Article Archive: How to Ride NRHA Pattern 5

Learn how top competitors put in a great ride

NRHA judges, competitors, and non pros take you behind the scenes and show you how they ride and/or score this pattern, traditionally used in the Finals of the NRHA Futurity.

"Pattern Five is a great Finals pattern It starts out quietly, important after the second go which starts with a run-in pattern, " says NRHA judge and competitor Clint Haverty.

According to trainer and judge Bryant Pace the key to a solid performance in pattern five is to "perform a pattern that looks smooth, but with enough speed where the pattern calls for speed."

"I want my ride to be correct and appealing to the judge," notes trainer Dwayn Hoelscher. From a Non Pro perspective, "the most important advice I could give to a fellow Non Pro is 'do not rush' and stay relaxed," says Kim Sloan. Competitor and Non Pro coach Mark Arballo encourages his students to think in terms of the future--how today's run will affect a horse's longevity.

Lets take a look at the maneuvers of pattern five from the perspective of these judges, competitors, and coaches.

First impressions: walking in

"I like to see a nice, smooth walk to the center that's crisp but also shows me that the horse is broke and calm," says Pace.

"As a judge, I do have a pet peeve about how competitors walk in," adds Haverty "If I see a rider walk into the ring and repeatedly bounce on the horses face, it'll cost him on the first maneuvers score because it suggests intimidation."


At the center, slop and MENTALLY count to 10 before loping off on the left lead, advises Sloan. "This keeps me from rushing and helps me stay relaxed." Arballo advises his Non Pros to breathe in the center . "You'd be surprised how many Non Pros forget this."

Judges want to see smoothness. "Set your horse up and lope off with just a light movement of the hip and a light pick up on the reins, so that you have a very smooth departure on the correct lead," says Pace. Haverty, too, looks for a prompt lope departure, "not walking for 20 feet."

But even a slight pause is valuable to the competitor. "I pause briefly in the center," says Hoelscher. "I use this momentary pause to make sure my horse is paying attention to me." Sloan adds that lead departures are at times difficult for a three-year-old; it's important not to rush him.

Once a horse is in his first set of circles, Haverty doesn't mind if a competitor he's judging takes a quarter of the circle to get to the speed they need, creating a smoother picture than if they started off with a burst of speed. Further, smoothly increasing speed helps keep your horse mentally with you. If you go full blast from the start, it may be too quick for his mind to catch up.

Too much speed invites other problems, such as slipping. "If he does this more than once or twice, he's probably not standing up in his shoulders well," says Pace. " Or the ground conditions are poor. Regardless, it makes the maneuver look ragged. You can't mark that as high as you can a horse that goes around cadenced and smooth. It's the look of the maneuver that gives you the score."

When Haverty shows, he rides with as much slack as his horse will allow. In the transition from large fast to small slow circles, this allows him to show the judge that the horse is soft and quiet in his head and neck and willingly comes back to him on a slack rein.

In the transition, Haverty tries to make his speed change as close to the center of the pen as possible. "Some horses need two or three strides. The key is to slow down and guide smoothly into the small slow, and do it on as much of a slack rein as possible. When I'm judging, I want to see a horse willingly drop back into the small slow and then lock into that circle."

Pace focuses on circles that flow: "I want the circles to stay nice and round, the same size and shape. I like to see a horse come all the way to the center before making the slow down, very smoothly but with fairly rapid deceleration." The small slow circle, he says, should look smooth, slow, and relaxed, and then the horse should make a nice, crisp stop.

In his large fast circles, Hoelschler strives for a speed that is comfortable, not so fast that the horse is disturbed. In the small slow, he looks for a relaxed, attentive attitude. "I want to know the horse is with me," he says.

Arballo asks his Non Pro riders to consider speed--and the future. "If you ask for too much speed, two or three shows later, he may decide to pick up more speed. You may lose control. If your horse does start out too fast, don't ask for more speed." He also advises his students to look ahead, not down at the horses neck or their hands. "Point your hand slightly to the place you want your horse to end up. He'll probably go there." Arballo tells his students to make the circle shape resemble a "D," so that the rider makes a straight line through center. But, he notes, that s hard to do if your horse has been shown a lot. The straight line may make him think that you'll make a lead change and head off in the other direction. Even if your circle isn't perfect, he adds, don't make corrections as you cross cente--your horse may respond to your correction by thinking you're asking him for a lead change. Instead, wait until you're safely on your second circle.

In the halt, "I like a horse to melt into the ground, smooth and pretty," says Haverty. "he doesn't have to slide, but I do want to see a horse use his hindquarters and get into the ground a little bit. I also want them to stand here with some confidence and not jump back."

As a competitor, Haverty says (hat even in important shows such as the NRHA Futurity Finals, "I will make a very brief pause to reward the horse for stopping and help him stay quiet. It's important, even at a major show, to remember that this probably won't be the last finals in which the horse will compete. We have to think about longevity, even in this setting."

"I do like my horse to slide some in the center, says Hoelscher. "I think the slide creates a crisper look, and it also gives me a chance to get stop on my horses mind for my stops later. It also gives me an opportunity to assess his attentiveness; if he gives me a little slide, I know he's paying attention to me, not something across the pen."

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MANEUVER 2: Complete four spins to the left. Hesitate.

"As a judge, I focus on the overall look of the maneuver," says Pace. "I want the maneuver to flow and get fast, with cadenced footwork. I don't look at the pivot foot particularly--most of the time, if the footwork is correct and cadenced, the pivot foot takes care of itself."

"I start off slow because I want a horse to get locked in before I ask him to step around with speed," says Haverty "I give him the first half of a turn to get into it; but by the time we make one revolution, I want him to be turning hard "

When he's judging, Haverty rewards the horse that steps in there and picks up speed fast--and correctly--because it shows a higher level of difficulty. But, he notes, you still have to avoid over- or under-spinning. To avoid penalties, stop exact]y on the center line.

When he's competing, Haverty is careful to ensure that the horse doesn't confuse a request for a spin with the cues for a rollback. "I don't release my horse into the spin maneuver until he's more than halfway through the first revolution. We've all seen the horse that jumps out of the turnaround, thinking he's supposed to do a roll back. My reins may be slack, but I will still be holding," he notes.

"I start him easy and build until he's up to his maximum turn when I shut him off at the end of the fourth turn," says Hoelscher. "I focus on how willing he is; and I want to establish cadence from the start. Starting slow also protects me: if my horse does get started wrong, he has the time to catch up and get correct. If they start off too quick, they scramble and they never get caught up."

MANEUVER 3: Beginning on the right lead, complete three circles to the right: the first two circles large and fast; the third circle small and slow. Stop at the center of the arena. (See Maneuver 1)

MANEUVER 4: Complete four spins to the right. Hesitate. (See Maneuver 2)

MANEUVER 5: Beginning on the left lead, run a large fast circle to the left, change leads at the center of the arena, run a large fast circle to the right, and change leads at the center of the arena. (Figure 8)

In the figure eight, it's important to make two large fast circles that are exactly the same size. "I want the figure eight circles to be as big, round, and pretty as the large fast circles," says Haverty. "I want my tracks on these circles to be exactly in the hoof prints left by my first set of large, fast circles. This consistency helps keep the pattern looking balanced and smooth." He adds that the lead changes should be made coming straight at the judge. "I don't want to come across at an angle," he says, "although, as a judge, I will mark each style equally. Personally, though, I think the changes on a straight line keeps horses honest in the pen."

"The figure eight lead changes are difficult because you have very little time in between one lead change and another," says Sloan. "If you think of the lead changes as two maneuvers, this can help. Also, you have to know your horse and the speed at which he changes most easily. Nowhere in the pattern can you lose more points in as short a period of time than in lead changes."

"It helps Non Pros to think of the lead change as riding in a straight line, bumping the horse's side, and then loping off in the other direction," says Arballo. "Make sure you sit upright. Avoid the temptation to do too much with your body in the lead change—your horse may set up, dropping his shoulder and cutting into the shoulder."

"I have an imaginary 20 foot center in which I want my horse to change," says Hoelscher. "I want to avoid the penalties of early or late changes, and I want the maneuver to look smooth. The smoother and more matter of fact the lead change is, the more appealing it is to judges and spectators. Horses that have very dramatic lead changes may not be very good leaded and the riders may be cautious to ensure that they're getting the change. "

"I try to get my lead changes exactly in the center of the pen, both from side to side and from end to end, so that the change is in the exact center of the arena," says Pace. "The maneuver should show flow, as if the horse just went the other way and changed leads in the process."

Maneuver 6: "The horse should melt into the ground and get in deep, then enter the rollback without hesitation, cracking the rollback a full 180 degrees and coming out loping on the other side with momentum. I don't want to see him pleasure lope out of the maneuver. In the stop, I want to see him lock both legs into the ground without picking up a foot. He should use his back to stop, elevating his shoulders with his head level, not jamming his front end into the ground. He should look like he's in total control of his feet and his body during the maneuver."

In the approach to the stop, Hoelscher makes sure that "everything feels straight and in alignment." He notes that "the stop that feels the softest is usually the best. In the stop, he tries to take just enough of a hold that the horse has a rein contact "he can depend on and that will support him until he stops."

When he's judging, Haverty penalizes a "U" turn type of rollback. "A 'U' turn isn't a rollback. In the rollback, the horse should fall back over his hocks and then step out with authority."

The movement is about snapping over the hocks and then going in the other direction. "After the rollback," Haverty adds, "I want to see a horse lope out quietly, waiting on the rider (or me if I'm competing), as if he's asking 'are we going to run to a stop again? or are we just going to lope around the other end?"'

Hoelscher, too, emphasizes the difference between a spin and a rollback. "In a spin, you have some forward motion as the horse stands up and turns around with the front end. In a rollback, the horse needs to fall back over the inside hock. For that reason, I don't think a horse should necessarily stand up after the stop--the horse needs to sit down a little and elevate in front."

After the rollback, Hoelscher uses the distance from the moment the horse lopes out of the rollback to the first turn at the end of the arena as an opportunity to let the horse get comfortable and get his composure back before he guides around the end and squares off the corner in preparation for the rundown to the second stop."

MANEUVER 7: Continue around on the previous circle but do not close this circle. Run up the left side of the arena past the center marker and do a left rollback at least 20 feet from the wall or fence--no hesitation. (see maneuver 6)

"On the final stop, I drop my hand and then slowly pick it up and pull straight back to ask for the back up," says Haverty. "I release to let him know that we're going to do something else next.
If, instead, I brought my hand to one side or the other, he'd think 'rollback."'

"In the warm up pen, I'm careful not to do too many rollbacks," says Hoelscher. To help his horse understand that he won't be asked to rollback, Hoelscher is "careful not to move my hand at all, either to the right or left. After the stop, I will bring my hand straight back to ask for the back up. He doesn't have to run back, but I do want to show that he backs up willingly. Some horses have trouble with the back up--it is, in reality, probably the most unnatural maneuver we ask a horse to perform."

"I want to see a stop with only minimal hesitation, and a crisp, cadenced back up," says Pace. "It's better to have speed with cadence, but if you get speed without cadence, the back up looks ragged. Its more important to have a smooth, cadenced look, even if it's not the fastest back up."

"In the ideal back up," says Haverty, "the horse's head and neck should be down, and there should be slack in the rein. But not a lot of horses can back like this. As an exhibitor, I try to get them to back as well as they can. If a horse is a poor backer, I'll just go the mandatory 10 to 15 feet that the Handbook requires. If I have a strong backer that arches his back like a soldier, I might go 50 feet to show it off "

With this maneuver, the pattern's over. All that's left is to get off your horse and walk over to the Judge to drop the bit for him/ her to check, walk out the gate--and wait for the announcer to call out your score.



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