Can You Master These Common Ranch Trail Obstacles?

Check out our breakdown of commonly used ranch trail obstacles - and try your hand at this fun and engaging class!

If you’re itching to enter up in the ranch trail class, be prepared for the obstacles you’ll face in the class. We turned to the AQHA rulebook to bring you some information about commonly found maneuvers and obstacles. Knowing what might await you in the ring, can help you prepare ahead of time to ready your horse for what might be novel challenges. These challenges are set up to mimic what one might find if they were out riding on a ranch. Crossing obstacles, riding over bridges, and opening gates are all usually daily tasks of a ranch horse.

Logs, Bridges, and Gates – Oh My!

The following obstacles are noted as “mandatory” to each pattern, in the AQHA rulebook. According to the rulebook, ride-over logs are an obstacle you are likely to encounter. If the pattern includes these, however, they must be natural logs. Be prepared to either walk, trot, or lope over these logs.

Another common maneuver will include opening and closing a gate. The rulebook states that it must be a hinged gate that you will operate and a rope gate. Be prepared to have to unlatch, ride through, and close the gate behind you.

[Watch expert Cody Crow discuss how to master the gate obstacle]

Exhibitors often find themselves faced with a ride-over bridge in the ranch trail. This will be a wooden bridge. And it is noted in the rulebook that it must be sturdy and safe for horse and rider. Riding over a tarp or an obstacle with a slick bottom is prohibited in these classes, so rest easy there.

Crysta Brown and “Hootie” step onto the wooden bridge obstacle.

Backing and Sidepassing

A simple maneuver you can practice at home is the back. In the ranch trail you might be required to not only demonstrate the back, but show that your horse can back through a set of logs or around an obstacle. This showcases his ability to back out of a sticky situation that you might end up in on a working ranch.

Along the same vein is the sidepass. Prepare yourself to sidepass over a log, sidepass to open a gate, or sidepass to reach another obstacle. If you must sidepass over an obstacle, the rulebook ensures safety by stating that the obstacle cannot be more than 12 inches high.

The Drag or Pull Obstacle

A very common task on a ranch is the ability of a horse to drag an object. Ranch horses often have to drag calves, hold a cow for doctoring, or serve as horsepower to drag objects out of the way. This task will include some skill from you as well, as it will require you to dally. You can opt for a half or full dally. But, don’t try to just hold the rope in your hand and pull the object with your strength alone.

This is definitely something that should be practiced beforehand. If your horse is not rope broke, don’t set him up for failure by trying this obstacle for the first time, the day of the show. Work with him at home to get him accustomed to the rope. Letting him get used to it touching his hind end, and feeling the weight of dragging an object. If you are not comfortable introducing a rope to your horse, or you’re unsure of how to dally safely, employ the help of a professional in your area. Although you aren’t dallying off to a running steer, things can still go awry quickly if you aren’t careful.

Cody Crow is a master of the dally and drag obstacle in the ranch trail.

Optional Obstacles

When it comes to optional obstacles, each show has the choice to include a variety of other challenges. These include things such as carrying an object from one side of the arena to another, removing and replacing objects in a mailbox, and walking through a water obstacle. Unsure horses often encounter a simple obstacle that can cause commotion: the rider having to put on and take off a slicker or raincoat

A ranch trail class often includes ground-tying, as it showcases the common skill of a working ranch horse. Being able to drop your reins, and make a circle around your horse without touching him is what the judges are looking for. Miscellaneous optional challenges on foot that showcase how well your horse is broke include picking up feet, leading at the trot, and opening a gate from the ground.

You might also have to ride by a pen of cows, steers, or even longhorns.

Scoring Guidelines

Judges are looking for a horse that handles these obstacles with ease. However, they also want to see a horse that is paying attention. It’s alright for your horse to pay attention as he steps over logs, as long as he is doing it willingly and following cues. In fact, hitting obstacles or rolling them out of place will result in a penalty. So, just as a ranch horse would, your horse should pay attention to where he puts his feet. He should look aware and be looking through the bridle.

Judges also look for quality of movement, as the ranch classes feature horses that would be enjoyable to ride on an actual ranch.

Practice these obstacles at home before the show. However, do so carefully and safely! If you’re unsure of how to introduce your horse to these obstacles, seek out a professional or reputable trainer nearby.

Check out Horse&Rider OnDemand for loads of ranch horse content, as well!

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