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!