Articles

PROPER PREPARATION NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS

by Mark Bolender

The most important thing a judge should see when you run a Mountain Trail pattern is a partnership between horse and rider. Show a horse that has been properly schooled and trained. Memorizing a pattern will feel overwhelming at first, but with practice this too shall pass. Don’t worry about making mistakes! Relax and enjoy the ride.

In this article we break down the Level II riding pattern used at the Washington State Horse Expo for the International Mountain Trail Show/Challenge.

To score well, the rider must always have the horse centered and straight, one horse length from the obstacle. This is true both as you enter and exit an obstacle.

The pattern begins with the trot...

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WORLDWIDE INTEREST IS GROWING

by Mark Bolender

Riding through rugged mountain trails is something people do every day across the world. You never know what kind of obstacles you and your horse might encounter on the trail; you may have to cross anything from fallen tree limbs to deep washouts. An experienced horse and rider can navigate such obstacles just fine if they have the proper training. However, few things in horseback riding are more dangerous than being unprepared for these eventualities.

Navigating difficult obstacles along a mountain trail is the backbone of the sport called Mountain Trail. It began as an informal competition just over a decade ago and has grown into an international competitive sport. International Mountain ...

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FUN FOR PARTICIPANTS AND SPECTATORS

by Mark Bolender

It’s exciting to see mountain trail growing around the world. What a year it has been! We now have seven nations involved and four of those countries are holding certified IMTCA (International Mountain Trail Challenge Association) challenges/shows. We had a number of well attended shows in Canada, Italy, Germany and the USA. The last challenge in Ohio had 70 entries and this was their first challenge.

Thanks go to Wanda Lusk who volunteered her time to put all the obstacle plans on CAD. We can now send the plans around the globe to IMTCA members so the obstacles are standardized. Even though we have many natural obstacles such as logs, rocks, water and steps, when you go from sho...

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FUN FOR PARTICIPANTS AND SPECTATORS

by Mark Bolender

The new discipline of Mountain Trail is in exciting times. For the past six years Mountain Trail courses have been built across the globe. An association known as International Mountain Trail Challenge (IMTCA) has been established along with affiliates in Canada, Germany, Italy, and soon Australia. IMTCA will be featured later this year on RFD-TV with Equestrian Nation. This program will show this sport as a refined and fun discipline.

IMTCA represents and is the body that oversees Mountain Trail. This is a new discipline that involves many breeds along with mules and mini horses. A combination of Western and English disciplines, it’s an exciting spectator sport that requires spe...

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HELPING THE FEARFUL HORSE

by Mark Bolender

Mastering the teeter-totter is, for the most part, a simple task for the horse and will only take a few minutes. However, if it has been improperly taught it can be difficult to correct.

I have had three very tough horses to fix over the last six years. The first one was in Florida where the horse’s owner had spent six months daily trying to get the horse over the teeter-totter yet it was getting worse each day. The horse had become dangerous to the human and itself. This was an attractive, well-bred Appendix Quarter Horse with only one problem: going crazy at the sight of a teeter-totter.

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The second one was a 9-year-old Arabian that came to Bolender Horse Park, and the third horse was another nice Quarter Horse in Toronto, Canada. All three of these horses overcame their fear and were able to master the obstacle. I’m sure there are many methods to correct this behavior but here is how I was able to help these horses.

First, the trainer must recognize that the horse is truly scared and not just being stubborn. Horses have an instinct to avoid the unknown, in this case the teeter-totter. This fear creates a strong learned behavior of resistance. The horse’s instinct creates a behavior, which then causes a reaction from the human, which leads to a learned behavior where its intelligence and instinct meet.

As the behavior grows stronger it is solidified in the horse’s mind that this obstacle is indeed a demon since the human’s reactions are the same. Therefore, the handler is unable to correct the behavior. When this is the case, the learned behavior must be broken apart and the pieces put back together.

Start by building a “Bolender Bubble” on the ground. Your bubble at this point must be very strong or the horse will come on top of you when the teeter-totter is presented to it. Once the teeter-totter is presented to the horse, at the slightest indication that the horse is coming toward you, reach out and snap the rope on the horse’s shoulder with your lead rope or other aid. You must put yourself into the role of the alpha mare and stand your ground.

Once the horse realizes this dangerous behavior will have consequences, it will focus on the teeter-totter instead of coming toward you. Let the horse drop its head and inspect the obstacle. The horse will start to paw and chew on the obstacle at this point. Give the horse all the time needed but do not let the horse look away.

The next step is to have the horse step onto it with two feet. At this point all three of my problem horses were shaking head to tail and beginning to sweat. I could clearly see the two instincts battling within the horse—the horse’s instinct to please me and the instinct to avoid the scary obstacle.

Next, build your bubble and your focus and ask the horse to step onto the teeter-totter with all four feet. Depending on how strong the avoidance behavior has become the next step is critical for safety. Ask the horse to step forward to the center of the teeter-totter. Do not let it come off at any cost but give it all the time it needs. All three of the horses I helped were scared to death and were looking to me to see if I would blink or back down. (By now the one horse had become so dangerous that I had to use my horse, Checkers, to help keep the horse in the center of the teeter-totter.)

I did not blink or let down my bubble. My focus was to help the horse conquer its fear and become bold and confident. I continued this exercise until the horse relaxed and walked completely over the teeter-totter.

My next step was to mount up and ride. I repeated the same exercises mounted as I did on the ground and soon the horses were walking over the teeter-totter and seemed to have no memory of the teeter demon.

It’s not easy or pretty to help a horse overcome an avoidance issue, but it is possible. Keep in mind that it’s not about making the horse master the obstacle but about helping the horse overcome its fear and be successful in mastering the obstacles. The obstacles are not to be mastered but they are used to help the horse master its fears.

Happy Trails and Bolender Blessings

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CAREFUL TRAINING LEADS TO A BOLD, CONFIDENT HORSE

by Mark Bolender

Riding a horse through rugged mountain trails is something many people do on a daily basis, especially in the western United States. It’s anybody’s guess what sort of obstacles you and your horse might encounter on these trails, from fallen tree limbs to deep washouts. An experienced horse and rider can navigate such obstacles just fine if they have the proper training and experience. However, few things in horseback riding are more dangerous than being unprepared for these challenges.

Navigating difficult obstacles along a backcountry trail is actually the backbone of the sport mountain trail. It began as an informal competition just over a decade ago and has...

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KEEP YOUR OBSTACLES SAFE WITH SPRING MAINTENANCE

by Mark Bolender

Spring is here and the mountain trail obstacles are being put to use again. Now is the time to check all the obstacles for safety and needed repairs. When obstacles are used on a daily basis one does not notice how they are being worn down and fatigued. Spring is a good time to closely inspect them and make necessary repairs. I call it “preventive maintenance” so obstacles don’t fail while being used.

Let’s start with the first thing that is often overlooked: footing. The footing around an obstacle—which also may be part of it—is very critical and should be correct. For example, if you have a mud bog you still need a footing under the mu...

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THE VERONA HORSE EXPO AND EXPLOSIVE GROWTH OF THE SPORT IN ITALY

by Mark Bolender

In 2013 we had our first guest from Italy travel to Bolender Horse Park to evaluate and see firsthand what mountain trail was all about. They spent their time immersed in the sport, attending a riding and a judging clinic and also taking many riding lessons. While this discipline was designed for the recreational rider, it also challenges the most experienced rider and they left with a new appreciation of mountain trail. In just three years mountain trail in Italy went from watching YouTube videos of Bolender Horse Park, to a beautiful indoor course in that country and brilliant professional rides that were a joy to judge when I visited this November. Here ...

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Age Shines on the Obstacle Course

by Mark Bolender

The discipline of mountain trail goes quite naturally with an aged horse. While an older horse may struggle at the most demanding level of the sport, it can still be quite good for them. Recently I watched a healthy, yet slightly arthritic, 25-year-old horse being ridden at a mountain trail challenge. It was not hard to see that the horse loved the job and was having many muscles stretched in the process—just what that aged mare needed. With this idea in mind, let’s consider a few common obstacles and see how mountain trail benefits a senior horse.

The “Texas Two Step” is an obstacle where the horse must step up three small steps and then down three small steps. I...

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BUILDING AN INTERNATIONAL SPORT

by Mark Bolender

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YOU DON’T OFTEN FIND the western horse next to an English style horse in the same competition. This also goes for seeing multiple breeds competing together — Arabians, Peruvians, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, minis, warm bloods and even mules. Mountain trail is different. This is a competition where all equines can come together because measuring excellence is more about an animal’s mind, not its shape. This is a sport where all types of riding disciplines meet side-by-side to test their skills, whether riding in a western or English saddle. This is why the new association founded by Mark and Lee Bolender — International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) — is growing in popularity across the globe.

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