The western horsemanship event is judged both on how the horse performs for the rider and the rider’s skill
Horsemanship trot in motion.
The judge:

  • evaluates the rider’s position
  • tests the ability of the rider and the horse to perform a prescribed pattern

Rider’s Position

  • The rider should sit in the center of the saddle, forming a straight line from the ear, through the center of the shoulder and hip, touching the back of the heel or through the ankle.
  • The reins should be adjusted so that the rider has light contact with the horse’s mouth.
  • At no time should the reins require more than a slight hand movement to control the horse.
  • Excessively tight or loose reins will be penalized.


  • The class must work at all three gaits at least one direction of the arena.
  • The ideal horsemanship pattern is extremely precise with the rider and the horse working in complete unison, executing each maneuver with subtle aids and cues. The following maneuvers are acceptable in a pattern:
    • walk, jog, trot, extended trot, lope or extended lope in a straight line, curved line, serpentine, circle, or figure eight, stop, back in a straight or curved line, turn or pivot, including spins and rollbacks on the haunches and/or on the forehand, side pass, two-track, flying or simple lead change, counter canter, or ride without stirrups
  • A back should be asked for at some time during the class.


Before scoring a horsemanship class, a judge should be familiar with each association’s rules and regulations as they may differ from one another. Some associations have a scoring system that is based on a scale from 0 to 100, whereas others use a scale of 0 to 20. Below are the instructions on both scoring systems.

► 100-Point Scoring System

Scoring is from 0 to 100, with an approximate breakdown, according to the AQHA 2014 Handbook, as follows:

  • 90-100: Excellent: Rider including body position and use of aids. Completes pattern accurately, quickly, smoothly, and precisely while demonstrating a high level of professionalism.
  • 80-89: Very Good: Performance in execution of the pattern as well as correct horsemanship and use of aids. Excellent horseman who commits a minor fault.
  • 70-79: Good: Pattern execution and average horsemanship lacking adequate style and professional presentation to merit elevating to the next scoring range. A very good rider who commits a minor fault, or an excellent rider who commits a major fault.
  • 60-69: Fair: Pattern that lacks quickness or precision, or a rider who has obvious position and/or appearance faults that prevent effective horsemanship; or a good horseman who commits two minor faults in the performance of the pattern, or an excellent rider who commits a major fault.
  • 50-59: One major fault or multiple minor faults in the performance. A rider who demonstrates a lack of riding ability and knowledge of correct body position.
  • 40-49: A rider who commits a severe fault, two or more major faults, or multiple minor faults in the performance, or an exhibitor who demonstrates a lack of riding ability and knowledge of correct body position.
  • 10-39: A rider who commits more than one severe fault or multiple major faults in the performance or exhibits poor riding skills but completes the class and avoids disqualification.

Beginning in 2019, new scoring recommendations will be implemented for showmanship, horsemanship, and equitation.

  • The scoring range will be from 0 to infinity with an average score being 70
  • Manuever scores will range from +3 to -3
    • Scoring range: extremely poor -3, very poor -2, poor -1, average 0, good +1, very good +2, excellent +3
  • Recommended for patterns to have 6 to 10 maneuvers to score
  • Rider Form and Effectiveness (F&E) will be scored on a range of 0 to +5
  • Penalty range: minor penalty -3, major penalty -5, severe penalty -10


Minor (-3)

    • Break of gait at walk or jog/trot up to two strides
    • Over-/under-turn up to 1/8 of turn
    • Tick or hit of cone
    • Obviously looking down to check leads

Major (-5)

    • Not performing the specific gait or not stopping when called for in the pattern within 10 feet of designated area
    • Incorrect lead or break of gait (except when correcting an incorrect lead) at the lope.
    • Break of gait at walk, jog, or trot for more than two strides
    • Exhibitor obviously looking down to check leads
    • Loss of stirrup
    • Head carried too low and/or clearly behind the vertical while the horse is in motion, showing the appearance of intimidation
    • Bottom of boot not touching pad of stirrup at all gaits including the backup

Severe (-10)

    • Loss of rein
    • Use of either hand to instill fear or praise while on pattern or during rail work
    • Holding the saddle with either hand
    • Cueing with the end of the romal
    • Spurring in front of the cinch
    • Severe disobedience including kicking, pawing, bucking, and rearing


Horsemanship at a lope for judging

  • Failure to display correct number
  • Abuse of horse or schooling
  • Fall by the horse or the rider
  • Illegal equipment or illegal use of hands on reins
  • Use of prohibited equipment
  • Off pattern, including: knocking over cone or wrong side of cone or marker; never performing designated gait or lead; over or under turning more than 1/4 turn

► 20-Point Scoring System

Scoring is from 0 to 20, with 0 as the worst and 20 as the best.

  • 10 points for the overall appearance of the exhibitor and horse
  • 10 points for the performance

Some breed associations suggest scores from 0 to 100, with 70 being average.

Severe Faults

  • Loss of stirrup or rein
  • Missing a lead for more than two strides
  • Touching the horse
  • Spurring in front of the shoulder


  • Failure by the exhibitor to wear correct number in a visible manner
  • Willful abuse
  • Knocking over the cone, going off pattern, or working on the wrong side of the cone
  • Excessive schooling or training
  • Fall by horse or rider
  • Illegal use of hands on reins
  • Use of prohibited equipment (martingales, draw reins, nosebands, tie-downs, wire chin straps, or any chin strap narrower than ½ inch)
  • Failure to follow pattern correctly, including failure to ever execute correct lead or gait where called for
  • Over-turning more than ¼ of prescribed turn

Watch the video below about How to Judge Western Horsemanship.

Updated Pattern Score Sheet