Horse Training

Ready for Your First Mountain Trail Show?

Ready for Your First Mountain Trail Show?
Mark Bolender

Eight Helpful Tips to Ensure Success


by Mark Bolender

No matter how hard you prepare for a show, a little nervousness is normal. And that’s if things are going well. If not, like when your horse becomes unruly, the anxiety can escalate and cause the entire situation to go south very fast. You can get so frustrated that you want to leave. Sound familiar?

Mountain Trail Show

Wendy Miklos, Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army, enjoys a successful show day. Photo courtesy of Jim Anderson

As a veteran of such frustrations, there are several things I can suggest to prevent this from happening. They include the following: 1) Prepare yourself and your horse by practicing in other arenas. 2) Master the obstacles and get help if needed. 3) Prior to the show, request a copy of the judging rules if they are not already listed. 4) If possible haul to the show grounds before the show date.  5) Practice visualizing the mastery of each obstacle every time you ride. Research shows this is the main thing you can do to improve your performance. Make sure you see yourself entering each obstacle in the center, and maintain a calm, bold and confident forward pace.  You don’t want to rush or go too slow because that shows a lack of confidence and preparation. 6) Ensure your horse and tack are clean. Bring a clean set of clothes to change before you show. I like to see a nice riding outfit without excessive “bling” on the person or saddle. This is a Mountain Trail show or Trail Challenge show, so look like you’re going on a trail ride.7) Walk the course prior to the official walk-through. 8) If you want to win merits for your Quarter Horse at a Trail Challenge, make sure your membership is paid up.

Here are some things to avoid doing: 1) Never show up late. You and your horse will become stressed and that results in a lack of focus. 2) Don’t try to over-show your horse; go around an obstacle if you have not prepared for it. Some of the most successful riders I have seen while judging AQHA Trail Challenges and Mountain Trail shows exhibit certain behaviors. These include a neat clean rider/horse/tack ensemble; quiet hands;  reassuring rather than forcing a hesitant horse; allowing a horse to move forward at a confidant, natural gait; having a horse that is well broke, meaning they have good control of hips, shoulders, etc.

What to expect at a Mountain Trail show or Trail Challenge

With the explosion of this sport expect to see shows with twenty to thirty mules and horses of all breeds in each class.  That means that you will need to have your horse warmed up and ready before the walk-through if you have an early class. When the walk-through is complete you will be allowed to address the judges with questions concerning any judging rules. Try to keep your questions short and to the point. Listen to how the judge answers because they’re the ones who have been trained to evaluate the rider and horse. Be at the gate at least 10 minutes before your check-in time so you can watch some of the horses navigate the course and let yourself and your horse settle.  Make sure you stop and wait for the judge before proceeding to the next obstacle while in a hold between judges. You’ll find out that the large shows will have different competition levels where each level has a greater difficulty. Expect to be asked to go around an obstacle after three refusals. This may seem harsh but the show will never get all riders through if you’re allowed to stop and school your horse.  Remember to take time to enjoy the experience, this will help you focus.

Where to find the Mountain Trail Shows and Trail Challenge shows

Check the listing in the back of The Northwest Horse Source magazine and other online sites. For the AQHA Trail Challenges, check the AQHA website and look under “Recreation Riding” for the listed shows. There will also be Trail Challenges held at all the regional AQHA shows which are open to all breeds. This year it is held in Monroe, WA (in August). There will be six shows listed for Bolender Horse Park with the first one on April 14.  You can also see these listed on

Happy Trails and Bolender Show Blessings


Published in April 2013 Issue

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Horse Training
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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