Judge Dagmar Zenker talks us through one rider's pattern in an AQHA Horsemanship Class. 

This class has always been one of my favourite classes. It is judged on a rider’s ability to perform harmoniously with the horse, the only other riding class that asks for this is Hunt Seat Equitation. In times where more and more horses are being produced to specialise in specific show classes, it is still possible to win a horsemanship class with an average horse shown by a good rider.



More important than a flashy horse with superior movement is a rider’s preciseness and smoothness in performing the designated pattern, as well as a balanced and correct body position in the saddle. The ‘correct’ position is accurately described in the AQHA Official Handbook (available at www.aqha.com). The pattern is chosen depending on the assumed quality of the riders and the level at which they are riding and is available before the class for competitors to learn.

Western horsemanship offers a wide variety of possibilities. In novice shows, this class can be included as a walk/jog class and patterns can be anything from very simple to extremely challenging. For beginners (adult or child) it is a wonderful training class. Experienced riders can also have a lot of fun while honing their skills.

Western Horsemanship Judges View

Rider: Jonathan Vine-Hall is a British all-around competitor and has ridden at European level in Amateur AQHA competition

Horse: Pryamos - 10-year-old AQHA gelding




  • Walk A to B

  • Jog a half circle to C

  • Lope a half circle on the left lead to D

  • Extend the jog in a half circle to C

  • Lope a half circle on the right lead to B

  • Walk to E

  • Stop at E and back approximately one horse’s length



We are starting in a walk on a straight line going from A to B. At B we have a transition to the jog, performing half a circle to the right to C. At C we start a lope on the left lead with another half circle to D. At D the pattern asks for an extended jog back to C where a right lead lope back to B is added. The circles should all be round and be the same size. Another transition to walk brings us back to the straight line going to E. Here we stop and back a horse’s length.

Three spots in this pattern are challenging. The first is the transition from the left lead to the extended jog, the second is the transition from the extended jog to the right lead and the third is the transition from the right lead to the walk. Here you can see how important transitions and even speed are in horsemanship patterns. Horses should not be rushed through the pattern but increasing the speed of the manoeuvres performed adds to the degree of difficulty that judges give credit for.

Watching the video we can see that the rider is showing a good, controlled and balanced body position throughout the pattern. His upper body is upright and natural, his shoulders are the same height and his legs have a strong position. The rider also looks very focused.



At the start of the pattern, the horse is responding to the cues very nicely. It has soft and even gaits which make it pleasing to watch. The transition to the left lead lope is a little late but nice and soft. The transition to the extended jog is also good. The extended jog is well done but on the transition to the right lead, the rider has a little problem. This transition is not easy and the horse is shifting a bit to the side and not responding very well to the leg. But he manages the situation with confidence and goes on in the pattern.

The transition to the walk shows the biggest problem the rider has. The downward transition ends in a hesitation that is not asked for. The rider needs some time to move on correctly and go for the rest of the pattern. This element created the biggest deduction of points.

Although the pattern is not 100% correctly performed, it is nice and generally good with a horse in a good frame, the rider solving two difficult situations using his horsemanship skills, and all while remaining in a good position in the saddle.