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 show to show you will have standard, set obstacles. This makes it easier to train and prepare.

We also saw judging consistency, with European judges coming to the states and vise-versa. Many judges are crossing back and forth from the USA to Canada. Certified judges will help build the foundation of consistent results throughout the shows which in turn will help build the new discipline.\

We are starting to build the indoor trail course for the National Mountain Trail show in Verona, Italy to be held November 9–13. This course will be very similar to the one that will be set up at the SW Washington Horse Expo in Ridgefield, WA in March of 2017. The courses will be different but with standard obstacles. They will also both be designed so horses will have the opportunity to canter/lope and transition to a walk over the obstacles.

As the discipline matures the patterns for the higher-level horses will become more challenging. The novice and beginning levels will have the ability to navigate the patterns and obstacles with success. The Ridgefield show, in March of 2017, will be under IMTCA judging rules and will have substantial cash payouts for the winners.

To succeed in IMTCA Mountain Trail you will need to find a course with safe well-built obstacles where you can practice. Start on the ground when presenting the horse to the obstacles, and for safety reasons make sure that the legs are wrapped and protected.

The obstacles you will encounter at a Mountain Trail challenge will include a water box, rolling bridge, teeter-totter, small turn around boxes, balance-beams and a swinging bridge, along with the standard rock and log patches. Most patterns will take around five minutes to complete if the horse and rider is prepared.

A few years ago if you could just get through the obstacles you could win a show. But now, it is not if you get through the obstacles, but how you get through them.

Make sure these basic skills are mastered:

1. Pivot on fore. Your horse will move the haunches while keeping the fore in place. If you are unable to complete this maneuver, then find a trainer that can help you master it.

2. Pivot on hind. The same as above but you will move the forehand around the hind.

3. Leg yield. You need to master this so you can side pass a log or move a horse in a subtle manner in an obstacle to remain centered.

4. Straight lines. Make sure you have the ability to ride a straight line. This sounds simple, but very few can walk a straight line let alone trot or lope one. While walking over a balance beam this is critical.

5. Step up and down. Each challenge will have step-ups and downs, so practice until you and the horse are comfortable with this.

6. Transitions. Work on your transitions from a walk to a trot and even a standstill to canter/lope. When the patterns call for a canter/lope in a particular spot, you are only given one horse length to be in the correct gait or else it is a penalty.

7. Working trot or a good working gait. This is a go-forward discipline so the slow does not win. Make sure the trot is soft and relaxed and stays consistent.

8. Canter/Lope. This should be relaxed with a look of boldness and confidence. It should not be a runaway, which is unsafe.

These eight basic skills and good horsemanship are vital to success and safety.

The rules under IMTCA are very clear on what the judges are looking for so it will be a big help if you know the rules and use them to help prepare. Points are lost by small rider error, so concentrate on the details. Selecting attire and tack is always fun so make sure that it is clean and in good repair. Avoid bling and keep the look clean and simple just like you were going on a nice mountain trail ride.

Happy Trails and Bolender Blessings!