Taking Mountain Trail To The World Equestrian Games

by | Feb 1, 2017


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 Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) has rules and regulations like any other sport. Horse and rider compete for style while negotiating difficult challenges that might be found on a mountain trail ride such as rocks, logs, ponds, bridges and a host of others.

A major requirement to be a successful competitor in Mountain Trail is developing the proper relationship between horse and rider. Training takes time and effort. It results in a partnership where the horse displays boldness and confidence as it picks its way through each obstacle.
The beauty of this discipline is that it is open to both Western and English riding and is not breed specific or breed dominated.

This makes judging interesting; my wife’s 17’3” hand Hanoverian moves through the mountain trail course differently than a 15 hand quarter horse, yet each must navigate the obstacles the same. It’s quite remarkable that, physically, almost any horse can compete. The one provision is that the horse must be trained mentally, having developed a solid unity with the rider.

Another great feature of the sport—and a main reason for its explosive popularity—is that virtually any rider can compete. All ages and skill levels are welcome to test their unity with their horse against trail obstacles. In fact, both Olympic riders and beginners have been found in the same competition, as was the case in Italy.

After a meeting with the president of the FEI in Italy in November of 2016, our goal is to have Mountain Trail in the world games and then Olympics in the next 10 years. We have hurdles to overcome but they are workable. We must have 23 nations involved (we now have 9) along with certified safe obstacles around the globe. We added one more nation in December 2016 — Australia!

With three levels of difficulty, this discipline offers opportunity and challenge for everyone. You can think of Mountain Trail as trail riding elevated to the power of ten. Rather than negotiating simple obstacles, horse and rider are challenged with far more difficult obstacles, most often combined in an extremely demanding fashion that would make an untrained horse bolt away. For example, you might need to step down a hill into water or into a running stream, while having to open a gate, pass through, and then close it before moving on — and all this must be performed with boldness, confidence, and finesse.

Mountain Trail made its debut on RFDTV in November, 2016, and the producer, Dan Weyand of Equestrian Nation, reported to us that the Mountain Trail Part 1 resulted in excellent ratings.

To continue our growth and build awareness for Mountain Trail we must train and certify more judges across the globe, build awareness with continued exposure on TV, write for horse related magazines, hold more challenges/shows/demonstrations at expos around the world, and obtain more sponsors.

We must work on the standardization of certain obstacles around the world. This is a key requirement for participation in the world games and we need judges that can cross international boundaries.

We have a challenge/show at the Washington State Horse Expo March 3-5, 2017. Prize money and saddles will be given. The judges will be from Eastern Canada and Ohio.

As this sport grows, the most critical element is volunteer help for IMTCA. The individuals now stepping up to help around the globe are a true godsend that will ultimately bring success to Mountain Trail.

Happy Trails and Bolender Blessings!