Knowing the pattern is key to success in Ranch Horse Trail. If you are timid and unsure about what obstacle you have to ride next, it is nearly impossible to win. A few years ago you could be semi-successful if your horse would do the required obstacle, but today you not only have to get through, over, or around the obstacle, you have to be 100% correct. Judge's Tip: Everyone now has some type of a phone that will take a picture. Take a picture of the pattern when it is posted so you will always have something to refer back to later. This not only keeps lost patterns from littering the show grounds, but you are a lot more likely to not lose your phone.
Having a pretty run is about keeping the flow, which comes from knowing the pattern and having your horse broke. Flow also comes from being able to properly set your horse up on the entrance and exit of EVERY obstacle. Judge's Tip: Always be sure to walk the course before the class if the judges allow it. It is much easier to pick your lines when you can actually walk and gauge the distance from the ground.
Proper setup for the next obstacle comes from completely finishing the last obstacle. If you are required to cross the bridge and pick up the left lead at the lope, be sure you keep your horse straight all the way across the bridge. Once you are completely off the bridge, pick up the left lead. I see too many people trying to set their horse up for the lead departure while still on the bridge, and their horse will step off the bridge with a hind foot, causing you to receive a negative score and effecting the score of the lope. Judge's Tip: Keeping your horse straight between your reins and legs will require much less set up for the next obstacle.
The pattern should be performed at a nice steady speed (pace) that you would see while working around the ranch. You are not being timed, so slow down and think. Judge's Tip: Take the time to count to two when you have the opportunity, before moving onto the next obstacle. Such as once you have finished the gate, or before starting the back up. This will give you the time you need to think, and a bit of time to reward your horse.
If your horse is getting antsy about getting into an obstacle, just STOP and wait! If you continue to push your horse when he is confused or being a bit resistant, it is like adding gas to the fire. I would much rather see you settle your horse and continue on than to show me you have no idea what you’re doing and wreck the rest of the pattern. Judge's Tip: Taking a ding on 1 obstacle is not as big of a deal if you plus on everything else.
Make sure that you start and stop all of the required gaits in between the obstacles as called for by the judge. If you are required to trot out of the turn box on your way to the back through be certain you do it. You are being scored from the trot out of the box until the exit of the back though. Judge's Tip: Be sure you are able to immediately trot off from a standstill with pole in front of you. Remember practice makes perfect.
Leave your horse alone, if you are in the pen showing, it is too late to train. The more you pick at your horse, the more he will ignore you. As well as, in the judges’ eyes, it makes it look like your horse is not broke, or you’re scared. Judge's Tip: Train your horse so that whenever you drop and release, he understands it as a reward.
Your horse needs to be shown moving forward, as if on the ranch. Ranch Horse Trail is not Western Pleasure or Horsemanship class. Judge's Tip: In the Youth and Novice you may be required to trot around some barrels or cones instead of dragging. We are looking for a consistent tempo and rhythm, as well as evenly spaced, round circles, with the horse being correctly bent in the direction of travel.
You are required to show your horse with light contact, and not with long draping reins. The light contact on your reins allow you to easily influence and position your horse. If you were riding with excessively long reins on the ranch, you are asking for trouble from the point of safety. Examples of such include cows being able to stick their heads through the reins, or the reins can get hung up on branches and gates. All of which are no good. Judge's Tip: Practice riding at home with contact so that your horse understands. Judges can tell the difference if your horse is soft and light in your hands, or if you are constantly pulling him into a frame, even if his nose is in front of the vertical.
While getting set up to rope the dummy, get into position, build your loop, throw, and leave. You are allowed 3 loops (tries) to rope the dummy, but remember that we are judging the positioning, the horse’s reaction to the rope and dummy, and how well your horse stands. If your horse stays in position and allows you to throw the rope, move on. The longer you stand there trying to prove to me you can catch, the more you increase the chances that your horse will do something that will out you on the minus side. Judge's Tip: Carry your rope with you so that you will have a rope that has the feel and stiffness that you like.
The Ranch Horse Trail class is a great new up and coming class that does not require you to have a sparkly outfit, silver covered saddle, or high dollar horse. The class is designed to allow you to show the abilities of your everyday horse from the ranch.
As always; Ride Hard, Be Safe, Have Fun. – Steve Kutie