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Riding Skills: How To Learn To Ride Patterns

Question Category: Riding Skills

Question: Julie,

I have a horse that I’m helping my daughter train for some rodeo queen contests. She is a beginner to horses and riding. On one of the patterns, she is to run down the arena (next to the rail)…..slide stop….roll back…and then run down the opposite direction…..slide stop…roll back….then run half way down the arena (a little bit away from the rail) slide stop…..settle and back up about 10 steps. When I ride the horse and do the pattern, the horse does it perfectly. When she gets on the horse, he basically goes from against the rail and ends up on the other side of the arena because she will not keep him next to the rail. I’ve tried everything I can think of to explain to her how I keep him there, but she just doesn’t get it. Any ideas?

Thanks and I LOVE YOUR website and hope to get to one of your clinics very soon with my 7 kids.


Answer: Candyce,

You don’t mention how old your daughter is, so it is difficult to know how physically and mentally capable she is to ride such an advanced pattern. Certainly younger children, say under 10, could have difficulty with all the spatial and conceptual concepts that are need to ride a pattern.
The maneuvers you mention are difficult, even for an advanced rider to perform correctly, so it is unreasonable to think any beginner, adult or child, could ride these maneuvers. I would start her with some much simpler patterns. For instance, place two cones, one at each end of the arena, about 15-20 feet off the rail and see if she can walk, trot and then canter from point to point in a straight line, making sure to stop straight. When she can do this, and many other skills like execute halt to lope transitions on either lead, she is ready to start working on roll backs. Again, what you are asking her to do is very complicated both in the pattern and the cueing of the horse and everything must be broken down and sequenced. It could easily take years for a person to learn these maneuvers.

The most common problem I see beginners make, especially children, when trying to steer the horse, is locking up and pulling back on both reins, instead of reaching forward and actively guiding the horse with the reins. For most horses, as soon as the rider locks up on the reins, the horse just puts his head down and heads for the middle of the arena (or the gate, or wherever he wants to go). It is unfair for any horse to let a rider lean on the reins, and well-trained horses are especially resentful of this.

Start with some very simple patterns with straight lines and turns and transitions and see if your daughter can steer the horse through. Then gradually work up to the more complicated pattern. When it comes to the competition, your daughter should ride the pattern to her own capabilities, even if that means trotting the pattern. It is always better to do less and do it correctly than to do more but with poor technique.
Good luck and I hope to see you and your kids at a clinic sometime!


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