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2015 Congress Judges Lynn and Carter Break Down Congress Showmanship

For our final pattern analysis for the 2015 All-American Quarter Horse Congress, Charlene Carter and Stephanie Lynn break down the Showmanship for GoHorseShow. We chose this pattern because it is shared by the 12-14, 15-18, Amateur and Select Amateur Showmanship classes. Often Novice patterns will include some of the same maneuvers. At this time, judges do not know what classes they will judge. However, whether you are showing at the Congress or preparing for any other competition you will quickly see what judges are looking for through this expert analysis from Charlene and Stephanie.

As always, we thank for allowing us to post the pattern in this article as well as provide a link to the pattern. You may view the pattern that is posted below (click the image to make it bigger) or click here to download. It is always a good idea to print and carry a pattern with you. Then, even if you are watching another class show in the arena where you will have to show, you can start to visualize where you will lay out your pattern. Visualization is an important part of laying out a great pattern.

Charlene Carter (referred to as CC from here on in), along with her husband Mike own and operate Carter Show Horses, in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. They have successfully trained and shown AQHA World and Congress Champions in numerous all around events. Charlene thoroughly enjoys the judging and holds cards for AQHA, APHA, PHBA, NRHA, POA, ApHC, PtHC, NASMA and NSBA. She has officiated at their respective World Championship as well as many European Championship shows. She begins her analysis by offering some advice that is appropriate for all riders in any class at the Congress or at any show.

(CC) Your dedication will play a big part in your success and you need to practice to develop good timing with your horse. It’s up to you to make the decision that you want to be great in this class. This is a class that demands a lot of perfect practice. If you can’t set your horse up within a couple of moves, then you need to put more time into your showmanship. Yes I know, I hear it all the time, “My horse stays at my trainers.” But if you want to be the last number called out and the winner at the 2015 All American Quarter Horse Congress use the time you do spend with your horse effectively. You have got to dedicate yourself to your horse! If you can’t perform the maneuvers outside the show pen, they will not miraculously happen when you walk into the arena.

Youth 12-141) Be ready at marker A

(CC) It goes without saying – you want to have a perfect setup when you start. The ring stewards at the Congress are excellent and will give you plenty of time to get that perfect setup. Take your time and get it right. Be sure that you have your horse’s spine straight and I personally like the horse’s head slightly up for the setups only. It is critical, that you let the judges know that you are confident, effective and ready to give them that pattern that they are looking for! We as judges are waiting for that exhibitor that will be our winner.

Stephanie Lynn (SL) The famous saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is nowhere more relevant than when you are standing at the start cone. Have a pleasant, professional and prepared posture. Judges want you to succeed and they want you to enjoy what you are doing. Sometimes the most serious students have an intensity that is reflected in their expression giving an arrogant or unpleasant appearance. You want to draw the judges in with an inviting and pleasant look – one that commands attention.

2) Trot a straight line until even with Judge

(CC) As you move to depart, your horse’s head should drop to level and remain there for the remainder of the pattern while in motion. Your departure needs to be smooth and as you step out with your right leg, your horse needs to immediately step out with you. With only one marker you will need to evaluate the distance to the ring steward. You really want to lay this pattern out as close to the drawing as possible; however, the written directions in all patterns always take precedence. The judges will be looking for the exhibitor that can show with purpose and a horse that willingly keeps his or her position.

(SL) The most important part of your initial trot is to display your connection with your horse. How your horse responds to your initial aid to move away from the cone sets the stage for the remainder of the pattern and portrays your horse’s willingness to obey. For the most credit, you and your horse will move directly from the stop into the trot. But regardless of whether or not you take a step at the walk prior to the trot, to earn credit you need to be in perfect sync with your horse. That means initiating your forward step at the exact same time as your horse, your legs moving in synchronicity with your horse’s legs. This shows that you are connected with your horse; he or she is not just a prop at the end of your lead shank. Extend the trot in a circle then turn left and continue extended trot halfway to judge

(CC) With a definite increase of speed, smoothly and precisely flow into an extended trot. As you pass the Judge/Steward, get a feel for where you will need to close your trot circle. Do not look over at the Steward. Not only is it dangerous to not look where you are going, it shows a lack of your sense of space. You will be on the inside of the circle; therefore, you will need to be sure to keep your position. If you fall behind your horse’s spine may become inverted and the inside shoulder may drop. This circle needs to be done with your horse keeping his frame upright and his spine softly bent as the drawing shows. In order to make a perfect circle, each quarter should have the same number of strides and this does take practice. As you start to close your circle, you must find you ring steward with minimal visible adjustments. You will need to initiate the turn slightly before you get even with the ring steward in order to make this corner smooth and continuous in the extended trot. This will be major credit earning maneuver, as the judges will see a lot of fish tailing, speed changes, cut corners and oversized corners! This pattern is not for the weak at heart or shallow breathing. As you flow through this corner, you must continue at the extended trot until halfway (not one third) to the ring steward before you can slow to the regular trot.

(SL) This maneuver will be defining. The way you handle your horse, the way your horse responds to your direction and the path you choose will all determine how successful you are in your approach to the steward. Exiting this circle on a direct straight line to the steward shows a high degree of difficulty. Determining your line of travel out of the corner is key. Remember the purpose of this class is to show us how well you show your horse at halter – this means tracking your horse straight to the Judge or steward. If your horse’s hip drifts to the outside or his or her neck stays arced around your lead arm, you will not earn credit and may lose credit. As Charlene indicated, this is a lot of trotting and you want to make sure you are breathing through the entire pattern. Often when you get winded, your shoulders start to swing back and forth as you tire. Handlers that show a definite increase in pace, do not weaken that pace throughout the circle or weaken in their posture will earn the most credit. Slow to a regular trot and continue to Judge

(CC) At this point you will be physically ready for the halfway point to appear, but be cautious as you slow down, a break can cost you a minor or possible a major deduction in your score. The slowing transition needs to be precise and immediate. If you have done your homework and lean back ever so slightly, your horse should read off your body language. You timing should be together with your horse through this downward gait transition. This is one of those maneuvers that the judges will really be watching for faults of the exhibitor. Practice this maneuver and have confidence that you can nail it!

(SL) The biggest fault I can foresee here is a handler that simply slows all the way down this line as they approach the steward. To earn the most credit here the handler should transition to a trot and maintain the same trot pace all the way to the steward. The pace should be roughly the same pace they started the pattern with. If each step slows as you approach the steward, you will not earn credit. It often helps to count your steps to establish a rhythm that stays consistent. Practice with your ground helper or trainer to watch your stride and determine your working pace.

3) Stop and set up for inspection

(SL) As you prepare for your stop, slightly increase your speed. This will help your horse stop with his feet balanced underneath him. The next maneuver is the setup and inspection. I find that a lot of judges are separating the set up and the inspection as two maneuvers. It is critical that you are lined up in front of the steward. Again, the horse’s spine needs to be straight.

Enough practice should raise your chances of having a perfect setup with a reasonable amount of moves. Precision should not be sacrificed for speed! Practice, practice, practice. Your crossovers need to be smooth and have an equal distance on both sides of your horse’s head. You can practice your steps at home, no excuses for these not being correct. Also remember, to keep your horse’s head slightly up and completely straight. Be sure that you do not inadvertently pull his head as you cross over. As far as the smile is concerned, if you can have a big smile and it looks natural, then go for it. The really fake smile is not appealing to most of the judges that I have had the privilege to discuss this with.

(SL) Stop in a straight line. For me, I do not like to see the horse being slammed into the ground. I do not object to a good hard stop but often when the handler tries to stop too hard the horse ends up sliding as though he or she has run into a wall. This can end up with the horse’s hip turning off to one side or the other.

I would rather see a horse that stops squarely and precisely where the handler asks the horse to stop ideally directly in front of the steward about a long arm’s length away from the steward. Stopping short will not earn credit but encroaching on the steward’s territory by getting too close may end in a negative maneuver score.

I separate my setup an inspection. For me, this is a class about how you handle your horse as though showing him or her at halter. Your horse needs to be square. Period. Understand what this looks like from your perspective at the head. Pulling your horse’s head down anywhere, but especially here, will result in a loss of at least ten points from me. If this is something you do in schooling, be careful when preparing to show. Often in practice you do this without a conscious thought.

During the setup, I prefer to see a horse’s neck held up slightly, as though showing your horse at halter. Your horse should stand at attention and not turn his or her head to look left or right. It is your job to maintain that horse’s attention during the inspection and while you cross over evenly, with ease in a step that is comfortable and suitable for you and your body type. There is no need to run to the other side or to be overly dramatic in crossing over. I want to see a professional presentation – I am looking for the handler I would want at the end of the lead showing my horse at halter – one who maintains a connection through their demeanor with their horse.

4) Perform 1 ¾ turn

(CC) Your spins need to be smooth, natural and continuous with even cadence. I have found that having your horse take four steps of equal distance with his right foot, per each 360-degree turn and keeping that foot coming underneath his frame with his spine straight will make for a credit earning maneuver. This raises the degree of difficulty and in this deep class you will need all of the extra credits that you can merit. As far as your position in the turns, be sure that you keep your body framed even toward your horse. Remember that both of your shoulders should be the same distance from your horse’s straight and level neck. Make a decision as to where to close the spin. In order for your next maneuver to start out straight, you have to complete your spin at the exact straight imaginary line.

(SL) Once again, how you initiate this maneuver speaks volumes. The command you have over your horse should be such that the horse respectfully and willingly moves away from your imperceptible cue. Once again, we are looking for the handler who does not need to make dramatic moves, does not rely on obvious looking and maintains a smooth consistent pace throughout the turn. Doing this with grace and an even pace earns credit.

For those who are vertically challenged, especially if you have a big horse, taking long steps helps keep this maneuver flowing. Your timing should always be in rhythm with the horse. For credit earning spins, maintain control and keep the turn flowing with the same pace from start to finish. Excessive kissing and clucking is distracting and therefore can lower your score. As with any showmanship maneuver, how you end one maneuver sets you up and determines the success of the next maneuver.

5) Back two horse lengths

(CC) Wow – this is a long way and can be a deal breaker or help you to the top of the judges’ scorecards. Ideally your left shoulder should be in alignment with your horse’s left front leg. Getting any deeper into your horse’s space should result in a severe fault. Keeping your horse’s spin straight will help insure that your horse’s back will be straight. If you push his nose away from you, his rear will go to your right. If you pull his head toward you, his rear will go to your left.

You can also use this cause and effect to minimally fix the back before you get off track. The back needs to be smooth and responsive with minimal visual or audible cues. Loud clicks and clucks are very distracting to most of the judges that I have discussed this with. Practice keeping the spine straight with the head level – not changing the horse’s natural position. The head and neck must not bend or get behind the vertical.

(SL) The back, like the other maneuvers, tests the strength of your partnership by evaluating your ability to guide your horse backwards. It is not a speed contest. Your horse should willingly move away from you without changing his or her frame. Stalling, dragging their front legs, curling their neck, raising their neck, getting crooked or any form of resistance are all going to take away from your score.

No matter how your horse backs up you should know your horse and understand what you have to do to guide him or her in a manner that best suits your horse’s capabilities that day. It is up to you to respond to your horse’s behavior and those handlers whose posturing commands respect will earn the most credit.

Do not stand in front of your horse. Do not raise your left elbow to block your horse or attempt to push your horse backwards by raising your left elbow. Both will cause you to lose points. Ideally the distance between you and your horse’s head stays the same from start to finish. This earns the most credit together with a horse that picks his or her feet up and marches backwards in response to the handler’s aids. Running backwards will not earn more credit than a controlled free flowing and disciplined back.

6) Walk until even with Judge

(CC) This is a small, but necessary part. Do not leave it out or make the judges question that you performed a sufficient distance. Your back distance will play a part in your walk maneuver.

(SL) Again we do not want to see any excessive flourish here. Avoid spinning on your heels to get into position. Simply turn and walk with purpose – maintain confidence with a solid forward walk. Your horse should have completed the back and be ready to walk when you get into position. Judges are always evaluating the connection you have with your horse. You may want to count these steps in practice.

7) Trot until even with A then walk. Pattern ends when you walk at the marker

(CC) Again, your transition into the trot needs to be smooth and immediately after you have walked past the ring steward. Find a focal point to help you trot a straight line. As you approach the imaginary line that is even with A, prepare for your downward transition into the walk. Keep showing until you have exited the arena. I feel that it is absolutely not then necessary to nod to the judges or ring steward, in fact this is a very outdated technique and many judges do not like it at all.

(SL) Matching the pace here at the end with the pace you had elsewhere on course earns the most credit. This trot should be just as perky as earlier. It is easy to let down as you approach the end but perform as though your pattern is not complete until you leave the arena. You do not need to look back after you have returned to a walk. During the walk transition, the handler that moves from the trot to the walk in in step with their horse earns the most credit. Sometimes in an attempt to break to a clean walk the horse will stop briefly. This is not credit earning and could be considered a break by some judges. Keep it clean. Have fun and enjoy the experience!

Final Words from Charlene: Leave the judges with a very positive feeling about your performance. We really are cheering on a winner. Be sure to read the AQHA Rule Book. You need a good understanding of the scoring system. Good luck and congratulations to the winner!