Horse Training

Tack for Showing at Mountain Trail and AQHA Trail Challenge

Tack for Showing at Mountain Trail and AQHA Trail Challenge
Mark Bolender

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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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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