Trail Savvy

Looking for Something to do with Your Horse?

Looking for Something to do with Your Horse?
Mark Bolender

Try Mountain Trail

By Mark Bolender


Summer is upon us and calendars are overloaded! It’s hard to choose which horse events to attend.

Deciding where to go and what to do with your time and your spare money can be overwhelming. Do you go to breed shows, open shows, clinics or just get ready for a trail ride? What are your goals?

Photo credit Hal Cook

If you’re looking for an equestrian discipline that includes skill, finesse and fun you might consider Mountain Trail and shows approved by IMTCA (International Mountain Trail Challenge Association). The shows are fun, have approved certified judges, and many supportive individuals to help you out.

Mountain Trail is a growing sport and is now in eleven countries. IMTCA has a goal of bringing the sport to the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games so you can be part of a new exciting and growing sport.

North America has new regions set with the goal of the first world show happening in 2019 in Colorado. This year, Mountain Trail will be demonstrated at the Ohio Quarter Horse Congress and may be part of the show in 2019. Mountain Trail was part of the National Western Stock Show this past January and we are expecting 200 entries in January of 2019.

When the concept of Mountain Trail started 17 years ago, getting your horse through all the obstacles meant you were sure to win a ribbon. Now you’ll need to show more finesse in most shows. IMTCA has set judging standards and they are the same throughout the world. They’ve standardized the obstacles, so each show has certain safe obstacles in the pattern.

Here’s what to expect at a Mountain Trail show:

All IMTCA shows have a course walk between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. You have one hour to ask the judge any questions. All the patterns for the show will have been posted online at least one week before the show. This will give you time to practice your pattern and not stress out trying to remember it at the last minute.

Judges have been certified and trained to judge objectively on a defined set of rules that you can view online. It doesn’t matter whether you are judged by someone from Italy, Canada, Germany, Australia or the USA, you will be judged and evaluated under the same guidelines and standardized set of rules.

There are three levels of classes (plus novice) that you can enter. Level I classes are at a flat-footed walk between and through the obstacles. In Level II classes you may be asked to trot/gait between obstacles which will increase the difficulty level. You will be asked to perform more technical skills such as 180º or 360º turns on a teeter totter or suspension bridge. In Level III you may be asked to canter/lope part of the Mountain Trail Course and transition down to a walk at the obstacle itself. Anytime you add speed, you add a new level of difficulty.

Make sure you study the judging rules so you understand what the judges are looking for long before the show. This will eliminate much frustration when it comes to showing your horse properly. You will not need fancy tack or clothes at a Mountain Trail Show, but make sure you’re clean and neat along with your horse.

When all is said and done, you’ll find that a Mountain Trail Show/Challenge is fun and a great way to meet new people.

Happy Trails and Bolender Blessings!


Published August 2018 Issue

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Trail Savvy
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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