9 Basic Skills for Mountain Trail

9 Basic Skills for Mountain Trail
Mark Bolender

Master these Basic Skills to Improve Safety and Scores

by Mark Bolender


Mountain Trail

The best mountain trail horses are bold, confident and can think their way through an obstacle.

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.
  • Mountain Trail

    On a real trail, jumping up or down from an obstacle is a necessary skill.

    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!


Published in October 2015 Issue

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Mark Bolender

Mark Bolender’s name has become synonymous with the new and exciting international equine discipline Mountain Trail. Mark earned national titles in this sport in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and has been supporting Mountain Trail for the past nine years by teaching clinics, judging shows, and building courses worldwide.
Prior to his involvement in Mountain Trail, Mark developed a solid foundation of experience by breeding Quarter Horses and showing in open, Quarter Horse, and Reining competitions. He writes for a number of magazines and is the author of the popular book, Bolender’s Guide to Mastering Mountain and Extreme Trail Riding. He has produced four DVD’s about training for Mountain Trail and one DVD entitled The Road to Bridle-less. He has been featured twice in the American Quarter Horse magazine America’s Horse for mastering the Trail Challenge. Mark operates a judging school which certifies judges in the USA, Canada and Europe for Mountain Trail and Trail Challenge. He and his wife, Lee, are the founders of the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) which was formed to promote the sport of Mountain Trail. Mark and Lee own and operate Bolender Horse Park in Washington State, which houses the finest Mountain Trail course in the world. Mark and Lee travel the world to give Mountain Trail clinics in almost every corner of the globe.
Mountain Trail made its television debut on RFDTV in November of 2016, further promoting the sport to audiences everywhere.
Using Bolender Horse Park as the model, Mark and Lee have designed and built Mountain Trail courses for private and public use in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe – with many more in development. These courses are premier sites used by beginners and highly advanced riders alike; they are designed for clinics, shows, and training.
Mark and Lee actively promote the Bolender training philosophy, which centers on using the natural instincts of the horse in the training process. Mark says that activating key instincts in the horse combined with good horsemanship results in real equine magic. They continue to set goals to build more and more courses, promote the IMTCA, and write books and articles for eager enthusiasts. The next goal is to bring Mountain Trail to the Olympics.

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