hair spray. When the judges first see you at the start cone, you want to look like you came to win.
For More on Horsemanship: Improve Your Horsemanship