Begin with your horse’s shoulder even with—and a couple of feet left of—Marker A, so his nose is facing the pattern’s top. He should be attuned to you, quietly waiting for a signal. When I nod to you, turn to face his hind end and back him smoothly on a curved path between Markers A and B, staying evenly be-tween them.
His backward steps should be fluid and effortless, as if he’s as comfortable backing up as walking forward. He shouldn’t halt or hesitate and should follow a curved path. If he backs a series of straight lines separated by stops and pivots, I’ll mark you down. (Practice turning while backing at home so he reads your body language and guides off a light shank.)
Back until his shoulder is even with Marker B, then promptly walk him forward on a straight line toward me. He should read your motions, and move forward willingly. Any dragging or tugging will be marked down. Keep your shoulder next to his throatlatch with a little drape in the shank.
As his shoulder passes Marker A, move him into a business-like trot. He should recognize your body movements as you step into a jog, and respond by stepping lightly and immediately into his trot next to you. Keep him, rather than yourself, on a straight line with me as he trots. Keep your eyes up, pace yourself to stay at his throatlatch, and focus on keeping your shank light and quiet.
Midway between Marker A and where I’m standing, halt and promptly execute a 360-degree turn to the right. Use your depth perception to find the midway point, or stay aware of Marker C to your right—a good indicator of the midpoint. Your horse should firmly plant his hind pivot foot, and remain straight from nose to tail. As you step around, he should willingly yield to you and swing fluidly through his pivot. Don’t over- or under-spin, or you’ll be off-line to trot him to me.
Flow right out of the pivot into a nice, forward trot and halt him in front of me at an extended arm’s length. If I were to reach out, I should be able to just graze his nose with my fingertips. Don’t crowd any closer in or make me walk to him for inspection. (At home, practice stopping in front of someone at an arm’s length. You should be able to set him up for inspection within two or three moves.)
After inspecting him, I’ll thank you, and you’ll promptly turn him to the right 180 degrees. He should obediently yield as you move toward him, and step smoothly around. Keep your eyes up and move into a trot upon finishing the pivot. Look for Marker C and be aware of the space available to trot your horse in a symmetrical circle around it. I don’t want to see an oval, sharp turns, or flat sides. Keep it round, and stay about five feet from the marker. If your horse struggles with his trot at that distance, you may slightly open it up to show him better.
When your horse’s shoulder reaches Marker A, drop him smoothly to the walk, and continue walking to exit the ring. He shouldn’t jig or twist in anticipation of finishing, but should show a graceful, flat-footed walk. As you’re walking, glance back over your shoulder to acknowledge me and signify that you’re finished.
Christy Wood operates Wood ‘N’ Horse Training Stable in Three Rivers, California, and holds AMHA, APHA, ApHC, and PtHA judges cards. She judged the ApHC Youth World Show this summer and has judged in New Zealand, Italy, and Canada this year, as well. One of her top students, Erin Farnsworth, won her ApHC supreme non-pro championship award in 2005, which requires a minimum of 25 national points in showmanship.