Welcome to Trail 101! In this article we are going to discuss the basics of Trail, what to look for in preparing your horse for trail, and a few simple maneuvers you can do at home with your horse.
The biggest mistake I encounter when teaching or judging is excessive speed and a over zealous rider! Smooth and pretty is the key to turning in a successful Trail pattern. The majority of riders I judge or teach are always in a hurry. I encourage you to be slow and precise in your cues and maneuvers. Approach an obstacle with a strategy and plan of action. We want to see your horse enjoy himself, be pleasant, and work his way through the course.
Obstacle number one is usually the gate. Remember the number one objective of working the gate is not to let the cows out! That’s right, we are working a gate demonstrating our ability to maneuver through the ranch gate and not let the cows out of the field. This fact has been forgotten through the years. Left handed or right handed the plan of action is the same. Ride to the gate on a reasonable amount of loose rein. Position yourself so the handle of the gate is right at your leg, allow your horse to stand there and relax while you reach down and pick up the gate. Slowly begin to back your horse until its head has cleared the post, stop, turn your horse through the gate SLOWLY, when the hip has passed the post, stop and turn softly toward the gate, this would probably be a quarter turn on the haunches. Once you are straight and parallel with the gate slowly back until your leg is even with post to latch the gate. Remember, slow and steady looks the better than rushed and rough. Practice makes perfect!
The bridge is another obstacle we will encounter. We want our horse to walk slowly and responsively to the bridge, we want them to slowly step onto the bridge and walk over it attentively with good expression. When working the bridge at home don’t allow your horse to take a “big step” onto the bridge, if they do back them off it and approach again until the slowly place a foot on the bridge. Repeat this until they understand they are to walk cautiously onto and over the bridge with a nice unrushed pace.
The back through is usually another obstacle where horse and rider fall apart. Practice backing your horse is a slow controlled step. Practice taking one step and then resting for a bit (10- 15 seconds) then taking another then resting, etc….. When doing a “L” or backing cones the concept is the same, back a step rest, move our hip rest, move our front end rest, etc……Once again practice makes perfect.
Walk logs are usually two feet apart, trot logs are three feet apart and lope logs are six to seven feet apart. When approaching walk logs we would like our horses to be expressive, dropping their head and neck down to evaluate the logs and their distances. Walk through them with an even pace, do not jerk or back your horse up while doing logs, we want them to learn a pace and stride and if they make a mistake we do not want them to worry about being punished. REMEMBER, your horse does not want to hit or step on a log on purpose. Help them to understand how to pick their feet up and develop a good cadence. When working trot and lope logs start out with two and then add a log to your line once you have mastered the basics. I always encourage my students to say “one, two, one, two etc….” when working logs, you can only go over a log on a one or a two, never in between! I suggest that if you are working trot or lope overs to always add an imaginary log after the last one, this will help you to avoid hitting the last log. For example, if you are trotting over four logs add a fifth one in your mind and you will be surprised how well the “real” four ones will go!
Another obstacle that is pretty standard is turning in a box. Remember this is not a 360 degree spin! This is turn where your horse will actually move all four feet. When starting a box enter like you are doing a walk log, stop, move your front end to the first corner, then move your back end, move your front end to the next corner, then move your back. Do this until you complete a full rotation. Remember, we want your horse to understand the concept of turning in a box before he can perfect it.
Remember to work your horse slowly at first until they understand the concept of the obstacle, do not jerk and back your horse up in the middle of the obstacle, and practice, practice, practice! Look up the trail section of your breed association rule book and you will find examples of how the obstacles may be set. Trail is fun event and helps you and your horse to become a team that will pay off in all your other events!
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