As I mentioned last month, with the first part of this pattern, remember not to override your horse. Speed usually doesn’t hide problems; it exposes them. In every maneuver, your horse should be willfully guided with no apparent resistance.
Maneuver 4 calls for four spins to the right. In all spins, your horse should plant his inside hind foot and pivot over it, with his front end stepping lightly and promptly around. To avoid having him swap ends (his front and hind ends moving simultaneously) or toss his head, don’t pull him through the spin. Use your outside leg to push him through it. If you drag his front end around, you’ll create an ugly tug of war, and his hind end is likely to come loose rather than staying planted as a pivot point.
Under- or over-spinning can lose points and even disqualify you. To count your spins, pick an obstacle in front of you (at eye level so you can keep your head and eyes up, and maintain better balance) and count one spin each time you pass it. Know how much advance warning your horse needs to stop at a designated spot. Some stop on a dime, but if yours doesn’t, ask him well enough in advance so he nails the perfect spot.
Keep the break between spinning to the right and spinning to the left minimal. Apply the same method for getting a good spin to the left as to the right, but this time be sure you count out four spins and add an extra quarter spin so you halt facing the show pen’s left wall. Then hesitate briefly to organize your reins and set your horse up to strike off on the left lead. Missing your lead incurs penalties, and for every quarter of the circle you lope on the incorrect lead, you incur more penalties.
As you start your first large, fast circle, attain your horse’s best pace within the first quarter, and maintain it throughout. He should carry a steady, uniform pace through each circle, without surging forward or dropping back. As you pass the center of the pattern, smoothly bring him down to a slower pace, and guide him onto a smaller circle. The transition from fast to slow should appear seamless, without abrupt cues or overt reactions from your horse.
The second circle should be easily distinguishable from the first, as smaller and slower, but don’t cut your pace to a pleasure lope. Shut your horse’s speed down, but show he can still maintain a forward, working pace. At the center point, move him back up to his faster pace, and guide him back out onto the larger circle. The first and third circles should match each other on size and speed.
After your third left circle, change to the right lead in the center of the arena right between the two center markers. Accuracy and timing is critical to a good score. A late change or an early change incurs penalties, as does getting a wrong lead. A break of gait to correct a lead incurs penalties, but deductions accumulate for every quarter circle he’s on the wrong lead, so it’s important to get that lead. Apply the same principles to the right circles as to the left—uniform speed within each circle, seamless transitions of speed and size to the smaller circle, and fluid, forward motion throughout. Strive for symmetry on this end of the arena, as well.
After the third circle to the right, change leads again in the center of the pattern, and begin a large, fast circle to the left. Instead of closing this circle, run up the right side of the pen and perform your horse’s best stop well past the center markers and at least 20 feet from the wall or fence to avoid penalty. Don’t back your horse after stopping! That’s not in the instructions for this pattern and can disqualify you. Let your horse stand a moment after his stop to demonstrate that you’re finished, then exit the pen.
Mike Drennan operates Drennan Ranch in Phoenix, Arizona, and retains judging cards with the AQHA and APHA. Over many years as a professional trainer, he’s developed numerous AQHA champions, and as a judge, he’s presided over the nation’s top reining competitions, including the NRHA Futurity and NRHA Derby, as well as the AQHA, APHA, and ApHC World Shows.