Preparing for Horsemanship with Mark Sheridan

April 11th, 2018 12:49 PM | No Comments

Part 4: Take You and Your Horse to the Next Level

mark 3Mark Sheridan, AQHA Professional Horseman and Judge, has been teamed up with Show Horse Today these past few months to bring you horsemanship help!

By sharing tips on attire, position and patterns, he answers the question “How do I give my horsemanship patterns the polished look that can win, and what are the first things that catch your eye as a judge?”

This week, Mark talks about raising your score to take you and your horse to the next level.

In the last installment we talked about riding your pattern correctly and symmetri­cally. Most of the articles in this series are to give helpful advice on what to do correctly to raise your score and help you with getting to the next level. However, I also want to make sure that I give plenty of ideas on what NOT to do! There are so many times when I am judging and want to just get up and help someone with their ride. That is the trainer and coach in me. Many times I will say to myself, “If they just didn’t do that particular thing in their pattern, it would have gone so much better.” There are also times where the level of competition is above average at many weekend shows. Riding a clean, mistake free pattern can land you close to the top without having a perfect ride.

Unlike the pleasure class where these draped reins are preferred, in Horsemanship Mark would like to see reasonably light contact.

Unlike the pleasure class where these draped reins are preferred, in Horsemanship Mark would like to see reasonably light contact.

Every judge has pet peeves, likes and dislikes. I would say that my biggest issue is using the spur stop on a loose rein and only riding the horse with your legs. This in­cludes riding the horse in the pattern or on the rail with the spur brake to adjust your speed, and having your horse canted too far with his hip to the inside. Usually when this happens, the horse will not move correctly in a three beat cadenced lope. Spur stopping your horse will also push your knees out and you will lose contact with the sides of your horse as well as create unnecessary space between your leg and the barrel of the horse. An extremely loose set of reins will bring about additional lack of communication with the horse. The rider will also have to raise his hands way too far to be able to reach the mouth of the horse when picking up on the reins. I understand that the western pleasure class has created some of this, however horsemanship is an entirely different event. Many exhibitors will also draw their horses down to the trashy slow lope, which will make it easier for them to sit the saddle quieter. I understand the thought process in this concept, but I want to reward proper movement at all three gaits.


This rider shows reasonably light contact that would be effective without needing to lift her hand too high to cue her horse.

In order for a horse to lope into a six foot box and stop properly and suddenly in the trail event, it is necessary to have a spur stop on them, without pulling on their mouth, to prevent them from step­ping out of the box. I also feel that having more buttons on your horse is a good thing as long as you do not take it to the extreme. Riding your horse in the trail and western riding will require leg pressure to maneuver around obstacles freely without pulling on your horse’s mouth. If your horse does have a spur stop, there is nothing wrong with gently picking up on the reins, squeezing with your legs, and using a soft verbal cue to halt. Reasonably loose reins are OK, as long as the exhibitor can remain in light contact with the horse’s mouth by raising their rein hand a few inches. Total communication between horse and rider is what I look for. Hands, legs, and your seat used equally, will make the communication for performance work great.

More tips to follow next week and until then, enjoy educating your horse and yourself!

mark 2We’d like to extend a huge thanks to Mark for his instruction for all of us! Check in next week to read more about one of the biggest challenges everyone faces in a pattern, and not just horsemanship! We’re talking circles, and how to make them abso­lutely perfect!

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