Sorry, I took a little break, but I'm back with a very nice course by my friend Don Lehman.
I had the pleasure of being one of the judges at the AQHA Celebration & EMO Western States Championships in Las Vegas, NV in early July of this year. This course really flew well. It was challenging and able to get a large number of horses through in a timely manner.
This course started out with difficulty with a lope spoke in obstacle 1. A very quick lead change was required at #2 and right into another challenging and different lope spoke in obstacle 3.
After all that loping the horses were required to drop down in gears to a jog and both clear poles and make sharp turns simultaneously.
Horses needed to use there fine motor skill finally in obstacles 5 and 6.
The final obstacles required jogging, stopping, backing and walk overs. Horses had to slow down and exercise caution and carefulness after a lot of steady forward motion.
This month I'm offering the Senior AQHA Course at the SCQHEA "Show Me The Money" Circuit" at the LA Equestrian Center. Cherie Vonada did a great job designing the courses and they were set by my old friend, Don Lehman. I had the pleasure of judging this class with Mr. Steve Meadows from Virginia.
This course started with a good "loosen up" combination obstacle of a sidepass and
a straight back. It was not a particularly difficult test, but I could see Cherie's logic of making the first obstacle simple so they could warm up before meeting much more challenging tests.
I was impressed how many of those California horses went clean over obstacle 2. The center pole of the walk/overs was deceptively high and the poles were on a curve which requires discipline when picking your line of travel. They were all single-strided slots after an optional stride distance between the bridge and the walk/overs.
The horses continued at the walk into obstacle 3 and stopped in the second box, performed a 360˚ turn and walked out over two logs. Some horses got in trouble here as their riders attempted to raise the degree of difficulty by going fast in the turn.
Obstacle 4 was also tricky. Look at the photo and you will see the elevated ends were varied. They were set for a two-stride and the rider had to find those two-stride distances while partially disregarding the potential peril of going over a high spot. It required an athletic horse.
The first time the horses had to negotiate the teal and black jog/overs (Obstacle 5), it appeared a simple task, but finding a clean rhythm in multiple strided slots, after those lope/overs, was challenging.
The first portion of the lope/overs in obstacle 6 gave a lot of horses trouble. The configuration made for a sharp turn and the middle pole was elevated. The multiple strides between the three portions of the obstacles were best suited for a thinking and aware rider.
Even the gate (obstacle 9) was not simple. It gave the rider moment of respite, but there was a step/over that required rating.
The final obstacle (obstacle 8) was a return to the teal/black poles from a different angle. Again managing multiple strided distances were the challenge of this obstacle and the apparent theme of this well thought out course.
There was a lot of top riders and horses in this class making it fun to judge!
The Open Championship Classes at the Desert Classic Arabian in Scottsdale, AZ exemplified a "forward motion" course. I designed the courses for this show and wanted to draw timely courses that tested a horse's ability to stay cool while being tested.
The first two obstacles showed off a horse's ability to stay careful and calm with three different tests; walk/overs, a bridge and a back. Afterwards a horse must wake up and execute a hairpin right turn at the jog in obstacle 3 (jog/overs).
After the hard right a left lead needs to be picked up to do the lope overs with a 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1 stiding. Another direction swing takes place at obstacle 5 with the jog/overs that swing right. The horse then has minimum time to get into a right lead for lope overs at obstacle 6. A lot happened here in a short time.
After a series of turns, gait changes, rhythm adjustments, direction swings and striding challenges a horse must maintain its calm by negotiating the gate at obstacle 7. The course finishes up with another swing to the right with bow tie lope/overs at obstacle 8.
I thought this course had tempo and flow making it enjoyable to watch as well as ride.
2018 US Arabian Nationals Finals Course
Pictured here is the finals course at the 2018 US Arabian & Half Arabian National Championships. Designed by Robert Dehn, this course issued some challenges that weren't evident until you walked the course. I had the good fortune of winning the Purebred Open on Zee Fire Ball owned by Sharon Connelly. The Half Arabian Open winner was RCC Friar Tuck ridden by Jeffrey Wilms and owned by Robyn Meyer.
I thought the first obstacle posed more challenge than was evident in that the striding for the space between second pole and bridge and the space between the bridge between the bridge and the third pole were optional. A rider had to be smart here and needed to make a decision based on the nature of their horse. The important aspect was not to disrupt your horse's rhythm for the prescribed strided slots.
Two different set of jog/overs were next. The second set of jog/overs were extended jog/overs on a curve. A horse needed to bend its spine and maintain a even, committed trot. Afterwards, a horse needed to collect and pick up a right lead in a very limited space.
Obstacle 4 was a total of 10 right lead lope/overs. There were 4 corners that required execution and to do it well each corner was best done in 4 strides. Keeping a horse straight and on the correct tract was challenging.
Then after doing all those fast, gymnastic obstacles a horse's fine motor skills were tested at the gate (obstacle 5). It appears a simple task, but doing it well after calling on a horse in obstacles 2, 3, and 4 made it difficult.
After closing the gate a horse needed to pick up a left lead and go back to a gymnastic type obstacle with the lope/overs and then a set of extended lope overs. I thought executing the extended lope/overs and then going straight into a chute, rolling back and exiting the rollback at a trot was a very creative test that required horse with a soft, responsive mouth. A number of horses had problems doing that series of tests well.
Keeping a trot even after rolling back required confidence and responsiveness by a horse as it had to then serpentine at a jog maintaining a regular stride throughout.
Again after all that upbeat pace, a horse's fine motor skills was tested again as it had to trot into the box and STOP! A horse required a genuine resolve here as it needed to settle instantly, then turn 360 degrees and pick its way over another set of walk overs.
It was very exciting and memorable to win on this course. When I finished the last obstacle I felt like Zee Fire Ball and I were truly tested.
This month I'm offering a look at where trail was 35 years ago. This was the course for the Open Trail Stake at the Santa Barbara National Horse and Flower show in 1983. Sadly, this show does not exist as it did once,. In its day the Santa Barbara National was one of the most prestigious horse shows in the United States. This course was designed by the late Ray Gillen. Ray was a true gentleman and the first person I know of that could wear the label "professional trail course designer". Prior to Ray's arrival on the California horse show scene, trail courses were usually designed be either show committees or judges. Ray would contract with many of the biggest west coast shows and run the ring crew, as well as design both the trail and hunter/jumper courses. This course is a photocopy of the actual hand drawn course that Ray drew in 1983.
It is interesting to me how critics of today's courses on social media describe them as "stick" or "pole" competitions. A few will state that there was not so much loping and trail was at a more "tempered" pace. Well Ray must of been ahead of his time because in this course from 1983 there are elements of what would be in today's trail courses.
Throughout this course we can see changes in gaits and tempo much like what we see today. There are jumps (which are not acceptable in all breeds), there are lope overs, and there is a triangle jog around obstacle that was a forerunner to the serpentines with jump poles as we see commonly today. There is also slower paced obstacles like walk overs, side passes, and bridges. The lead over the bridge obstacle is very interesting and probably part of a bygone era of trail, but I love how we can look at this course and see it was a transitional lay out from what was once to what is now. This course served as a segue to the courses that Tim Kimura and I would draw later in the 90's.
Ray took his background designing hunter courses and running ring crews to give trail a new look. He utilized stripped rails, brush boxes, standards and the like to modernize the class and bring new interest to it. We all need to look at what he did with gratitude. Thanks Ray!
This month I am posting the finals course from the AQHA Youth World Championships. As we approach the Fall, we are seeing the bigger, "epic courses". To me, this course epitomizes a world show type pattern. It was designed by Mr. Tim Kimura, who is the most prominent trail course designer on the planet. For decades Tim has traveled the world designing trail courses and giving trail clinics. Best of all, he has been one of my very best friends for close to 40 years. When Dawn and I got married 28+ years ago, Tim was one of my groomsmen.
This course starts with something fast and curvy in the serpentine followed by jogging up to a rope gate, stopping and negotiating a different kind of gate. The rider must close the gate on a different standard than the7 opened it on. (Obstacle 2). This gate also serves as a walk over obstacle with 3 logs. The fine motor skills of a horse are tested after taking the bigger, faster steps of the serpentine. (Obstacle 1)
From the gate the horse must step into a left lead lope for curved forward motion lope overs (Obstacle 3) followed by collecting gait and making some shorter strided left lead curved lope overs (Obstacle 4). A quick lead change is then required to execute another set of forward motion lope overs (Obstacle 5) on a right curve. The horse must then continue with forward motion into a chute and stop (Obstacle 6). In the first 6 obstacles a horse has changed gears and directions like an automobile on a windy mountain road. A horse must demonstrate considerable athleticism followed by the confidence and resolve to stop on a dime and settle.
After all that maneuvering and gait changing a horse is required to utilize its patience and fine motor skills by side passing and backing (Obstacle 7).
A horse's tolerance and obedience is put to a hard test when it has to step into a jog within minimum space and jog three single strided jog overs, turn right, and jog three double strided jog overs (Obstacle 8). Afterwards it is time to kick it back up with a series of extended jog overs, some on a curve (Obstacle 9).
Obstacles 10 and 11 was walking into a box and completing a full turn each direction. The first turn right and second one left. The final obstacles was a series of walk overs with both single stride and double stride slots set facing towards the out gate. This was quite a challenge in that the horse had just done extended jog overs, was required to turn in a tight space and finally pick through varied walk/overs while facing the exit.
This course was filled with a combination of small movements, big movements, gait changes, direction changes, striding changes, rhythm changes, and body control tests. It required a horse to use a number of muscle memories while accepting a bright and possibly intimidating environment (see photo below). This was a course for a highly schooled horse and rider.
The winner of this class, Some Hot Potential ridden by Emma Brown scored a whopping 245 (81.5/81.5/82), quite an accomplishment on a course of this magnitude.
For this month's course I'm going to share one of my courses. I recently drew this course for the Region 5 Arabian & Half Arabian Championships is Monroe, Washington. I was also the judge for this class. The show had great equipment which added to the prestige of the event.
Obstacles 1 & 2 made for a combination of technical efforts; walk/overs, bridge, back, and walk/overs.
Obstacle 3 is quite a lope/over challenge and big change in gears from the first two obstacles. I first saw this obstacle in this configuration on Robert Dehn's Paint World Course. I was so impressed with these lope/overs, I've used them in a couple of courses this year.
The jog overs of obstacle 4 served as a transition to the gate (#5). The left u-turn and the sharp right turn to the gate made the gate obstacle more difficult as the horse needed to settle immediately to execute.
I like to put one "retro" obstacle in all my courses when I can. The cattle guard jump (#6) served that role. When I was a teenager and a young trainer in my 20's we use to see them periodically on trail courses.
At home, when we school the lope/overs of #7 we call it the "ribbon of darkness". It is challenging but beautiful to watch when done well. A horse needs to have a high level of confidence to execute this obstacle well. They have to rate, then throttle down to make the turn and rate again for the second half of the obstacle. They do this all on a diagonal which serves as an optical challenge.
The final obstacle is a serpentine variation that is popular in modern day courses. It was interesting to see which horse could downshift and readily steer after performing the lope over obstacle.
This month's course comes from the Region 7 Arabian and Half Arabian Championships in Scottsdale, AZ. My friend, Patty Romeo, designed this course and I thought it presented a lot of challenges.
Every obstacle required a gait change. The first obstacle is at a walk, then you lope, and then you stop and open a gate. Then a serpentine and more lope/overs. Afterwards a challenging sidepass where a horse has to be careful and wait after all the forward motion obstacles.
This class was won by Marco NA ridden by Kathy Bast.
On Mother's Day Weekend I judged the SLOCQHA Quarter Horse Circuit in Paso Robles, CA with Michael Bednarek from New York. Designer Don Lehman did his usual excellent job. This course was very forward with a lot of lope overs. It was a very rythmic riding course, my favorite kind. The gate, back and walk overs at the end of the course posed a challenge because the the horses had to be able use fine motor skills after all that loping and joging.
Last week Allen Mitchels from Indiana and I judged the class this course was used for at the Del Mar National AQHA Show. Course designer, Ann Dennis, desgined a very forward course that had a lot of flow. It is another example of Ann's excellent work.