Western Trail Classes

When did they change to all poles? I remember tires, bridges, etc…

I can’t give you a specific date, but things have definitely changed over the years. From what I understand, show managers got worried about the potential liability associated with the more traditional obstacles. Plus those hefty objects are a pain to set up.

At my trainer’s barn, Thursdays are usually the day we take our lessons over the trail course. There is still a bridge and a gate, but seriously, it looks like “Land of 1,000 Ground Poles” in every conceivable conglomeration. It takes a lot of precision to negotiate the course correctly (or so I’ve learned) :wink:

Some of the ranch riding trail classes and trail challenge competitions still have many of the old timey obstacles plus some interesting new ones. In some of the bigger ranch riding classes you have to ride through a pen with several head of cattle inside. At one trail challenge I had to pick up a long rope attached to a live goat and lead it about 20 feet from the back of my horse.

So there are the more traditional obstacles out there in certain events. And some kind of wild ones, too!


You will still see bridges on occasion. I believe tires are illegal now for safety concerns. I don’t show trail now but have numerous friends in the barn that do. I started showing it 25 (god I’m getting old) years ago and have never actually seen them in a course. We still had mail boxes and slickers back then but I don’t think I have seen them since 2000

Semi-related - I did my first Morgan show in 2017 and entered in trail. I had not been able to watch trail at any of the Morgan shows, so asked some friends what it was like. They said like you did - mailboxes, slickers, that type of thing with very few poles.

His class turned out to be almost all poles. Fortunately, we boarded at a Paint barn that specialized in trail, so poles were not new to us and Remy did great. The next year, the same type of trail with a bunch of poles (although far less than you would see at a QH or Paint show).

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I’m working on getting used to all the ground poles for the ranch riding trail classes. There’s a lot of precision involved. I can count strides at the canter/lope over poles, no problem, from decades of jumping. But when I’m riding at the walk or jog over poles I can’t quite seem to get the knack of counting individual hoof steps between the poles. And apparently that’s important! :laughing:

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I think a rope gate is a mandatory obstacle for most associations. Rule books should have examples of obstacles required and allowed by your association.

Poles are easy to score/have easy to score penalties, are mostly safe, and are easy to procure.

Yup. It’s pretty much the land of the poles. You will see a bridge from time to time, and a rope gate. Usually at the AQHA shows in my area, they usually have a bridge and a rope gate but the rest is “a 1000 poles” about like this video at the world show.

I didn’t put my video on YouTube yet (haven’t had time) but I have been doing Ranch Horse the last couple years, including ranch trail. We just had a very nice Ranch Horse Versatility show in my area with cow work, ranch riding, reining, trail, and conformation. My horse did great and the trail pattern was fun! (and very difficult) You had to open a gate, and then had a very tight transition to loping over logs and then walking over a bridge. Then drag a log, and a few other things. I did the “regular” Ranch Horse Trail the next day and similar set of obstacles. It’s challenging and fun!


At the Paint Horse world show they had to load their horse in a trailer and back or lead it out, rope a dummy, open and close a real gate, not a rope gate, go quietly by a pen of cows, drag a log, walk over a bridge, ground tie their horse and walk away. I showed the ranch classes for a few years and never saw a rope gate. They were always “real” gates. The rope gates were only for the regular trail classes, that were set up with a million poles. Not so many in the ranch classes.

It’s too bad real gates aren’t standard because, let’s face it: If you really are out riding across fenced pastures or on trails that cross livestock areas (like I am), you have to open and close a lot of metal and wooden ranch gates. It took me a while to comprehend how all of the different latches open and close.

However… I do understand the time, trouble and hassle involved with using actual gates in a competition. And since opening and closing a gate is primarily a test of your horse’s patience and his ability to side pass, pivot and back, then I suppose a rope gate serves that purpose.

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There are different types of trail classes. The traditional AQHA trail class (all-around riders) is kind of a pole fest. But a gate, ride over poles, backing through an obstacle are all required. Optional maneuvers include water obstacles, bridges, carrying something, putting on/taking off slicker, etc.

The ranch horse events you see a lot more traditional activity and maneuvers – less of the precise pole work – often involves stuff like riding around/through cattle, rope work, etc. At the Versatility Ranch Horse World Show this year, they had to jump a big log (I’d say it was at least 2’6" or maybe a little bigger) and then ground tie at an “outhouse” while the rider went in and came back out.

Think of it from the course designer’s perspective – you want something safe yet challenging enough to separate them, but another important factor is speed. If you have 50-300 people going through the course, the pole obstacles are fast. Things like ground tying and walking around the horse are slow. So if a lope over maneuver takes 3 seconds per horse, and the ground tie takes 45 seconds per horse, well…all that adds up over the course of a day.

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Sabrina Janis is a trail QUEEN. Honestly, the amount of focus, precision, and control required to complete that course is insane. I’m always amazed by her rounds. I, personally, could forget what I was supposed to be doing! hahaha

Wow I had no idea the Trails division has changed so much (… since the 90s… :blush:)
Working equitation has a lot of what I consider “traditional” trail obstacles.

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My trainer from HS was big into Apps in the 70s. The trail courses in Appaloosa classes were wild. Like the time she had to load Spark in a 2 horse with a mamma pig and babies on the other side of the divider (maybe a stock trailer with them upfront?), or the mailbox obstacle with a pet raccoon tied to it :wink:

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And yet, kind of the same sort of “obstacles” we had to do in some trail challenges a couple years ago. You know what ultimately caused a lot of horses to balk and lose points? Stepping into and walking through a rectangular water box. Several horses that would eagerly wade into ponds and cross running creeks were spooked about that water box. Fortunately, I had made one at home and practiced, so… :+1:

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I get it. I was in the top 8 out of 80+ at a horse fair years back doing an obstacle challenge…many of my friend’s rock-solid, real trail horses were undone by a box of water in an indoor, under lights. It was SO odd to them; horses who would happily cross ‘wild water’ in normal circumstances. My gelding had learned that I would never set him up to get hurt, so he was happy to cross it after a sniff…but that was training and testing, not just going down a trail and assuming it would work out.

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