NRHA Handbook Maneuvers & Pattern Descriptions

With perspective from Corey Wilson

May 17, 2018 


The NRHA Handbook is a valuable tool, but it is still a handbook and that means it may sit on a shelf for many reiners.  Lengthy explanations and subtopics don't usually make for a relaxing, leisurely read.  In the weeks of covering the Judges' Guide, Maneuvers, and Pattern Descriptions, we are taking out specific sections that we feel are pertinent to building a better show horse.  However, becoming familiar with the entire Judges' Guide is a good source of information for our toolboxes.

The NRHA Judges’ Guide is a wealth of information at our fingertips, and provides in-depth descriptions of how a horse is evaluated and scored during a pattern.  The show pen is the performance arena, but can also be a measure of our horses' progress.  The goal is to show, well, and build to solid performances.  The NRHA gives judges clear definition on scoring maneuvers.  These guidelines also give the exhibitor clear definition to showing for the best outcome.  This week we touch on the fundamental basis for scoring patterns.

The following is taken directly from the 2018 NRHA Handbook Judges’ Guide:

General Judging and Scoring Guidelines
Section 4
. The scoring of reining horses is on a positive numeric scale with 70 denoting an average performance.  NRHA patterns are comprised of several distinct maneuver groups which judges are asked to evaluate on an individual basis dependent on execution as dictated by the pattern description and the rules for judging, and against the quality standard described in Section A.  The individual maneuvers are scored in ½ point increments from a low of -1 ½ (extremely poor quality) to a high of +1 ½ (excellent quality) with a score of 0 denoting a maneuver that is correct with no degree of difficulty.  The total of the scores applied to the maneuver groups is combined with the starting score of 70 and from this gross maneuver score, any penalties are deducted to calculate the horse’s final score, which is announced after each horse works.

This section may seem dull, but there are some points to take note of here:  The average performance score is 70, and every exhibitor starts their pattern with a 70.  Keeping and adding to that 70 is the target.  The maneuvers are scored, individually, on the “execution as dictated by the pattern description and the rules for judging.  That's pretty clear.  Also, a 0 denotes a maneuver that is correct with no degree of difficulty, though some of us may attest to marking a 0 as being difficult.  


Continuing with the 2018 NRHA Handbook:

Section 5.  An important non penalty consideration for judges is a horse stumbling.  If the stumble is severe enough to significantly detract from the quality of the maneuver, NRHA requires a judge to reduce the score ½ point for that maneuver (i.e., very good circles with a plus one evaluation would then become plus ½).

It is good to recognize that stumbling does happen, it is not a penalty, and is referenced how it is evaluated.  Let's jump some pages of the Handbook to the Scoring section of Pattern Descriptions, as this follows along the same thoughts of scoring:

A. Scoring
(1) The NRHA requires that the score for each run be reflected on a maneuver by maneuver and penalty by penalty basis utilizing a scribe and a NRHA score sheet.  This score sheet represents a judge’s report to an exhibitor of how a score was derived, and it is critical that this report to the exhibitor be accurate.
(2) In the name of accuracy, it is important that the judge not average scores for maneuvers (i.e., a + ½ spin and a – ½ spin = two 0 spins, etc.)  A judge must, at the completion of each maneuver, evaluate the maneuver on the scale listed below as an individual component of the entire run.
(3) In keeping with this practice, it is also critically important that a judge not average penalties into maneuver scores.  Penalties are evaluated on a separate criteria than maneuver scores and should not at any time be combined with maneuver scores (i.e., a + ½ spin with a ½ point over spin penalty does not = a 0 maneuver score).  It is also important for a judge not to allow a penalty to adversely affect the scoring of the maneuver, unless the quality was truly affected.
(4) One key element in accurately describing the scoring of the entire run to the exhibitor is the judge’s scribe.


This Scoring section gives us more components for our toolboxes from the judges’ view.  The lengthy jargon may seem monotonous, however, it gives us more insight into the scoring process.  We all like to see how the judges score our patterns.  Do we know why?  Most shows are now video recorded and we can take a copy of our reining pattern with us.  We should also be taking a copy of our scores with us and doing a side by side assessment with the video and score sheet.  In doing so, we may be able to interpret more from our pattern than we recalled following our run.  Getting into the nitty gritty pattern and maneuver descriptions of the Judges' Guide gives a clearer picture of how precisely maneuvers are evaluated.

A way to keep building the knowledge bank is to scribe during a reining class.  The perspective from the judge's chair provides an awareness that, otherwise, can't be experienced.  NRHA Judges are professionals and are specifically trained in analyzing reining maneuvers.  They understand their roles as representatives of the NRHA, and graciously communicate their judging proficiency as a positive development for a deeper understanding of patterns and maneuvers.

Let’s move on to the NRHA Handbook, again:

Penalty Application
Section 1.
The above (Scoring section) describes the manner in which a judge evaluates and scores a horse’s execution of the NRHA maneuvers.  In addition to this evaluation process, the NRHA Handbook specifies certain penalties which are applied should a horse fail to execute a precise maneuver or deviate from performing the exact, written pattern.  These penalties, as mentioned above, are subtracted from the score which the judge has awarded the horse, and thus have a negative impact on the final score the horse receives.  No NRHA judge is empowered to change or alter the specific penalties listed in the NRHA Handbook.  The judge’s function is to determine whether a penalty has occurred and to apply the appropriate penalty in each instance.  The NRHA has specified that in every instance, the horse should receive the benefit of any doubt when these penalties are applied.  Therefore, if a judge is uncertain as to whether a horse has incurred a specific penalty, the penalty should not be applied.  The application of penalties is not a qualitative determination (i.e., there is no good or bad way to incur an over spin).  Maneuver evaluations and penalty applications are always determined independently.


The NRHA Handbook lists, in detail, the penalties that the judges are required to apply under the Penalty Application section.  We will not go over each penalty here, however, it is important to understand that the judges cannot deviate from applying a penalty when one has occurred.  They are also required to score the penalties and maneuver scores independently.  Yet, this doesn’t mean that our maneuver score won’t be affected by a penalty.  If a horse is on the wrong lead for a large portion of a set of circles, the judge has to consider that as a deviation from executing the pattern as described.  Aside from the lead penalties applied, the maneuver score would get a deduction.  As the exhibitor, the score sheet provides a record of how we have performed the pattern relative to the scoring scale used by the judges.  We can use the score sheet to see exactly where to work on improving. 

Don’t let these guidelines intimidate or frustrate you.  Take the time to read through the Judges’ Guide and go over each penalty listed and how they are deducted.  It is great insight to understanding how to assess your pattern, or how to stay out of the penalty box.  The end goal is using this information for yourself to build more show pen successes. 


Next week we will take on the Maneuvers and the Maneuver Scores.  In the meantime, use the link to read through the penalties section of the NRHA Handbook online - pages 136-146.  READ THE PENALTIES SECTION HERE

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