As an All-Around Novice Amateur competitor on the Ohio Quarter Horse circuit, pattern classes were our bread and butter. The challenge however, was keeping a bright pattern horse, from trying to complete the class without you. My boy, was smart to a fault, and felt he knew the patterns better than I did, and didn’t need my guidance to perform them. The smart ones can be exhausting, but I’ll take them over a not-so-smart one any day!
The trick that I figured out, was to not let on that we were doing pattern work at all. We did run through the entire pattern a few times to begin with (at shows), but as soon as we had a couple soild runs under our cinch, we stopped. From there on, I would let him believe we were just casually riding around… and we would happen to do different series of transitions… in no particular order. By the time you pull all the pieces back together, maybe a run through just before you enter then pen, it will feel crisp and fluid, without the race to the end and the “did you see me? I did it before you even asked!” response.
Ideally, you need your horse to be sharp and focused, but not to the point of edgy or anticipating. By breaking the pattern down into smaller pieces, and mixing in casual riding between, it keeps them guessing what you’ll ask for next. This works just as well at home and during practice.
Another challenge we encountered was a pattern calling for an element that we’d not done previously. Or, in some cases, I’d taught Buddy specifically to not do something the way they’d asked for. If your horse is comfortable with you in charge, and willing to listen, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.
We were at a show in Findlay, prepping for an Equitation class, when we first saw a forehand turn. Every riding turn we’d made up until that day had been on the haunches, and every time up until then Buddy had tried to turn on his forehand, I’d corrected him. The mold was set. I think Dad was a bit more worried than I was, but we had some time, so I rode Buddy off to a quiet area and tried to un-teach years of correction.
I began with asking him to sort of walk into and out of the turn. Just a few steps at a time, with only encouragement, to try to unwire the “no, bad” he had in his mind. When he would take those steps without fear, I tried to build on them, adding more, trying to clean the movement up. He was cautiously willing. When we reached a point where I felt we’d gotten the basics of it, but weren’t progressing, I called in the help of a trainer friend who knew Buddy.
She asked to watch what we’d accomplished so far, I showed her, and she started to laugh. “You need to see his face! He’s thinking SO HARD right now!” That was Buddy, he’d have never been a good poker player, he was far too expressive. She had me hop down and climbed on him herself to see what she could do. I watched his face, and again, the brow deeply furrowed in concentration. Oh how I miss his face. She managed to help us assemble a workable version of the turn to get through the class, and we survived it without a hitch.
The point here being, don’t go straight to panic mode when you see something different on the pattern sheet. It might take you a few minutes, but throwing something new into your standard mix of gait changes, stops and turns can actually be a good thing for you and your horse.
We get bored, horses get bored, and our natural inclination is to rush and get through whatever we’re bored by. Mixing things up will keep both your minds engaged and better focused, resulting in better patterns and more ribbons!