Horse Shows and Competitions Riding and Training Young Rider

Memorize Your Show Pattern

A young girl jumps a horse
Photo by Anastasija Popova/Shutterstock

You’re in the middle of jumping a course, riding a dressage test or working a horsemanship pattern, and suddenly … you forget where to go next. Oops! Having a brain freeze is embarrassing. At a show, it will usually cost you a ribbon. Here are four ways to help you stay on course and memorize your pattern so you’ll be prepared at your next horse show.

First, find a copy of the course. Some, like courses for jumping and trail, may be nothing more than simple lines and arrows on a piece of paper. That’s why it’s important to match all of those lines to the actual objects in the arena.

It often helps to give names to some of the objects, like “red flowers” or “white gate.” Then put your finger onto the paper and trace the route you need to take. This will help your brain make sense of the course, and that makes it easier to remember.

Next, watch several competitors complete the same course you’ll be doing. Usually you can do this at the show. But some tests and patterns—like those for English and western dressage, ranch riding, and reining—are used over and over again and can be found online.

You can also watch videos of champion equestrians demonstrating how they handle the test or pattern. The moving pictures of a horse and rider brings the test or pattern to life. As a result, it’s also easier to remember than just lines on a piece of paper.

A girl watches a video on her phone
Many times you can find videos of pros doing your pattern on YouTube. Photo by Fizkes/Shutterstock

Third, give yourself plenty of time to practice your course. It’s hard to remember anything when you’re rushed or frazzled. Find an area in the barn aisle, outside the warm-up ring or at the horse trailer. Then do the course on your own two feet, without your horse. To help it seem more real, draw lines in the dirt to represent jumps, or place little stones on the ground to serve as the markers in a horsemanship pattern. You can practice over and over again, until you have it memorized, without boring or tiring your horse.

A girl competes on a jumping pattern after memorizing and visualizing the course
Visualize yourself riding the course perfectly, from where to turn to how it will feel. Photo by Jim Noetzel/Shutterstock

Finally, just before it’s your turn, stand in a quiet area. Close your eyes and “see” yourself on course. Recite the course aloud—it’s best if you whisper!—as you envision you and your horse giving a perfect performance. Not only does this visualization help to calm your nerves, it also calms your mind. When you can clearly see yourself remembering the course, and performing it well, you’re sure to come out a winner.

This article about how to memorize a horse show pattern appeared in the November 2020 Mini Digital issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Cindy Hale

Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.


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