Pattern Pointers

There are 10 approved reining patterns in the NRHA handbook. We’ve selected one as an example to help you visualize the pattern from a judge?s perspective.

Familiarize yourself with the arena, noting where you’ll be executing your maneuvers and establishing reference points.

This pattern begins at the middle markers, but as soon as you enter the arena, I’m judging you. You may walk or trot to your starting position?trotting wastes less time, but if your horse performs better by walking in, that’s fine. It’s possible to score a zero for the entire pattern even before beginning it, if you switch hands on your reins.You must perform the entire pattern holding your reins in the same hand. If you change your rein hand during the pattern or enter the ring riding twohanded and later hold them in one hand, you’ll earn a zero score.

Exhibit a full halt before beginning the pattern, or incur a 2-point penalty. To score well, perform a smooth, straight and steady lope departure. I don’t mind seeing two or three walk steps, but any trot steps incur penalties. If your horse can smoothly pick up the lope from a standstill he’ll show a higher degree of difficulty and I’ll consider it toward a plus score for the whole maneuver.

The right circles are first, so make sure you get the right lead to begin. If not, you’ll incur a 1- point penalty for each quarter circle you’re on the wrong lead. Breaking to the trot to correct the lead incurs a 2-point penalty, so it’s better to get a flying lead change.

The small, slow circle is first, and should be symmetrical, pleasing to the eye, coordinated and collected.

Maintain good forward motion?I don’t want to see a slow pace so collected that it looks artificial. I also don’t want to see a cramped small circle, so tiny and tight that I can’t see your horse moving freely.

Return to the arena?s center as you close your small circle or your circles will be off-center in the pattern. If they?re off-center, even beautiful circles will earn only a zero maneuver score, and mediocre circles will earn a negative score.

Keep your large circles symmetrical but distinctly larger than the small circle. I shouldn?t have to guess which size you’re showing me. The fast pace shouldn?t be breakneck. Know how much speed your horse can show without losing form and control, and don’t push him past it. Often, when horses run too fast, their hind legs work too closely together so their hind lead becomes indistinct. Keep control first, then add speed if your horse is capable.

I like to see a horse bend from nose to tail just enough to follow the arc of the circle. His head shouldn?t be tipped to the outside, or too far to the inside. He should carry his head at a height that’s natural for his build, rather than artificially low or over-fixed. I don’t mind light rein contact, but if he goes beautifully on a little drape, I’ll score him higher. Maintain the same rein length throughout the pattern.

Perform your flying lead change at the middle markers?too early or too late incurs penalties. The lead change should be smooth, straight, and level without your horse hopping into the air to change, and without you having to throw him onto it. He should change with his front and hind legs simultaneously.

The danger point of this pattern is coming out of the large fast circle to the right and dropping right back to a small slow circle after your lead change.

Your horse must respond readily and drop obediently down into the slower pace. The left circles should have the same qualities of the right circles regarding size, symmetry, pace, and form.

After the second maneuver?s lead change at the pattern?s center, start a large circle to the right. If you missed your lead change, you’ll lose one point for each quarter circle that you’re on the wrong lead, so get the change as soon as possible?without trotting. If you break gait for a lead change, you’ll incur more penalties.

Maintain a controlled medium pace rather than the previous large circles? fast pace, and turn down the pattern?s center at the top of the circle. As you begin your run down the middle, maintain a controlled pace?I don’t want to see your horse toss his head up and run off with you.

Gradually build speed down the length of the arena, but don’t overestimate how well your horse can stop. If you pick up too much speed, he’ll blow his stop, and you’ll lose maneuver points. Don?t try to outrun your competitors; stay within your horse’s capability.

Make sure you’re past the bottom end markers before initiating your stop. If your horse assumes a stopping position before he passes them, he’s ?scotching? and incurs a 2-point penalty. For a nice stop, I like to see a horse with his back rounded, his head down, his hind legs well under him, and some slide (though, some horses stop nicely without sliding). His front end should also stay on the ground, so he’s not bouncing in the air to stop.

Roll back to the right directly from your stop. The stop and rollback should flow into one seamless movement, with no hesitation.Your horse should snap right back onto his own tracks. If he resists the rollback and freezes up, you’ll incur a 2-point penalty.A shorter hesitation will also lower your maneuver score. (Tip: Instead of trying to remember rolling back to the right or left in this pattern, think of rolling back toward the judge, who should be positioned on the left wall. But, make sure that’s where she is before you ride!)

Run back up the pattern?s middle, gradually building speed?not bursting into a dead run.

Know your horse’s stopping ability, and don’t push him past his best pace. Stop at the top of the pattern, past the end markers, and roll back to the left (remember, roll back toward the judge here, too).

Then, directly and fluidly from the rollback, run down the pattern and perform a sliding stop past the center markers. If your horse stops really deep, I’ll let him get back on his feet, but there should be no noticeable hesitation before backing.

Back him to the pattern?s center, or at least 10 feet, but try to make it back to the center. After backing, hesitate. Then, begin four spins to the right. As judge, I’ll be counting aloud, so you?d better be counting them, too. Any fraction more or less than four complete spins incurs a penalty.

Hesitate before starting your spins to the left, or you’ll score a zero on your entire pattern for not following the instructions.

For a good spin, your horse should plant one hind pivot foot, rather than swapping hind feet, which is bad form and may cause him to travel as he spins.

Worse yet, is if he runs around with both front and hind feet. He can be straight from head to tail, or slightly arced in the direction of his spin. Establish your spins on a pivot foot before adding speed, and don’t push him beyond his ability or he’ll lose form.

Hesitate in order to show completion of pattern.

This article first appeared in ?Pattern Perfect,? Horse & Rider magazine.

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