Achieve Crisp, Clean Horsemanship

Trainer and judge Karen Banister guides you through a challenging horsemanship pattern that tests your skill and your horse’s handiness.

Begin this challenging pattern with a 360-degree right turn at Marker A. Some riders perform this turn before the marker to gain the space to clear it, but that’s imprecise execution and sets a less polished tone for the pattern. Position your horse’s shoulder even with the marker on his left, and 6 to 8 feet away for adequate clearance. He should pivot on his right hind foot.

Don’t try to dazzle me with speed in the pivot. Precision is more impressive. Finish the turn facing exactly the same direction as you started. If you undershoot or overshoot, it will affect the straightness of your back-up. Back four steps as quickly and crisply as can be done smoothly and correctly. Never sacrifice straightness for speed.

I don’t mind if your horse walks a step out of the back-up—I’d rather see that than see you try to launch him immediately into a lope before he’s regained his balance out of the back-up. However, I don’t want to see any trot steps, and if your horse isn’t loping by the time he passes Marker A, you’ve taken too long. You should be in the left lead lope by the time your horse passes A.

Strive for smoothness and softness, but don’t slow so much that your horse loses lope quality. He must exhibit a clean, correct gait. Ride a square corner around Marker B. Just as at A, you should be 6 to 8 feet right of B. Cue his front end around directly after passing the marker to allow his momentum to bring him 6 feet out after the turn. If you wait until 6 feet past B to begin your turn, you’ll drift too far out.

The square corners in this pattern are key tests of your skill and your horse’s handiness. Riding a round corner disregards the test’s instructions and executes the maneuver inaccurately. You must be able to rock your horse back on his haunches, and they must hold while his front end lifts and rotates around the turn. If your horse drops his left shoulder and dives through the turn, it will make a sloppy picture, and you’ll be marked down.

I set Markers B and C somewhere from 30 to 50 feet apart. I want to challenge you, but I also want to see success. You must execute the left-to-right lead change at the exact midpoint between B and C. I’m picky about precision here. Don’t deviate from the pattern because it’s easier for you to wait longer to get the change, and don’t change earlier to set up for the counter lead at Marker C.

Your horse must be straight for a quality change, and if you can’t perform a correct flying lead change, do a simple change with a trot step. This is far better than twisting your horse to get a flying change. A simple change will enable you to set your horse up straight to prepare for a difficult corner at Marker C.

It’s hard to maintain the counter lead around Marker C in a square corner. Your horse must guide well off your rein and be able to hold the counter lead, while swinging his shoulders around the turn. Too much right leg around the turn could make him switch to his left lead. And, make sure to maintain a 6-foot distance from the marker.

Use your spatial sense to bring your horse down smoothly for three solid jog strides before the next square corner in front of Marker D. This time, you’ll jog the corner, but the same principles apply as at the lope—hold with the haunches, and swing the shoulders around. Maintain the jog throughout the turn.

Next, glide into a smooth, flat walk and ride a straight line to Marker E and halt, square and balanced, with the marker at your horse’s left shoulder.

Karen Banister trains champion horses and riders from her White Harvest Farms in Brighton, Colorado. Carded with the AQHA, APHA, ApHC, PtHA, and NSBA, she loves to present riders with a challenge, and see them succeed based on excellent horsemanship skills.

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