A Ranch Riding ‘Adventure’

Have you ever forgotten your pattern in the middle of a go? It happens to the pros, too.

I had high hopes when I took Chips Good Question, owned by Dr. Phil and Angie Corbett, to the 2014 American Quarter Horse Association World Show. Our event was junior ranch riding. It was my first year showing in this exciting new class, and I’d had great success with this mare—even placing in the top 10 at the All American Quarter Horse Congress a month before.

Credit: Photo by Roger Gollehon The author and AQHA mare Chips Good Question.

At the AQHA World, the pattern isn’t one of the usual five used regionally during the year. It’s longer and more complicated, with many changes in gait and direction, plus maneuvers such as ground poles. I was concerned about getting it right. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t even get to watch someone else tackle it before me, as I was first in the working order. Yikes.

‘Hush, Puppies’
The night before my class, I found myself awake in the wee hours, thinking about the pattern. I knew all eyes would be on me, as everyone wanted to see the pattern’s first go. My dogs, still puppies then, were sleeping in bed next to me. As I mentally rode the pattern, they’d distract me from time to time, or I’d drift off to sleep for a few moments. Then I’d start the pattern over again in my mind. This cycle repeated until finally it was time to get up to make the 8 a.m. gate call.

When the moment arrived, I felt ready. As the officials waved me in, I surveyed the arena and took a deep breath. To my relief, the mare and I started out really well. In fact, we were nailing it…until we got about halfway through the pattern. Then, loping from the far end of the arena down the center toward the out gate, I realized with a jolt I had absolutely no idea where I was supposed to go next!

Panicked, I began a frantic conversation with myself.

“What happens now? Which way to turn? Should I just ride straight out the gate, never to be seen again?”

With the arena’s end fast approaching, I made a decision: drop to a trot and turn left. From there, I finished off what I hoped was the correct rest of the pattern—but felt none too certain about it.

‘Just a Moment, Ma’am’
When I got to the gate, the stewards stopped me. There was some question whether the ground poles had been properly placed and, if not, how that affected my score. After conferring with the judges, the stewards returned and said, “It’s OK. You can go.”

Roger, my husband, was waiting for me and had videoed my ride.

“Did I do the pattern correctly?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t know the pattern!”

I watched a replay of my go and still thought—hoped!—I’d done it right. And, as it turned out I, I had…well enough, in fact, to advance to the next round. Whew!

In hindsight, I realize what happened. Every time the puppies distracted me as I was riding the pattern in my head the night before, I’d started over from the beginning, instead of picking up from where I’d left off. That meant I studied the first half of the pattern 10 times more than the second half. Then, when I momentarily forgot where to go, it was kind of a “Jesus, take the wheel” moment, and I was lucky to have pulled it off.

I’ve been a trainer for more than 40 years, and never have I experienced that before. It was unnerving, and the lesson I learned is always go through the entire pattern equally, breaking it up into parts.

Chips Good Question, aka “Ranch Barbie,” finished 2015 as AQHA’s #1 senior ranch riding mare in the nation, plus was an American Ranch Horse Association world champion. She’s nabbed a dozen other titles as well, and is now retired for her owner’s enjoyment.

She’s been a great ride—even on that pattern that almost went wrong!

Robin Gollehon is an American Ranch Horse Association judge, AQHA Professional Horseman, and Intercollegiate Horse Show Association coach, with over 100 world and national titles. She specializes in Western pleasure, ranch riding, and yearling longe line. Gollehon Quarter Horses of Versailles, Kentucky, stands the multiple world champion Quarter Horse stallion Good Cowboy Margarita (gollehon.com).

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