Avid ranch-horse-versatility competitor Jimbo Humphreys (featured in March's "Returning to the Ranch" story) routinely teaches trail-course clinics at Stock Horse of Texas Association events. He's a top competitor in the open division in both SHOT and the American Quarter Horse Association. And he believes many competitors make the trail course more difficult by failing to prepare mentally for the class.
There's no doubt many trail courses include difficult obstacles that can give even the best horses an occasional fit. With that in mind, Jimbo offers five simple tips that will help any rider or horse avoid a blow-up.
1. Get the pattern set in your mind. No where you're supposed to go and what you're supposed to do before you ride into the course. It's easy to get a little lost once you ride into the arena and the adrenaline starts flowing.
2. Make the pattern flow. Avoid herky-jerky motions that seem to break up the run between obstacles. Much like riding in the pasture, you and your horse should transition from one challenge to the next without visible stops and starts.
3. Work one obstacle at a time. When dragging a log or crossing a bridge, keep your mind focused. Don't start thinking about the obstacle to follow before you're completed the obstacle you're on. This is the quickest way to make a mistake and cost yourself points.
4. Don't get ahead of yourself or your horse. Understand that you and your horse are a team, and you must face each obstacle as such. Save those thoughts for which belt would look best with your new championship buckle for after the competition.
5. Don't give up if you run into trouble. One bad obstacle might keep you from winning, but it doesn't always put second or third place out of reach. Besides, you owe it to your horse to give it all you've got until you leave the arena. In most cases, that's exactly what you're horse will be doing.
For those practicing at home, Jimbo offers one more piece of advice.
"Work on learning where you're horse's feet are and knowing what they are doing at all times," he says. "I'm not talking about just looking down to see where they are. You should be able to develop a feel for it."