Trail Riding on Steroids: Extreme Mountain Trail
I’m an adventurer at heart and love exploring new places, especially if I’ve got a horse underneath me and a dog by my side. This sense of adventure and curiosity has led me into some challenging situations. Riding with trail operators in South Africa, I’ve swum horses across rivers, had them hopping down a boulder-festooned hillside, and held my breath as they’ve navigated narrow cattle tracks along the edge of a cliff.
These experiences spurred my interest in trail riding, especially the emerging sport of Extreme Mountain Trail!
In the US, most extreme
This type of trail challenge better mimics what you might see on real-life rough terrain.
Horse Rookie Aside: Our founder’s Azteca got to do an Extreme Mountain Trail Course in Oregon (before she purchased him). Check out Jax navigating the suspended bridge above!
Trail Riding: What is it?
Competitive events are referred to as “Challenges” and are designed to showcase the boldness, confidence, and athleticism of horses, ponies, and mules. The International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) offers memberships and educational resources.
Typical Mountain Trail Challenge events feature between 6 and 16 obstacles.
Some typical obstacles you might encounter include teeter totters, balance beams, raised logs, bridges, balance beams, mazes, and cross bucks.
The Benefits of Extreme
Whether you want to be out in the open countryside or in an arena, extreme
Not only will extreme
trail ridingbuild your confidence, but it will also encourage your horse to approach new obstacles with curiosity, rather than apprehension.
Tackling these challenges together will also deepen the bond between you and your horse, encouraging mutual trust and building on the partnership you’ve already established.
Introducing Your Horse to Extreme
One of the attractions of extreme
According to Mark Bolender, founder of the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA), extreme
From the Ground Up
A horse and rider that are new to the sport will invariably start out on the ground, with the rider leading the horse around the obstacle course and giving them plenty of time to familiarize themselves with each obstacle.
By observing your horse’s reaction to new obstacles, you can gauge how quickly or slowly to move through the course, spending more time on the obstacles that your horse struggles with.
For instance, some horses may be reluctant to walk through water, while others might rush into it, putting themselves and their riders in potential danger.
In these early stages, take your time, and reward your horse after every obstacle. Remember, in this phase of training, you are establishing yourself as the leader and it’s your job to guide your horse confidently through each new obstacle.
Once your horse is confident and comfortable tackling the course with you on the ground, it’s time to saddle up.
Some horses will breeze through the next phase of training, negotiating each obstacle as easily as they did without a rider. Others will behave as if they’ve never seen any of these challenges before in their lives!
Whatever your horse’s reaction is, stay calm and keep quietly asking him to face and explore the obstacle, even if actually navigating their way through it seems impossible. As your horse becomes more familiar with the sensation of walking through flowing water or balancing on a teeter totter, he’ll move more willingly and freely through the course.
As you and your horse gain experience and confidence, you can start to build speed, performing the same courses at a trot or canter before moving onto more challenging courses.
How is Extreme
Trail Riding Judged?
Judges assess each horse and rider combination according to how well they navigate the course, with the highest scores being given to those that move safely through each challenge, without stumbling or knocking any part of the obstacle.
Horses must respond willingly to the rider’s cues and display zero resistance.
The safety of the horse and rider are paramount and if a judge feels that a horse and rider can’t navigate an obstacle safely, they may ask you skip it altogether.
Competitors will lose more marks for failing to attempt an obstacle than they will for failing to complete it, so the emphasis is on effort, as well as the horse’s manners and responsiveness.
Although judges recognize that different breeds and individual horses may move through the course at different speeds and utilizing different gaits, teams moving through the obstacles “with style and the rate of progress” will be credited for their performance “providing correctness is not sacrificed.”
Points are awarded for your entry into an obstacle, your ability to navigate that obstacle, and your exit. You also receive additional points for horsemanship, which includes correct use of hands and other aids, appropriate behavior on the course, and proper attire.
Extreme Trail Divisions and Levels
There are five different divisions in extreme
- Lead line
Within each of these divisions, there are three levels:
This level is for partnerships that are new to the sport and maybe unsure about each member’s ability to navigate the obstacles. Level one obstacles are easier and can be completed with a basic maneuver or technique. Level one competitors complete the course at a walk.
This level is for established partnerships that are confident in each other’s ability to negotiate obstacles and have the conditioning to ride longer courses. A forward, ground covering stride is encouraged, and teams may compete at a jog, trot, or running walk.
Partnerships competing at this level have established trust and are confident in each other’s ability to navigate complex obstacles. Both horse and rider are fit enough to complete long obstacle courses and perform complex maneuvers at speed. They may canter or lope up to, and between, obstacles and complete 360° maneuvers on certain obstacles.
Trail Riding Events
Before you enter an extreme
trail ridingevent, you should consider familiarizing yourself with the course. The best way to do that is to book a lesson for you and your horse at your nearest horse park or course.
You can find details of those on the Bolender Horse Park website.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How does
trail riding work?
Typical obstacles include gates, bridges, poles, and sometimes tarps or water obstacles. These classes, however, have strayed pretty far from a typical trail ride.
trail riding good for a horse?
Trail riding typically requires more stamina than riding in an arena, making it a great way to build your horse’s endurance. It can also provide a nice break from arena work, which can be mentally rewarding as well.
Q: Is a horse or a mule better for
Mules are extremely surefooted. Their feet tend to be tougher, and they are less prone to soundness issues. Mules are cautious and highly intelligent, making them a great choice for
Whether you usually compete at barrel racing or
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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- 5 Best Hobbles for Helping Horses & Mules Stay Put
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- Cushy Tushy: 7 Most Comfortable Trail Saddles
- 7 Best Stirrups for Trail Riding All Day