Tack for Showing at Mountain Trail and AQHA Trail Challenge

Dress for Success on Show Day


by Mark Bolender

Credit: Mark Bolender

The new discipline of mountain trail displays what is to be the ideal mountain trail horse. This horse should show good forward movement which is confident, bold, and safe.  The horse also should give the impression that it can cover 10 to 20 miles of trails in the mountains in one day with ease. Similarly, the rider and tack should have a certain look—like they’re ready to hit the trail!

“Hitting the trail” means different things to different individuals. For example, a trail hardened backcountry horseman getting ready for a week in the wilderness may have a very different look than a mountain trail rider out for a 10 mile trip on the weekend, or an English mounted rider out for a 3 hour hack.  Any one of these expressions is fine to bring to the mountain trail show as long as everything is neat, clean, and in good repair.  What I like to see at a show is as follows:


  1. Clean: I like to see a nice clean package—horse groomed and neat. The horse does not need to be banned or clipped as for a breed show, but “clean” is key.
  2. Bling: I like to see a clean working trail saddle with very little bling.
  3. Head Stall: A head stall which is in good working condition will be fine. Here is where you can have fun because there are many nice head stalls without excessive silver that still stand out and are pleasant to look at.
  4. Saddle: Find a western trail saddle which fits the horse and is comfortable enough to spend a long day in at the show. There are a few on the market that stand out for quality. And remember, no matter if you’re riding in a Western or English saddle, make sure it’s clean.
  5. Pads: Pads come in many colors, makes, and models. Find a color that shows off the horse. I often trail ride in the same pad that I show in. I always look for good quality in a pad.
  6. Attire: The clothes you wear help paint an overall pretty picture. Whether riding western or English, again shy away from the bling. You can present a very nice picture if your clothes are simply neat, clean, and pressed. Try to match a shirt to the saddle pad as a way to stand out. And make sure that your hat or helmet is clean.
  7. Leg wraps: I like to see leg protection. At a show things are always a little more tense and a horse that feels the pressure may lose concentration and nick an obstacle.  Prevention just makes sense in taking care of your horse’s legs.
  8. Cinch: If I’m going to have a saddle on all day I like a cinch that can breathe. In a western saddle I also like using a rear cinch.
  9. Breast Collar: I like to see a breast collar that fits and matches the saddle.
  10. Birchen/Crupper: Many mule owners will ride with a birchen which is great as long as it’s neat and in good working condition. A good trail horse should have the ability to be ridden with a crupper, which is great to keep the saddle in place.
  11. Halters and Get-Down Strings: If you are going to show with a halter under the headstall make sure that it fits and does not detract from the overall picture.  I like a small rope halter with the lead rope attached to the saddle horn or tied behind the saddle. If you have a get-down string then have it tied to the saddle horn. I’m not a fan of putting it in your belt because I have seen several accidents when it was inadvertently tied to belts.
  12. Chaps/Chinks:. Chinks are great and are often worn on the trail. Many wear chaps in the normal course of the day, but working chaps are very different than what we know as “show chaps.” Leave the show chaps at home.

In summary, I like to see a nice, clean, and safe picture where the tack and attire is pleasant in appearance and appropriate for a trail ride.

Happy Trails and Bolender Blessings!


Published in June 2013 Issue

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