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Youth World Show judges share tips for winning patterns

Remembering horse show patterns and making an impression on the judges is enough to make anyone nervous, especially in world-level competition. Exhibitors at the 2016 AjPHA Youth World Championship Show got the inside scoop straight from APHA World Show judge Dave Dennison on June 28 at APHA’s annual “Ride the Pattern” demonstration. Dave talked exhibitors through each showmanship, horsemanship and equitation pattern in detail and critiqued live demonstrations of the patterns by trainer and fellow APHA judge Dale Sullens.

 “I kept two main things in mind when developing patterns for this year: forward and flow. You want to keep your horse forward with a smooth flow throughout the pattern,” Dave said.

Dave shared the following tips for success—valuable not only for this year’s Youth World Show patterns, but also for success in any pattern class:


  • Departures and turns are key to flow of the pattern. Make sure your departures are smooth and immediate.
  • Remember, the pattern is only a guide—it’s your responsibility to have a plan and set your targets to best show your horse. Give yourself enough room before cones to complete maneuvers and establish a good, solid gait.
  • Don’t get hung up on specifics. Judges won’t dock points for backing four steps instead of five. If your horse backs well, add an extra step to show it off.
  • For patterns with an extended trot, you must show a clear difference between gaits. Downward transitions should be smooth between trot and extended trot, and there should be a noticeable build into the extended trot.


  • Don’t cheat your circles. Give yourself enough room to show off your horsemanship with a solid, consistent gait.
  • If the pattern calls for a simple lead change, perform a simple change. You won’t impress the judges by doing a flying change when they asked for a simple change.
  • Get off the rail. Prove you can ride with confidence out in the arena and collect and extend your horse without the rail’s guidance.
  • Don’t let your horse anticipate maneuvers. Keep him between the bridle and waiting for your cues.

 Hunt-Seat Equitation

  • Keep your horse forward and use big circles to show off extension and freedom of movement.
  • If the pattern doesn’t specify what kind of lead change to perform, a flying change will always garner more points if you perform it well.
  • Transitions to the sitting trot should be smooth and seamless.
  • Practice riding in two-point position and without stirrups extensively at home. Judges work these skills into patterns for a reason—it’s an excellent way to gain extra points and show off your strength as a rider.
  • The hand gallop is not a speed contest. Show you can open up your horse and lengthen his stride with control and easily come back to a canter.

“You can earn a lot of credit by making the small things look good,” David said. “The judges want to award a big score, so challenge your horse. Patterns are adjusted to the level of competition—the World Show is difficult, so you will be challenged.”

For more insight on performing a winning pattern, check out the Paint Horse Journal’s Game Plan series with advice from APHA judges, trainers and industry experts.


[Reprinting all or part of this news release is permitted, so long as credit is given to the Paint Horse Journal and a link provided back to apha.com.]

 About APHA

The American Paint Horse Association is the world’s second-largest international equine breed association, registering more than a million horses in 59 nations and territories since it was founded. APHA creates and maintains programs that increase the value of American Paint Horses and enriches members’ experiences with their horses.