By Patty Wilber
My success in executing patterns correctly has been in decline (with age?) and the reasons are varied, but I need to fix that, so here is a short list of strategies that should apply to all patterns!
One: Print the patterns out prior to the show. I need print copies. My phone is too small for me to see details and I don’t like to carry my phone in my pockets at shows. I do like to carry the paper patterns around like a security blanket and check them at the last minute. Old school.
Two: Read every word of the pattern directions to the very end and do NOT make any assumptions. In the cow horse pattern at the show last weekend, I assumed the turns would be to the outside, because they are most of the time. But they were not. Result: zero on the dry work. I have made this assumption mistake more than once.
Three: Highlight or make notes on the paper copy to make sure you really know the details of the pattern and any unusual or tricky parts.
Four: Go over the pattern with your friends or family. That can help you find places in the directions that you may have missed. Also it can be fun to discuss patterns and strategies with others!
Five: Memorize the (correct!) pattern by reciting it out loud, walking it in miniature, and/or drawing it in the air. Then visualize it in the arena where you will be showing. I really helps me to see the arena and then picture myself showing in the very arena I will be showing. You can note the location of center or other markers to help you make your pattern flow properly. In reining and cow horse, this means hitting the center, making your circles match on either side and getting past the end markers for stops or rollbacks. For Ranch Riding this means choosing where to execute various maneuvers or transitions to help you show off the strengths of your horse.
Six: If possible, watch other riders. If they do the pattern correctly, you can see what parts looked tricky and what you might like to do differently or the parts that looked great that you might like to do similarly to them. This can backfire if the riders you are watching go off pattern, which can sometimes add confusion. Usually, though, watching is really helpful. I went first in that cow horse pattern, darn it!
Seven: Focus 1. When riding the pattern, have it broken down into sections, and have a plan for the parts you think might trip you up. I have, more than once, gone off pattern when the pattern does something slightly unusual (to me, if not in reality). In reining patterns, there are circles to the right and circles to the left and lead changes often connect them. At this show, there were circles to the right, then you stopped and did spins. I knew this. I had memorized the pattern. I did not go first, so I had watched other riders. BUT Lucy ran her circles so well and I was having so much fun with her that I failed to stop and just went right on to the left circles! Serious fail. Since the stop after the right circles felt out of the ordinary to me, I could have helped myself by focusing on making a really nice stop after the right circles instead of allowing my brain to go into autopilot. (But they WERE really nice circles, I tell you!)
Eight: Focus 2! Execute each section, forget about the past, and go on to the next section. If you make a mistake or do something really well, you cannot dwell on it. You must move on to the next part and perform that to the best of your ability with your brain firmly in the present moment. You can dissect the pattern after the run. In reining and cow horse patterns, a mistake earns you a zero, but not so in trail and ranch riding. Keep going!
Nine: Have fun! Whether showing is a hobby or a job, if you are enjoying yourself, it will be evident! That will usually result in a happier horse, a prettier pattern, and a more enjoyable day!