Master these Basic Skills to Improve Safety and Scores
by Mark Bolender
To improve their mountain trail scores it’s important to master nine basic skills. These skills can also be returned to, again and again, to master the variety of obstacles found on course.
- Ability to move the shoulders and haunches both from the ground and in the saddle. If you don’t have a good pivot on the forehand, practice it or get help to improve this skill. In the saddle it’s a combination of rein and leg control which allows proper movement. A pivot on the haunches does not need to be at the sizzling speed of a reiner, but the ability to move the shoulders at will is a must. Start is from the ground.
- Side Pass. Put the pivot on fore and pivot on hind together and you have a side pass. As the mountain trail challenges increase in difficulty this skill is a must.
- Upward/downward transitions. You need a good solid stop and crisp transitions. I’m not talking about a sliding reining stop, but a stop when asked for. More than 1,000 horses come through our facility each year and I seldom see a good stop. If you are coming up to an obstacle in any speed other than a walk, you’ll need to slow down to walk into, or onto, an obstacle. If this skill is absent then walking straight onto/into an obstacle is impossible. The lack of a transition will mean that you will rush into an obstacle or pass it by. Begin by stopping the horse at a walk and back up. Perfect this skill and move up to a trot and canter/lope until you can stop at will with very little effort.
- The backup. You will need a solid back-up, without head tossing or pulling on the bit.
Step-up’s/step-downs. The ideal trail horse will approach a step-up/down and will walk one step at a time, without jumping. The vast majority of horse will want to jump; this is unwanted.
- Jump-up’s/jump-down’s.The majority of horse will be able to jump up or down 30-36”. On a real trail this is a common, necessary skill. Before you mount up, first teach the horse first in-hand until it can, with relaxed ease, jump up or down before you mount up.
- Walking through logs and rocks. It seems that the challenges are getting increasingly difficult around the globe. You will need a horse that can pick up its feet and think its way through the obstacle with very little guidance from the rider. This is more of a mind skill than a physical skill. To teach this one will need to give up some control and allow the horse to make a mistake. In the long run this allows them to figure it out for themselves and learn to pick up their feet.
- Water Crossing. Not only will the will the horse need to cross water, it needs to be taught how to trot and lope/canter through water.
- Navigating unfamiliar obstacles. In order to master challenges the horse has never seen before it must be bold, confidant and possess trust in the rider.
There are many more skills needed for mountain trail, but if you can master these nine you will be safe and competitive in most trail competitions around the world. Happy trails and Bolender Blessings!