The ‘Man of Trail’ SHARES HIS TIPS

I’ve de­signed some of the tough­est trail cour­ses for the top shows. Now I’ll help you nav­i­gate them. Pho­tos by

Horse & Rider - - Mud Health Risks - By

that re­quires rhythm and con­nec­tion. Ev­ery good dancer has a chore­og­ra­pher, and the same can be said for trail ex­hibitors. I may be best known as a trail-course de­signer, but I’m also the chore­og­ra­pher and dance in­struc­tor. It’s my job to teach you how to gain rhythm and use it to con­nect with one of my cour­ses.

My goal is to get peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in trail classes. I want you to love trail and learn how to con­tin­u­ously im­prove. To do that, I con­struct en­gag­ing cour­ses that chal­lenge rid­ers, make them think, and (some­times) make them laugh. My ap­proach to de­sign­ing some of the world’s tough­est cour­ses car­ries over to the way I ap­proach my clin­ics—I want to give you a new per­spec­tive on how to mas­ter this chal­leng­ing event. Here I’ll dis­cuss six keys to con­quer­ing my cour­ses. →

FEEL THE MU­SIC Mu­sic has been an im­por­tant part of horse shows for a long time. Long be­fore wire­less speak­ers and Blue­tooth au­dio, an or­gan­ist played mu­sic that synced up to the gait of the horses show­ing. I like to add mu­sic to see a con­nec­tion be­tween the horse, rider, and my trail pat­terns.

An up­beat song can be­come the tempo to the pat­tern—it in­spires you to do some­thing. We start with a pre-test where you’ll ride through a course to eval­u­ate what you need to work on. You prob­a­bly get ner­vous over cer­tain ob­sta­cles. This is when I use mu­sic to help. Fo­cus on the mu­sic, and feel your­self re­lax and your anxiety set­tle, which nat­u­rally helps your horse set­tle as well. Key trail tip: Find a song that puts you at ease, and hear it in your mind when ex­e­cut­ing an ob­sta­cle that might usu­ally cause anxiety.

Use mu­sic to other ad­van­tages, too. For ex­am­ple, when you’re prac­tic­ing at home, work on un­der­stand­ing rhythm and how to use it to your ad­van­tage through­out a course. Sync­ing up to the first pole in a course is im­por­tant, and the mu­sic of­fers you some­thing to sync up to. Pick a song that cre­ates good en­ergy and al­lows you to get into a tempo re­gard­less of if you’re prac­tic­ing a back-through or lop­ing over a pin­wheel. If you’re not sure what type of mu­sic to play when you’re prac­tic­ing, check out my fa­vorite songs for find­ing trail rhythm on page 55.

CRE­ATE A ‘ TRAIL TROT’ To get over the ob­sta­cles, you need a trot that gives you height and length. The typ­i­cal Western plea­sure jog is too slow and causes horses to hit their back legs on the pole. The English trot is too

long and makes it hard to put a horse in the cor­rect spot. So that means you need a com­pletely new gait: a trail trot.

To achieve the trail trot, try this basketball-drib­bling ex­er­cise. Work­ing at a trot, hold your free arm, el­bow bent, at a 90 de­gree an­gle from your body, with your palm flat, and move it up and down, like you would if you were drib­bling a basketball. (See photo on page 54.) This helps your core go up and down, which also helps your horse start to get more height—and a steady rhythm—in his trot. The down is the most im­por­tant part of a trail trot be­cause it causes your horse to land and com­press in the gap be­tween the poles and cre­ate a spring-like jump. Key trail tip: If you need more height to get over a pole, you’re go­ing to need a higher up-and-down mo­tion with your arm, so that your core goes up and down more.

The trail trot is one of the hard­est trots to sit be­cause of this up-and­down mo­tion, but you’ll get used to it. Once you get com­fort­able sit­ting it, con­tinue to “drib­ble the ball” while you go over one or two trot poles. You’ll no­tice your horse has more reach and lift. Af­ter you’re done “drib­bling the ball,” main­tain that up and down mo­tion as you nav­i­gate trot ob­sta­cles.

BRING YOUR TAR­GET DOWN When you’re com­pet­ing in all-around events like horse­man­ship and Western rid­ing, you look up to see where you want to go. With trail you need to bring your tar­get down, be­cause you can’t tell the horse where to go if you aren’t look­ing at that spot. Use your eyes to “rate” the pole (see be­low).

If you look up and for­ward, you’ll go where your eyes fo­cus, and in the process you’ll speed up, caus­ing your horse to land in the wrong spot. This is the op­po­site of “rating the pole.”

By look­ing down in front of the poles, you’re slow­ing your rhythm and telling your horse where you want him to place his feet. To learn how to rate, draw lines in the ground on both sides of the pole and go over it at dif­fer­ent gaits. The first line in the dirt is your take­off point. By look­ing for that take­off line, you’re telling your horse that’s where he is sup­posed to land and take­off from be­fore he goes over the ob­sta­cle. To help you rate the pole be­fore you even ap­proach it, add a pre-take­off line 3 feet from the pole at the trot and 6 feet at the lope. It’s im­por­tant that you con­tinue to look where you want to go un­til you clear the ob­sta­cle. I see so many peo­ple hit the last pole in a se­ries be­cause they stop look­ing.

Key trail tip: If you’re new to the trail class, it’s not nec­es­sary to have a whole trail course—or even a full set of poles—to ex­e­cute. Prac­tice go­ing over one pole un­til you nail it in all di­rec­tions. Then you can teach your horse to cover mul­ti­ple poles in suc­ces­sion.

SIT BACK OVER POLES It’s nat­u­ral for your body to perch for­ward when you go over a pole, es­pe­cially if you also com­pete in English all-around events. When you ride English, you get com­fort­able in the two-point po­si­tion, and it be­comes a bal­ance point for you. How­ever, when you lean for­ward dur­ing trail, your horse speeds up and loses col­lec­tion in his gait. And when you perch for­ward, you’re telling your horse’s feet to go to­ward the ob­sta­cle, rather than over it.

In­stead, get your­self be­hind your horse’s mo­tion to help his front legs over the pole. I want you to think about sit­ting back as you ap­proach the pole. Key trail tip: An easy way to re­mem­ber this is to think about the phrase, “pole­rock-back” as you go over an ob­sta­cle.

To help put your body in the right po­si­tion, take your free hand, put it on the horn, and push your body back with it. This will force your body to stay back while you go over an ob­sta­cle. Trot over a few poles in this po­si­tion. While this ex­er­cise is done at a trot, it’s im­por­tant to keep your body back for walk-, trot-, and lope-overs to help you and your horse stay bal­anced. The idea be­hind it is to keep your body from perch­ing and help take pres­sure off

your horse’s front legs. This will also help him stay bal­anced as he ma­neu­vers over an el­e­vated ob­sta­cle. If you get too far for­ward, your horse will try to catch up to you.

COUNT OUT LOUD Don’t be em­bar­rassed. Whether you’re a trail new­bie or a sea­soned vet­eran, you’re not too good to count out loud. Think of it as your metronome when you’re rid­ing a trail course. You can use it to find ca­dence over the poles, or to help with a horse that doesn’t stand still dur­ing slow ma­neu­vers. To keep your ca­dence over the whole course it’s im­por­tant to keep a count un­til the last foot goes over the last pole. You have to keep power in the back end, and the only way to do that is to make sure you have for­ward mo­tion, which is cre­ated by a steady count. If you have a horse that doesn’t like to stay still dur­ing slow ob­sta­cles like the back-through, try stand­ing still and count­ing to ten. Most of the time, your horse dances and gets antsy be­cause you’re think­ing too far ahead, and he’s try­ing to keep up. Fo­cus on the count, and stop think­ing too far ahead—if you slow your mind down, his will slow down, too. Key trail tip: Make sure you count dur­ing prac­tice and then use that same count in the show pen to get the same steady rhythm.

Do this basketball- drib­bling ex­er­cise to help your horse get more height over the poles and keep a steady rhythm.

Use your free arm as a rud­der ev­ery step of your ride to help guide you over the poles.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.