Tackle This Trail Test

Judge Sandy Jirkovsky talks you through this tough combination of trail obstacles.
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Judge Sandy Jirkovsky talks you through this tough combination of trail obstacles.

These trail obstacles re-quire a horse with an adjustable stride, and one that stays between your reins and legs and focuses on you. The series begins with a left-lead lope-over—two logs spaced 6 feet apart. As you approach from another obstacle on course, make your lope transition smooth, and guide your horse to the center of the first log to maintain a straight line through the entire obstacle. If you enter crooked here, your troubles will compound as you continue.

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The next two lope-overs are poles laid out to form large X’s. The visual of the X will help guide your horse, but it’s important that you ride the X straight through the middle. The X’s are spaced 7 feet apart, so push for a slightly longer stride between the second single lope-over log and the first X.

Continue asking for that longer stride through the second X, then sit back for a 6-foot stride between the second X and the third single log lope-over and into the chute.

Your horse must maintain a level frame throughout the lope-overs in order to plus this maneuver. Even though you’ll need to ask for a slightly longer stride between the X’s, let the logs come to you and try not to rush him.

Your horse will probably focus on the water box at the end of the chute and may back off, so ride aggressively to get him to the proper position for the back-through. Lope up the chute on the right side of the cones, and stay centered between them and the chute’s right side. Keep your eyes up and set a focal point at the end of the chute to maintain straightness.

Your horse should respond softly for a smooth halt. Stopping short or crooked will deduct points from your maneuver, and will set you up for failure as you attempt to back through the cones. I’ll give you extra maneuver points if you don’t need to reposition for the back.

Back smoothly as you serpentine through the cones and stay close to them with very little reining. Keep your horse’s hips from swinging too far out around the cones. Don’t shift your weight around in your saddle or bend from side to side, or your horse will try to balance himself under you. Sit still and straight and keep your cues consistent for a smooth performance.

Finish backing so you are in the correct position to sidepass to the right with your horse facing the cones. This should be done in one smooth motion without hesitation. The sidepass right must be straight, and you need to allow space so he doesn’t knock any cones with a front foot. Again, remain centered on him and don’t lean from side to side. 

Maintain a steady rhythm with even steps as you sidepass, and continue directly in front of the water box. Allow your horse a moment to focus on the water box, then proceed into a walk with forward motion to establish the rhythm you’ll need for the walk-overs after the water. They’re spaced 24 inches apart and, to avoid penalties, only one foot should fall between each log.

Most horses will want to draw back before the water box, but a steady leg and encouragement from your seat will help maintain the forward motion needed to plus this obstacle. Ride the water box and poles as one obstacle without any hesitation between them to earn points for this maneuver. Don’t make the mistake of “quitting riding”—ride forward all the way through the walk-overs to avoid any penalties, and keep your eyes up for the next obstacle on course.

Sandy Campbell Jirkovsky holds judges cards with the AQHA, APHA, ApHC, NRHA, NSBA, and NRCHA. She and husband Jim operate J Bar S Training in Kearney, Nebraska. At the 2007 Appaloosa World Show, she rode Be Cool to world championship titles in junior trail and junior hunter under saddle.