4 Tips on Preparing for Pattern Classes

4 Tips on Preparing for Pattern Classes

Building stamina, walking the pattern, reading the questions and drilling maneuvers are four ways to prepare for pattern classes.

11 tips for pattern preparation. Journal photo

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"Journal, The American Quarter Horse Journal" logo

By Abigail Boatwright

If you’re going to be competing in a pattern class, you know that you’ll need some serious preparation.

Patterns are generally posted well in advance, but laying down a winning run is not as simple as practicing the same pattern over and over before you show.

We’ve gathered advice from AQHA Professional Horsemen to help you develop rituals that can dispel your pre-show anxiety and get your horse ready for his best performance.

Today, we’re sharing four tips. This article originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of The American Quarter Horse Journal. 


1. Build your stamina.

About six weeks prior to the show, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Holly Hover encourages her clients to begin a rigorous physical program to strengthen them for the competition ahead.

“Not necessarily with the horse you’ll be showing, but doing different calisthenics and strength exercises needed for the pattern classes,” Holly says. “For showmanship, running around, working with horses on stopping correctly, just really getting the exhibitor fit. But depending on your horse, make sure you don’t do it so much that you practice the good out of the horse before you get to the show.”

Your horse should also be physically fit before the show to protect him from getting sore. And in a lesson learned the hard way, Holly avoids shoeing horses closer than two weeks before a big show.

“We have to haul a long way, and you never know if something will happen with a bad nail or a little soreness,” Holly says.

A woman rides a bay horse in a Select hunt seat equitation pattern. Journal photo
(Credit: Journal)

2. Walk the pattern.

You can walk the pattern at home, long before you get to a show. Holly’s clients physically walk the pattern on foot and also draw it to help it adhere to memory.

AQHA Professional Horseman Robin Frid starts his show prep at home with riders walking the pattern and planning their route.

“This gets you familiar with the layout and what I’m looking for,” Robin says. “How the circles should be shaped, where transitions should happen.”

3. Answer the pattern’s questions.

In your practice time leading up to the show, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lainie DeBoer suggests reviewing the upcoming pattern to discover the questions being asked.

“What is the judge looking for in each maneuver?” Lainie asks. “If you’re going on a line at a trot, which diagonal should you be on? At what point do you need to pick up a lead, and where would you make a change?”

4. Drill the maneuvers.

In practice, Holly guides clients to work on drills built around each of the different maneuvers in the patterns, plus upward and downward transitions. Knowing the patterns ahead of time means exhibitors can break them apart and practice the maneuvers independent of one another.

Lainie recommends taking each maneuver and practicing it separately during your flat work, on the rail.

Robin’s clients work one piece of the pattern at a time, focusing on where it should occur in the arena in relation to markers and the pattern as a whole.

“If you need to come through the center of the arena in that pattern, you need to practice that, repetitively, until you can find the middle of the arena, every time,” Robin says.

Abigail Boatwright is a former AQHA Media employee. To comment, write to aqhajrnl@aqha.org. This article originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of The American Quarter Horse Journal. 



HOLLY HOVER is an AQHA Professional Horsewoman from Cave Creek, Arizona, who is a carded judge for AQHA, NSBA, NRHA and the American Paint Horse Association. She has judged the AQHA World Show. She was the 2017 AQHA Professional Horsewoman of the Year.

ROBIN FRID, an AQHA Professional Horseman, trains from Argyle, Texas. With more than 25 years’ experience, Robin and his wife, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Jenny Jordan Frid, have coached youth, amateur and Select clients to win 56 world and reserve world championships, as well as 70 Congress championships and reserve titles.

LAINIE DEBOER was the 2015 AQHA Professional Horsewoman of the Year and holds an AQHA specialized judges card in over fences and English events. She is an AQHA director, and she judged the 2019 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show.