As a judge, it’s my job to give every rider a chance to win, whether first or last into the pen or somewhere in the middle, and to judge each maneuver individually. That’s how the scoring system works, so ride as if you can win it, giving every maneuver your best efforts, based on your horse’s abilities.
I’m looking for four things: quality of movement, willful guiding (whether you steer with your hand or legs), length of rein (a drape adds degree of difficulty), and finally pace, in that order. Your ride must be pretty, moreso than slow. Without the other factors, being slow won’t help your score.
Walk in and transition to the jog—if your horse is a good jogger, this is your chance to show him off. Get him in a nice frame, stay straight on a loose rein, and jog with steady cadence over the log as if it weren’t there. Cross it in the center and perpendicular to it. Ticking or kicking it incurs penalties.
Once you’ve crossed the log, you must lope within 30 feet—but you, not your horse, choose when. For a pretty lope departure and a plus score, you’ll need to appear motionless, and your horse won’t lift his head and neck, but will lift his whole body and strike out on the left lead. He should push off from his hind end, and I should see no change in cadence before or after the transition.
After rounding the pattern’s bottom, you shouldn’t have to move your hand much to steer between the markers. However, if you steer with your legs, leaving your hand still, and your horse sticks his head up, his tongue out, and wrings his tail, you won’t impress me. I won’t plus the maneuver just because you didn’t move your hand—your horse must be willfully guided, whether by hand or leg.
As I judge from this pattern’s left side, I have a view from directly in front of and directly behind your crossing changes. Any side-to-side movement will be obvious, so strive for lead changes that look flawless from in front and behind. You shouldn’t have to move your horse’s hip to the side or shuffle laterally to get the changes.
Between the first two crossing changes, you’ll lope across the log. Aim for its center, keep a steady pace, and try to get your horse straight for at least a stride or two as you cross it. If he crosses it on an arc, he’s more likely to incur penalties by ticking or kicking it.
After the second crossing change, position your horse for the first two line changes. You don’t need to ride out of the pattern in a loopy serpentine as the diagram shows. If you stay closer to the markers, you can ride a straighter line through the changes, setting your horse up for success.
The lope around the pattern’s top will give you and your horse a mental break and an opportunity to prepare for two more line changes. Ride the next line changes focused on making them correct and pretty. Don’t worry about hitting the exact center point between the markers—as long as you’re within the lead change zone indicated on the diagram, I’ll plus score a high-quality change.
The final two crossing changes are another chance to show me how perfect your lead changes look from behind and in front. Don’t let your guard down—the final maneuvers are as important as the others in this pattern, and will carry the same weight in scoring.
Lope up the pattern’s center, and be sure to pass the third set of markers before bringing your horse to a quiet, balanced halt. He should back willingly and smoothly to finish this pattern, and I’ll be watching and scoring you through that final maneuver, so ride it to the end.
ApHC and NRHA-carded judge Dave Moore operates Sheridan Oaks Stable near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He’s ridden, trained, and coached more than 20 national and world champions in Western riding. Today he concentrates on exhibiting and training within the NRHA, but still enjoys judging Western riding because of the technical challenge it presents to horses and riders.