Training Takes Hard Work, Not Stuff
by Mark Bolender
Magic for sale! I have a Mountain Trail video that will make your horse perfect on every obstacle. I’ll sell you this magic bit to give your horse the perfect head set. How about this magic training halter that will make your horse lead perfectly? Look at this saddle pad—it fits like magic and your horse will work much better. Hurry! Buy this stick with a string before the supply runs out; it’s truly magic when it comes to horse training. Magic horse for sale! This horse does everything perfectly.
We humans are funny, impatient creatures. We love our horses but we would love them to be perfectly trained and become world champions by tomorrow! Since that doesn’t seem to happen we are always looking to purchase the magic halter, stick and string, perfect bit, saddle, training DVD, or find a clinician who will end all problems. The bottom line? There isn’t any magic, and anyone who tries to sell you “magic” is a fraud.
The only magic I know of is hard work and persistent horsemanship. To find magic we need to humble ourselves, study the horse, and begin to understand that this majestic animal is not human. Its ability to read us far surpasses our ability to read it. When we train horses to navigate obstacles we must understand that their instinct says this may be dangerous and should be avoided at all cost.
Recently, while teaching a clinic in Pahrump, Nevada, the majority of horses were scared of the water pond and water box. I was not surprised, since most of these horses had only seen water in a bucket or water trough. However, with persistent coaching and encouragement every horse conquered its fear of water. When it was over, each horse took the time to play in the water. Was it easy? No, it was hard for the owners, myself, and the horses, but our goal was the betterment of the horse. When we were done, every horse was happy.
Much of training comes down to timing with pressure and release, plus the horse must believe that you are above them in the pecking order and trust that you will protect them. At this same clinic, I was asked to demonstrate how I train a horse to cross the swinging bridge. There was a horse there that had never been exposed to the bridge and was scared to death.
I first established my Bolender Bubble and then asked him to step a foot up on the center of the bridge. He did, and when the bridge moved he immediately drew back. I held my ground and asked him to try again, which he did. Even though he was shaking, he held his foot on and soon placed two feet on. I asked him to try again and he jumped up and over quickly. He looked to me to see if he was in trouble and I assured him everything was fine. There is no discipline needed as long as the horse tries.
Soon he was stepping up and over in a calm manner. When I attempted to send him from the center of the bridge to the end of the bridge he would not go, even though he was standing on the bridge. At this point I changed up my normal plan and took him to look at the end. This seemed to reassure him enough that he soon was able to go halfway to the end.
At this point he was locked on to me and was trying to please—even though he was scared. In short order the horse was calm and walking over the bridge. By forcing this horse to address his fear, I was able to have the horse become bold and confident. There was no magic involved, just good old-fashioned horsemanship.
Trainers need to strive to understand the mind of the horse, know how much pressure to apply, and when to allow the horse to think it through using his intelligence to overcome fear of the unknown.
Happy Trails and Bolender Blessings
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.