Learn How to Build and Train this Challenging Obstacle
by Mark Bolender
More and more trail challenges include a small 42 inch box that requires the horse to step up onto it and turn around. When you see an experienced horse negotiate the obstacle it looks very simple. This obstacle is anything but simple and requires a number of skilled maneuvers. The following skills need to be mastered before one attempts the box: the ability to move the haunches and forehand at will with a soft feel, the ability to stop with a soft feel, the ability to perform a pivot on center and the ability to stand quietly on the box, all the while respecting the Bolender Bubble. It should be trained as follows.
Start by asking the horse to move the haunches on the ground. Do what you need to do to get the horse to move the haunches to the point where you can do a pivot on the forehand. We want the horse to lock the front while moving the hind. It will take some time before it locks the front foot; don’t push too fast or you will frustrate the horse, and yourself. Start with a few steps and relax before you ask for more steps. You will need to perform this task from each side.
The next step is to begin to teach the pivot on hind. That means that you must begin to move the shoulders while locking the hind. Don’t worry that the hind moves some in the beginning. You first want the shoulder to move. Ask for a few steps at first and then increase it over time. If you try to rush this process it will take much longer than if you take your time and relax, plus your horse will be stressed and work up a sweat. A relaxed horse learns much faster that a stressed horse. The horse should have the ability to stop when asked. This sounds funny, but all too often I see this skill lacking. When you walk the horse should walk. When you stop the horse should stop. One must have this skill down before approaching the box.
Next, ask the horse to step up onto the box while on the ground. The horse must step up and stop with little or no effort. At first the horse will want to walk over the box and that’s okay. Don’t try to stop the horse but allow it to stop. Do not try to turn the horse from the ground until the horse is stepping onto the box and stopping in a relaxed confident manner. Some horse will struggle with the stop. Remain quiet and persistent until the horse is stopping and standing on a loose lead rope.
When the horse has learned to step up and stop in a completely relaxed manner begin to move the shoulder and haunches one small step at a time. Go slow as this will take several days of short sessions. You will not want to hurry the process or it will take much longer. Make sure you allow the horse time to think it through. When you have a mastered 360 from the ground then it is time to mount up and ride.
When mounted, make sure that you have the ability to move the shoulders and haunches at will and have a nice pivot on center before you approach the box. Start over from the beginning by just asking the horse to step up on the box. When the horse is willing to step up on the box and stop on a loose rein then it is time to ask for the first step. Try for a 90 degree turn the first session and no more. Make the horse feel like a world champion and he will try harder the next day for you. Do not worry about perfection at first or you will frustrate the horse. Give them the time that they need.
Happy trails and Bolender Blessings.
To build a 42” square box you will need the following.
8 – 42” 2×8 boards
3 – 39” 2×8 boards
100 3 ½ screws or 20d galvanized nails. *Often nails become loose when the boards dry out so screws are best.
You will need to trim one board on top to fit the 42” box. If you start out with 3 14’ 2×8 you should have 1 42” board left. Often a lumber store will cut the boards for you for a small charge. This is worth the price.
Published in June 2014 Issue
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.