Events like horsemanship, showmanship, trail, and Western riding all incorporate a pattern to show off your skills as a rider—and your horse’s ability to respond to them. To do well in these classes, you’ll want to spend some time preparing. I’m going to share what I ask my students to do to help them feel confident in the show pen and give their best performances in pattern classes.
Practice at Home
If the horse show provides the patterns ahead of time, I encourage my students to look up the pattern for the show and learn it well before they ride with me the Tuesday before the show.
We like to practice the patterns at home so we can slowly work on the different pieces of a pattern and focus on what each maneuver brings to the table. I’ve found that when you wait to practice the pattern until you get to the show, you run out of practice space, and everybody is running into each other. By the time you go into the show pen both you and your horse are frustrated.
Know your pattern before you go to a show. That way, if you don’t have a chance to run through it at the show, you can put the pieces together in the warmup pen without having to worry about arena space and putting the whole thing together.
It’ll help you gain confidence because you know exactly what to do—what to expect out of your horse, where in the pattern to ride hard, where to soften, how to count down to a stop, how to count down to your lead change, etc. You’ll have more confidence in the presentation to the judge.
Skills to Master
There’s a core group of maneuvers that will be incorporated in every pattern. Practicing those maneuvers three times a week will help improve confidence and help you prepare for your next event.
Take time to work on body position, and practice knowing how to show on the rail, too. Not all horse shows ask for riders to work on the rail in a horsemanship class, but many do. You must know how to maneuver your horse on the rail and know how to show your horse to the judges who are in the middle of the arena.
It might seem easy on paper, but practicing circles and straight lines is a lot harder than it seems, which is why we include those elements in every ride. It’s also important to practice every gait that could be called for. Work on different transitions and going from fast to slow speeds.
It’s only with repetition do you get to know your horse. So practice your moves until you know how he responds to your cues for each maneuver. There is no substitute for time in the saddle.
You also want to exercise your own body—I focus on core strength, because that’s where you get your balance in the saddle. It’s very hard to hold proper body position when your core is not strong.
Prep at the Show
Give yourself time to ride in the arena the night before you compete, if possible. While there, focus on the basics. For example, aim for proper spin, not one that’s rushed and sloppy. Make sure you’re riding straight lines. Count strides down to your stop.
Getting enough sleep is super important at a horse show. It’ll help you be in the right headspace and feel more prepared for the day ahead of you.
Talk yourself through every part of your pattern; how you’re going to ride every line, every transition, every marker you’re going to go to. If there’s an arena you can ride in, you can even walk the pattern so you can visualize.
You can even set cones out in an alleyway and go over the pattern with your show clothes on so you can remember it right before you get on your horse or lead him into the arena.
Confidence in the Show Pen
Work to keep a positive attitude when you school your horse so that he’s more likely to have a positive experience in the show pen. If you can, watch other riders perform the pattern to get a feel for pattern placement and to help you have a visual idea of how you want to use the arena.
Presentation can also help with confidence. You don’t have to have a saddle covered in silver or an outfit covered in crystals to win a horsemanship class or showmanship class, but your tack should be clean and in good condition and your outfit should be professional looking and fitted properly. Your boots and hat should be clean, and you should ensure your horse is clean and presentable.
Remember that you’re going to make mistakes, but you want to keep showing. Look like you’re having fun—it’s supposed to be fun. You’re doing this for the love of the animal, life lessons—and most of all, fun.