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Critique my AQHA Hunt Seat Equitation

To preface, I am primarily a Western rider, and never even sat in an English saddle until my mid 20’s. I don’t ride in my English saddle as often as I should but it’s still fun to do something different from time to time.

I went to an AQHA show last week, primarily for ranch horse, but we did two Equitation classes. I figured we might as well, we’re already there with nothing to do all morning. I completely screwed up the second class so I won’t post that one (I went for the flying lead change and didn’t get it … should have just done the simple).

This particular pattern sure had a lot of weaknesses for me, which I know I need to work on to be better. I am not good about picking up the correct diagonal from a standstill. I’ve got to look to see which one I am on and I know the judges see that. I can get my diagonal from a walk to a trot no problem, as I can at least feel which leg is coming forward at the walk and then I know what to do when I take off into the trot.

It was also difficult for me after the lope because you have to take the “wrong” diagonal on this pattern. I can let the “bounce” of my horse push me into the correct diagonal without looking, but again, I had to look to make sure I got the right one after the transition because that’s the transition I am not good at.

And truth be told, this was only the 3rd time I had his English saddle on this entire year. The second time was the night before to quickly practice a couple things! So I am perfectly satisfied with how we did, considering my lack of practice. There were 5 of us and I placed 4th and 5th (double judged) which is okay. (Technically someone else broke the pattern and shouldn’t have placed above me but it is what it is if the judge didn’t see it.)

So, realizing this was at an AQHA show, what other pointers / tips would you give me to score higher? I know many things I could have done better but curious what others see. I know there’s not a lot of people that show AQHA on here, but I know there are some.

Last year, we WON this class at the same show but the pattern was suited to my strengths so we did well. this year, not so much.

And for the record, my horse is a BARREL RACING horse. :smirk: I just make him do showing stuff sometimes because it’s good for his mind!!

Here’s my video.

And I’ve attached the pattern

I’ll bite. I thought your pattern looked quite nice, however could use a little polish. I know nothing about AQHA, however I have a H/J perspective.

I would have liked to see you in a little more of a light seat in the canter, and a more relaxed, consistent contact in the downwards transitions. For the half, you should stand for 3 full seconds before backing up. Overall the second half looked a little rushed, I’d recommend working on transitions until you can do them seamlessly!

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I am a professional hunter/jumper trainer (USEF type circuits) that does the AQHA stuff as well.

Firstly, I wanted to address your comment of the “wrong diagonal” in the pattern. Technically, after the canter and coming across the diagonal of the ring in the trot, posting with the right shoulder WOULD BE CORRECT, since you would be tracking left with your right shoulder on the rail once you got to the corner. Just as you started the pattern posting on the left diagonal, since you would be turning right to start your canter.

As far as your equitation goes, you should try to square your shoulders and get your chest out in front of you like you would in horsemanship, planted deep in the saddle with a straight line from ear to shoulder, shoulder to hip, and hip to heel. Push those hands and reins forward and out of your lap, but not to the extent of locking your elbows. Get your leg underneath you more, so that you are able to close your thigh and stay a bit more still.

When you did the downward transition from canter to trot, you did a bit of a “shimmy” to get your horse to come back to you, and got a little dropped and round in the shoulders. Thinking about the straight line from ear to heel will help with that, and allow you to use your seat more. Also, dropping your stirrups two holes will allow your lower leg to come down parallel to the back of the girth and give you a quieter, more correct leg instead of a “frog kick” leg that we see in the HUS ring. Pinching with the knee will put the lower leg too far back like that, so open up your hip flexors and try to keep equal amounts of contact between your thighs and calves.

When you halt, make sure he halts square, comes to a dead stop for a count of 3 Mississippi, and then backs up straight and soft. It’s not like reining, where you run them to a sliding stop and back them up immediately and quickly.

Your horse looks like he is fit and having a fun time, and is probably a really nice little horse for the ranch riding classes (my favorite class to do at the moment!), I like that you make him do a variety of things instead of just running the barrel pattern every weekend. He’ll last a lot longer that way, so kudos to you!

Sorry for the multiple edits, it’s VERY early and I don’t have my glasses on


Everything Beasley said is spot on, and they’re the pro here so take my amateur $.02 for what it’s worth!

The two things really simple things I would do (HJ rider) to polish your round up are

  1. Lengthen your stirrup and get your leg back under you. You’re in a chair seat and having to work really hard to post/stay with the motion. This will also help you keep your shoulders square and open, since you won’t be playing catch-up every stride.
  2. Think about getting your hands up and in front of you a bit. If you’ve ever ridden in a standing martingale, imagine keeping your hands above the neck strap right in front of the withers. This, with soft elbows, will give the whole image a relaxed and more natural look. It’s also really hard :laughing:

Both of these position fixes, even with everything else in your pattern staying the same, would make the whole thing far more harmonious and really show off that fantastic horse you’ve got!


The only thing that I’d add is to pay special attention to the geometry of the pattern, particularly the canter work here. I see people throw points away in geometry constantly (across lots of disciplines!) and it always just irks me haha. No matter what type or caliber of horse you’re on, these are points that everyone can earn. There is just no reason to throw them away. [steps off soapbox]

So - the pattern shows a straight line after B, then a very gently curved line, back to a straight line. Now, to your credit, it wasn’t one great big circle/oval thing, but neither did I ever see you really establish going straight after B or as you approached C. Everything was just a little curved the whole way round. At the end, it looked like you overshot where you wanted to be and then cranked him around and overcorrected a little bit. I think a little outside rein/outside leg to straighten him, get the downward and THEN turn would have helped him make that transition a little smoother. As it was, you actually ended up turning before you even made it to C and because he was already kinda headed out the left door and you pulled him around right, he got a bit unbalanced which probably contributed to the sloppy downward transition. It was just too much happening all at once.

If I were riding the pattern, I would have “added” markers mentally. Trot to B, turn, pick up canter and ride STRAIGHT to the blue line on the rail, gently turn across the ring aiming for the blue line on the other side of the rail (I’m assuming there was one), turn and ride STRAIGHT to C. With straight lines, it’s also helpful to find something to look at ahead of you. Sometimes when people are looking at markers off to their side, they end up drifting accidentally, so in addition to the blue lines on the rail, I would have looked for something at the end of the ring to ride towards (a speaker, door, pillar, anything really) and just used the blue line out of the corner of my eye to tell me when to turn.

If those blue lines on the rail hadn’t been there, I would have counted strides to make sure I didn’t turn early. So turn, pick up canter, find something to look at and ride straight 1-2-3-4-5, cut across the ring, turn at the opposite rail, find another focus point and go straight 1-2-3-4-5 (hopefully you’re back at C now).

All in all, kudos to you for going out there to do this! I wish more barrel racers would spend time doing this kind of stuff! It really is so so beneficial for them, mentally and physically.


I know nothing about this discipline, but want to say what a nice horse! My mom allegedly had a nice, all-around barrel horse in the 1960s, but I’ve only seen the local rodeos, where the barrel horses are backed bug-eyed into the chute looking like they just injected dirty meth…I realize I have completely misjudged an entire cohort of horses. Mea culpa.


Thank you. Yes, rushed indeed for the second half as there weren’t very many strides for each of the elements (posting trot and then sitting trot). By the time I got myself on the diagonal, it was time to sit!

Interesting on the “3 seconds” suggestion for the stop. In lessons I have done in the past, I have always been told not to wait too long. You still want things to flow smoothly and if there’s too much hesitation, it messes up that flow. But good to know. Yeah, I could have paused longer.

Thank you for your feedback.

If I am loping on the right lead with my horse, and I transition to the trot, I would automatically pick up the LEFT diagonal from the natural bounce in my horse’s step. So I guess that is what I mean when I say the pattern asked for the “wrong” diagonal. It’s trickier for me to pick up the other diagonal in that transition.

But I understand what you are getting at. You are saying, that if I were to continue that line, I would eventually run into the end of the arena, and then would turn LEFT. So I can understand that concept.

For square the shoulders, am I leaning forward? Not sitting up tall enough? Anything in particular?

And… I was looking DOWN to get my diagonal, LOL. That didn’t help!

I am not opposed to lowering my stirrup leathers. That is where my English instructor had placed them for lessons and I haven’t touched them from where she told me to put them!! Varying opinions are great!

And… no excuse on this, but my hips are a current problem. I have a cartilage tear on my left hip that I’ve been struggling with the last 2 years and my hip is failing quickly (words from my surgeon!). I’ve lost 50% of my joint space in the last 9 months. I’ll be having a total hip replacement in October which I am greatly looking forward to! (Just have to make it through the rest of horse season) I know it is affecting my riding, my leg position, etc… But it is what it is.

Okay, now I’ve been told the 3 second rule twice, so clearly I didn’t halt long enough! Thank you.

He is 16 years old this year and honestly, this year is the BEST he has ever felt. He has a lot, a lot of health problems that I keep managed and it seems I’ve finally found the winning recipe for him to feel his best. He did really great at the ranch horse too (racked up five 1st place finishes with the judges, among lots of other high placings) so we had ourselves a good time. He’s a good boy.

And he also totes around my 4-year-old son too. Well, his favorite speed is “stop” when my son is aboard him, which is entertaining to me because man alive, he is an on-the-muscle type of barrel horse when he knows it is GO TIME.

For sheer entertainment: Red as a kids horse

Thank you for taking the time to leave some feedback. I appreciate it.


I’ll add, on the hand position. When I worked with kids to help them get lightbulbs for a few points I used props. For the hands I used two small coffee cups. Carry our hands slightly up and out like holding those cups. Holding them upright so no puppy paws. Then I would stand in front by the horse’s shoulder and ask for one cup and they would reach forward and realize that they could separate those hands without compromising the other. (Same theory as holding the outside rein, outside shoulder, while using the inside rein for a soft bend and direction). And learning the line from your shoulder back and down to your seat (no elbow pull). Huge part of the invisible look and when you are connected to the horse.

Another great principle for patterns is to practice ‘riding with your eyes.’ Horse goes where your eyes go.


As I replied above to the other poster, I have my stirrups where they are because that is where my English instructor had put them. But I am NOT opposed to making them longer at all! Compared to my barrel racing saddle, my English stirrups always “feel short” to me. They probably would feel better being a little longer.

Growing up a Western rider, this certainly is my trouble spot. We do a tiny bit of jumping once in a while, and same problem with my hands - they aren’t “up” and “in front” as much as they should be! Thank you.

Ah, thanks. He is pretty fantastic. :grinning:

Excellent points. I very much am a geometry person as well, and you are absolutely right that it was drawn with straighter lines and not a smooth circle. Thank you.

I think my brain was more worried about hitting my diagonals than some of those elements of the pattern. But, it’s my own fault for not getting more time in my English saddle this year.

You know, I do feel like there is more of a movement for HORSEMANSHIP in the barrel racing world. Not that everyone is going to go out and show, but there’s a lot more big name trainers that talk about very simple horsemanship and riding your horse right, and getting them broke. And really, any broke horse can go out there and do a simple show pattern, so long as they are broke and you can move their body where it needs to be.

Of course, there’s also still lots of “other” trainers out there doing “other” things but that can be their circus because I don’t want any part of it!

I just think it is so good for their MIND to do something other than barrels once in a while. I’ve always, always taken my horses to at least a few showing shows a year. No, I suppose we aren’t out there winning the barrel races all the time either, but it also depends on the horse talent. My lovely horse that I sold last year due to a forced retirement, was GOOD. And just as talented in the show pen. Not many solid 1D barrel horses also qualify for the AQHA world show! He did. Just an amazing athlete. And too bad he had to be retired. (neck problems)

Well, I suppose my horse might look like that when he knows it is time to run barrels, LOL. He does what I suppose you would call a piaffe … over and over, in place. :joy: just waiting for me to cut him loose. He knows when it’s GO TIME. I can hold him as long as I need (he waits) but he’s a bullet out of a gun when I give him the word.

This was his best run last year. He’s usually more consistent 2D or 3D but he let’r rip that day and took 4th overall. My video’er nearly missed my run so she didn’t get my entrace, but he was a fire breathing dragon coming down the alley, I tell you what.


This is a good visual. Thanks.

Yes, indeed. I normally do a good job of that but I did NOT on this ride.

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That video of Red being a kids horse was terrific! Thanks for sharing it! The sheer joy on his face was priceless!


I agree with a lot of what has been said. This is a tiny thing but I felt like the horse could have been a little more back to front/ridden into the hand with energy for the first trot. He looked a smidge sluggish to me. After the canter the trot appeared more energetic (naturally) and it would be nice to have that same energy in both trots.


Such a cute horse, you’re a nice pair! One thing I would suggest: hands still. If keeping them up and in front is still really challenging (is for me), I think still and in a less than ideal place is a good place to start.

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This is what I noticed as well. Forward always looks and rides better.

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Yeah, he was pretty lazy that morning. Agreed! Shockingly, he’s better at a stop-lope transition than he is a stop-trot transition. (figure that one out)

I rewatched my video. I didn’t realize my hands DID move around quite that much! Thank you.

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Not the poster who originally gave you this input, but I noticed you were kind of twisting your shoulders, especially around the turn from B to C- looked like the left shoulder was back and the right shoulder forward. This made your position look a bit unnatural/uncomfortable around that turn. That’s the main thing that jumped out at me, which is why I chimed in.

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This thread is old and that’s okay, as I am now re-reading everyone’s fantastic comments from last year. Thank you to those who contributed. It’s good reminders on what I can work on this year and be aware of.

We have an AQHA show coming up in 2 weeks. I are seriously under-prepared with the horrendous winter we’ve had. I finally rode in my outdoor arena for the first time 2 weeks ago, and it’s a current muddy mess again. But it’s okay. We’ll do the best we can, because everyone else has been in the same boat. Once my arena dries enough, I’ll get my English saddle on for the first time this year. (hopefully more than once) The pattern calls for a tricky counter-canter followed by a lead change but I think we’ll be able to muster it with some practice.

I am particularly excited for this AQHA show as we’re going to go for the All-Around saddle in the Open and/or the Amateur. It’s a 3 day show. The events included for points for the saddles are Hunter Under Saddle, Hunt Seat Equitation, Showmanship, Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, Ranch Riding, Ranch Rail, Ranch Trail, and Reining.
(Or you can do western pleasure instead of Ranch Rail, horsemanship instead of Ranch riding, and show trail instead of Ranch Trail).

Some events we are stronger at than others, but I feel he’s got a good shot at winning a saddle (each worth over $4,000) because he can do all those events. I am not expecting us to do well in the HUS (let’s face it, he’s not a Hunter) or the Ranch Rail (he has no extended trot, LOL, poor boy) but we should be able to hold our own in the rest of it. Showmanship can be hit or miss, depending on how goofy he is being that day (seriously, he’s such a ham). But either way, it should be a lot of fun.


Good luck and please report back!

Good luck, and I’m sending my biggest, bestest All-Around vibes in your direction!

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Be sure to check the eligibility requirements for the All Around. At most shows you have to enter and show in a halter class. Good luck.