Master Pace and Cadence

Cynthia Rucker, a judge with multiple organizations, guides you through Maneuvers 3 through 7 of NRHA Pattern 3.

We’re picking this pattern up after the right rollback in Maneuver 2. Click here for the first part of the pattern. Lope to the center of the pen to start your right circles. If your rollback was well executed, your horse should come out of it on the right lead. If it was sloppy, and he emerges on his left lead, switch to the right lead before the center, and then begin your first circle. If your horse is on the wrong lead during the circle, you’ll be penalized one point for each quarter of the circle he’s wrong.

Ride two large, fast circles first, then ease your horse back to a small, slow circle. He shouldn’t resist the pace decrease and should be easily guided on a soft rein for credit. Be sure to exhibit a distinct difference in size and pace between the large, fast circles and the small, slow one.

The lead change in the middle of the pen is part of same maneuver as the first set of circles; if your right circles were just average, you could actually plus your score with a pretty and correct lead change. Your horse should stay soft and relaxed, and the change should be straight and simultaneous between his front and hind legs.

I don’t like to see riders make a diagonal line across the arena to change leads before beginning the next set of circles. Instead, make your circles round and symmetrical, and get your lead change on a short horizontal line in the center of the arena. I allow riders about a four-stride zone (two strides in front of, and two strides after, the pen’s exact center) to get the change. If you’re a half-stride late, you’ll incur a half-point penalty; one whole stride late results in a one-point penalty.

The same applies to your three left circles, and the change back to the right lead afterward. Next, begin another circle to the right, but don’t close it. Continue to lope around the arena. Stay at least 20 feet away from the wall, but don’t rush or cut corners. Use the arena well and settle your horse into an even, moderate pace, then ask for a gradual increase in speed for the sliding stop.

Execute the stop past the pattern’s center markers to avoid a penalty. You have half the arena to perform the stop, so utilize that space to get well past the center markers. After the stop, immediately back your horse at least 10 feet.

After backing, give a moment’s hesitation, then perform four spins to the right. Keep your horse straight from head to tail, or slightly bent in the direction he’s spinning. Don’t over-bend him by pulling his face “into” the spin, or counter-bending him. Both will incur a negative maneuver score.

Cadence is critical in the spins. Speed adds to the level of difficulty, but cadence is integral in the maneuver. Your horse must plant his pivot foot and spin around it. Usually, an inside pivot foot produces a prettier spin than a horse who pushes himself around an outside pivot foot. Find a focal point on the wall to help you count the spins so you don’t under- or over-shoot your stopping point.

Hesitate for a moment before beginning your left spins. Again, the same advice applies to the left as to the right. After the spins, make your horse stand on a loose rein, and don’t use your free hand to touch him or your reins until I acknowledge you’re finished. At NRHA shows, there will be a bridle check, as well.

Cynthia Rucker owns and operates Rucker Horse and Pet ( in Cumming, Georgia. She is a carded judge with the NRHA, NRCHA, NSBA, AQHA, APHA, ApHC, PHBA, PtHA, and IBHA, and has judged the AQHYA World Show, APHA World Show, NSBA Breeders Cup, PHBA World Show, and ApHC World Show.

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