In the reining world, practicing your pattern at home is a controversial topic.
Some people feel that practicing too much at home causes a horse to anticipate the pattern when it comes time to compete. Personally, I find that having my non pro riders practice their patterns at home, helps them gain more confidence in the saddle, but also helps us assess what parts of the pattern we need to work more on before it’s time to head to a horse show.
By practicing your patterns at home, you start to figure out how your horse reacts to different parts of the pattern, and you get more comfortable putting everything together at one time. The more you practice at home, the more confident you’re going to be feeling when it comes time to horse show, because you know how your horse is going to respond to different maneuvers. You’ll also be able to master your pattern placement and know just when you need to cue your horse throughout your run.
With that being said, I don’t recommend practicing your pattern every time you step out into the arena. If I ride a horse five times a week and I’m gearing up to attend a horse show, I might spend two or three rides a week practicing the pattern to help me evaluate what my horse needs help with. You can also practice the pattern in segments to help mix it up for your horse.
Today my rider is working on a pattern where you walk or trot to the center of the arena and stop before spinning both directions. Before she even gets to the center of the pen, she’s going to check in with her horse to make sure that he’s focusing on her. If your horse is looking around at everything else in the arena as you approach the center of the arena to start your pattern, you can’t expect him to focus on you once it’s time to start your pattern.
To start the pattern, this rider is going to spin in both directions. Going into the first turn she’s going to start slow to see where her horse is mentally. If he’s listening to her cues and responding to them, she’ll build on that speed. If he’s not responding to her hand, leg, and voice cues at the beginning of the turn, she can go ahead and spend a few minutes fine-tuning this maneuver before moving on to the rest of her pattern.
When it comes time to shut off the turn, she’s going to make note of how he responds. Is he stopping when she asks him to? Or is he going a few extra steps before finally shutting down? If it’s the latter, that’s something to take note of and school for the next show, as an overspin will result in a penalty.
The next step of this pattern is the large, fast circles going into the small, slow circles. When she leaves the center of the pen, this rider is looking up to see where she’s going and driving her horse forward around that circle. As a rider, you should be proactive; not reactive. As the pilot, you need to tell your horse what you want him to do the entire ride. This gives him less opportunity to make decisions on his own.
As she comes to the center of the arena again, she asks for that fast-to-slow lope transition. He doesn’t give much effort in this transition, so instead of rolling with it like she would do if she were in the show pen, she stops her horse, backs him up a few steps, and reinforces that slow down cue by reminding her horse that she’s the one in charge.
After that reinforcement, she cues him back into the lope and does her small, slow circle before changing leads in the center and doing her set of circles the next direction.
The rundowns are another important piece to work on at home. If your horse isn’t keeping his body straight during this piece of the pattern, you can’t expect to have a good stop. This rider makes sure her horse waits for her as they go around the corner and gets straight before building speed. The rider also makes sure to keep her eyes up and forward.
Approaching the stop, this rider makes sure she doesn’t lose any speed, and uses the entire length of the arena to ensure that her horse isn’t thinking about anticipating that stop. Once she stops, she asks for the rollback and then prepares for her next rundown and repeats the same thing she did going the first direction.