Create a Magnificent Performance with These Specific Exercises
by Mark Bolender
While judging a trail challenge for the AQHA at the Region 1 show, I watched a horse and rider walk onto a teeter-totter, turn 180 degrees, then back off in one smooth, seamless motion. It was magnificent to watch and to judge. Everyone watching was captivated, wondering how they could accomplish it themselves. Here are the steps and exercises needed in order to accomplish a 180, then back-off an obstacle.
Phase 1: Instruction
The first objective is to give clear instruction, with leadership, to the horse. It will be disciplined only by doing two things improperly: lacking good effort and walking into my personal space (which I call “The Bolender Bubble”). I want the horse to be relaxed and comfortable as it does what I ask. It is allowed to paw, chew, and examine the obstacle while taking all the time it wants to think about it. The horse will not be allowed to avoid the obstacle, but also it will never be pushed through. I don’t worry about jump-out’s or jump-in’s, or whether it’s crooked or straight. This is the horse’s time and my only real concern here is safety.
Phase 2: Teaching
Now I teach the horse how I want a task to be done. I will give the horse more input and direction about how I want it to proceed through the obstacle. Depending on the horse, this phase may require more time standing in or on top of the obstacle so the horse will learn to take its time and not rush.
Phase 3: Guiding
In the final phase I’m very quiet and focused as I guide to achieve perfection. The horse’s instinct is already tuned in to please me, and I have no fear of the obstacles. So this phase is fun and easy. When properly executed it looks as if very little is going on.
The horse must be very comfortable walking straight across the teeter totter from both ends. Instruct the horse until it is completely relaxed. If you have a tight lead rope you are not ready to proceed to the next step.
Instruct and then teach the horse to stop on the teeter totter. Make sure the horse is comfortable stopping on the teeter- totter in the middle and on each end on a loose lead rope. Instruct and then teach the horse to walk on and back off. Start with just the front two feet and work up to all four feet and then completely across the teeter totter. If the horse rushes backwards then slow down until the horse backs off very slow and methodic. Instruct and then teach the horse to cross the teeter totter from the side on each end. Make sure that it is comfortable stepping the teeter tooter down.
Instruct and then teach the horse to do a pivot on center. You start by making sure that you can move the hips and shoulders at will. Get a consistent rhythm down. When you get the rhythm down start moving the horse in a smooth manner, then it is time to start the 180 on the teeter totter in hand. Instruct the horse to attempt a 180 at one end of the of the teeter totter. Next teach the horse to move in rhythm on the 180 with the feet stepping over and the hind foot reaching under.
Mount up and start from the beginning where you just walk across until you can do this on a loose rein on and off. As in hand, make sure you can stop at will anywhere you want on a loose rein. Then work on backing off just two feet at first and then all four feet while at one end of the teeter-totter. When the horse is relaxed try half way and repeat adding a few more steps each time until you can back the whole way. Now it is time to simply turn around and walk off. Do not try to back off until you have a very nice 180. Make sure your reins and legs are working together and that you keep the two exercises separate and take your time. At this point you are only in the instruction phase so do not worry about back-offs or step-offs. If you get aggressive at this stage it will take much longer and you will have a worried horse. With this method you will have a horse doing a respectable 180 in a few weeks.
Happy Trails and Bolender Blessings!
Published in October 2013 Issue
Mark Bolender is the nation’s leading expert in Mountain Trail, Extreme Mountain Trail, and Competitive Trail. He’s a three-time National Champion and one of the most popular trainers in the country. Today, Mark’s unique style of horsemanship has made the Bolender brand synonymous with these disciplines.
Mark has written for numerous national magazines and authored the popular book, Bolender’s Guide to Mastering Mountain and Extreme Trail Riding. Mark and his horse Checkers hold the sport’s all-time highest honors. Checkers was distinguished by becoming the 2020 Breyer Horse.
Mark and Lee Bolender founded the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) to promote these sports. Today, the IMTCA trains judges, coordinates activities, and maintains certifications around the world.
Mark owns and operates Bolender Horse Park in Washington State. Mark has also designed and built Mountain Trail courses around the world.