Tricky Trail Combination

Top trainer and judge Dave Parlier guides you through three challenging trail obstacles.
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Top trainer and judge Dave Parlier guides you through three challenging trail obstacles.

This combination of trail course obstacles incorporates a jog-through serpentine, lope-over poles, and a chute, all of which require control, finesse, and rhythm.

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Obstacle 1, the jog-through serpentine, is made up of angled poles. Guide your horse on a line that mirrors the diagram and visualize each pole individually. Approach the first with cadence and enough forward motion so that your horse doesn’t drag his toes, and aim for its center. After clearing it, ride a smooth curve to the left. Don’t drift from the obstacle, but don’t cut the corner too tight or you’ll compromise your approach to the second pole. Try to keep the proportion of your curve as depicted in the diagram.

Steer your horse toward the right of the second pole, at about its three-quarter mark, as depicted in the diagram. Precision counts! With less time to set your horse up, this second pole is trickier than the first. Steer firmly to keep your horse from drifting even farther right and evading the pole.

After the second pole, you have five or six jog strides to regain any lost cadence and gently remind your horse he’s still working an obstacle. Check his pace with your hand or leg. Rhythm, pace, and control are key for a top performance. Look ahead to plan your approach to the third pole. Your horse should know how to cleanly cross poles, so stay balanced and quiet and let him do his job at the third pole.

After the third pole, jog another four or five strides, then pick up a left lead lope. Ride a smooth half circle, pushing your horse slightly to the right through the curve, to get a straight approach to the lope-over poles, Obstacle 2. If you cut the arc too shallow, you’ll approach the lope-overs on a diagonal line and your striding through them will be off. Spacing between lope poles is 6 feet, and straightness and cadence are critical for a clean ride.

Considering the left turn between the first and second series of lope poles, it’s wise to ride slightly to the right of center through the first series to give yourself more room to make the left turn and get a straight approach to the second series. Keep your eyes up and look ahead to find a precise line.

Keep an even pace through the lope poles. With the correct rhythm and pace, your horse should flow through the poles without trouble. The second series of lope poles begins with a single pole followed by two strides then three more poles. That two-stride zone gives you a small but critical opportunity to collect your horse if necessary.

Upon exiting the lope poles, look ahead, make any necessary pace corrections, and ride a smooth loop around Obstacle 3, the chute. Move softly and fluidly back to the jog when you reach a point in line with the end of this obstacle’s exit pole. To enter the chute straight, ask your horse to travel slightly to the right through the curve.

Enter the chute over the pole, and make a smooth, square halt at the end. Let your horse settle for several seconds before attempting to back him, or he’ll likely swing his hindquarters around. Back slowly and steadily, watching to one side only (whichever side you’re most comfortable with). If you continuously look from side to side as you back, you’ll throw your horse off balance and could cause him to step on a pole. As you back through the turn, a slight hesitation is OK, but the whole maneuver should appear seamless.

Don’t back to the brink of the next chute—you’ll risk stepping on the back rail. Halt for a moment, then walk forward to step out over the final pole, and now you’re on your way to the next obstacle on course.

Dave Parlier operates Parlier Show Horses in Gainesville, Texas, and has more than 20 years judging experience. He’s currently carded with the APHA, ApHC, and PtHA. As a trainer he’s developed a dozen ApHC world and national trail class champions.