Preparing for Horsemanship with Mark Sheridan

May 11th, 2018 1:41 PM | No Comments

mark 3Part 7: Rail Performance After Your Pattern

Have you been feeling the burn from Mark Sheridan’s last article? Mark shared some great tips for exercises to get in your best horseman­ship shape and position! “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?” is the question he is answering in his series on horsemanship, helping you to win the blue! In this issue, AQHA Professional Horseman and Judge Mark shares some thoughts on rail performance, and a few, last minute tips:

“In the last installment, I mostly focused my article on exercises you can do at home to strengthen your skills in the arena. There is no substitution for doing your homework well. It will pay off at the shows, and it is easy for most of us judges to see who has done their homework and who has not, just as a teacher or professor can see in school. I am not sure how many installments there will be in this series. That is due to the fact that I am always thinking of things that I recall while judging that have kept me thoughtful of how to always make one the best that they can be as a rider and exhibitor. So far, we have focused on the obvious areas that seem to plague many riders. As we progress into the installments, we will start to fine tune things to make you the best you can be. This will include areas of horsemanship that not everyone thinks about but can dramatically impact your score.

Sometimes I will be judging a show and I realize that many riders do not have a trainer or have the opportunities to practice as much as others. Hopefully all these tips in the series will give you some insight to work on areas that you might not know were so important.

A9R1vpdh7w_1i13u29_30wLet’s talk about showing on the rail after your individual performance. I take it for granted with my clients, and they know to never circle off the rail to gain better rail position. I still see this at some of the smaller shows, and amazingly, will see it from time to time at the bigger shows. This sometimes includes circling around, cutting the arena in half and drastically cutting the corners to gain a better position. I need to warn you that this may dramatically drop your scores, if not place you at the very bottom of the class.


Rail position is very important and a very vital part of the score. Most rail work portions will involve anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of the overall score.

Most of the time when I am judging, I have the placing pretty much marked on my notes and only use the rail work to break ties with equally talented riders. I will also ask for the extended trot and dropping stirrups if need be, to find and compare the best riders in the class.

  1. With that being said, it is also important for a judge to be able to find you in the arena, and if you are hidden by other horses all the time, in some instances it could affect your score. The best way to find the correct rail position is by maneuvering your horse so that you can be seen. Slightly cutting a corner, loping off at the appropriate time, and rail awareness are important horsemanship qualities and skills. If you have to hesitate slightly and wait to lope or trot, it will help you to maintain good rail position. This does not mean waiting to lope off to the point that the judge will mark you down. When most judges call for a particular gait, then that is what they want to see. This is particularly important when we are looking directly at you. Many times, I will be looking directly at an exhibitor and want to see how he or she negotiates the upward or downward transition. If I find myself waiting on them, I will refocus my attention elsewhere and drop their score accordingly. We talked about peripheral vision in past installments, and it is very important to be aware of it on the rail as well. Keep your eyes up, feel your horse with your hands and legs, and do not look down. Feel his mouth with your rein fingers and know that he is loping and trotting properly on the rail, as well as in your individual work.A9R1q9lhnl_1i13u2n_30w
  1. Another action that most exhibitors do not realize they are doing is readjusting in the saddle between maneuvers. After a stop or turn, I will notice that they will instinctively shift their legs or readjust in the saddle before the next maneuver. This is usually because they are out of position and need to get back to their comfortable spot again. This usually happens with the novice and younger riders, but I still see it at the advanced levels. It happens without most riders even aware that they are doing it. This is why it is so important to have a friend film your rides at the horse shows and watch them over and over. You will be your own best critic. Sometimes this will happen due to the fact that the saddle is not properly tightened and will shift to the left or right after turns, lead changes, circling, or stops and backs. Properly adjusting the saddle and cinching up correctly is extremely necessary to keep the saddle from shifting. This does not mean to tighten it up so much that it is uncomfort­able for your horse. It just means to always have someone check your cinch before you go in the arena, just as you would have someone finish up the fly spray, final brushing and clean up, before entering the arena.

Stay up to date with all of the installments on my website and look for further tips in the weeks ahead. I have tons of information to share and feel free to e-mail me anytime with thoughts and questions. Ride safe and always practice good horsemanship.”

Thanks to Mark for sharing his wisdom. Check in on our next installment to read more about cone placement, horse placement, and the ever-important stop and back.

mark 3About Mark

A University of Findlay graduate, Mark Sheridan holds a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Studies. Mark has over thirty years of experience producing winning all-around show horses. He has trained and coached multiple Quarter Horse Reserve World Champions in both English and Western divisions.

Mark has been an AQHA, AAAA ranked, and NSBA Category One ranked judge since 1993. He has judged the AQHA World Show four times, The AQHA Youth World Show twice, the All American Quarter Horse Congress four times, as well as the Australian, European, Canadian, Japan Championships, and NCAA and IHSA Collegiate Championships numerous times.

Mark is a Past President of the Arizona Quarter Horse Association, a member of the AQHA Professional Horseman’s Association, and was awarded Arizona’s Most Valuable Professional Horseman in 2008, and is recognized on the University Of Findlay Wall Of Fame. He is an author of articles for numerous Nationally Published Magazines, conducts clinics Nationally and Internationally, and has recently produced a three DVD series on achieving perfect lead changes. He is finishing his first book on Valuable Tips for the Horsemanship Class which will be out soon on his website.

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