Hitting The Trail- Making The Most of Your Trail Warm-up

March 17th, 2015 4:37 PM | No Comments

Originally appearing in the March 2015 issue of Show Horse Today


If you over-practice an obstacle, you run the risk of your horse rushing it in the class.

By APHA trainer, Blake Carney with Melinda Davison

It’s happened to every  trail competitor at least once. You get your pattern, head to the pen to practice, and a dozen thoughts run through your head. The pattern looks different than on the paper… Where do I even begin? There must be 30 horses out here; how do I stay out of their way?

The trail warm-up can be an overwhelming experience for even the most seasoned competitor. You want to make sure you’re making the most of your time, especially if it’s a paid/timed warm-up. You also want to make sure that you don’t get in anyone’s way and don’t over-school your horse.

While most people are already thinking ahead to the actual trail class, the warm-up is a very important step in preparation for both the horse and the rider. APHA trainer Blake Carney, of Carney Performance Horses,

breaks down the most important parts of the warm-up process, explains how riders can prepare mentally as well as physically, and outlines some trail warm-up etiquette.

Once you get the pattern for a trail class, how do you prepare yourself and your clients?

The first thing I suggest is to find the things you understand, and know you are capable of, first.  Don’t just dwell on something you’ve never seen or something you weren’t good at in the past. If you compare most obstacles to things you have done before, you’ll find that you have probably already done some version of everything.

We’ve all memorized the pattern on paper, and then when we get out to the actual warm-up and see the pattern in “real-life,” it seems totally different. What are some ways people can keep from becoming overwhelmed?

First, it’s important to have the pattern with you in your pocket before you get to the arena. If time allows, go on foot and view the whole pattern from the stands. Watch how it is flowing with others, and have a good plan of attack for when it’s your turn. If you are on a timed trail practice, make sure your horse is warmed up and focused so you can get the most out of your allotted time.

What are your methods of working the pattern in the warm-up? Do you work each obstacle in the order of the pattern or as it is available, or do you use a different method?

Blake likes to spend as much one-on-one time as possible with his students during the warm-up.

Blake likes to spend as much one-on-one time as possible with his students during the warm-up.

My customers always want to do the pattern from beginning to end, but that is nearly impossible in a busy trail warm-up arena, and personally, I think it’s a bad idea anyway. I always find the least busy obstacles first, and then go from there. Waiting to do something is just a waste of your time, which is very valuable if you are in a paid session. I also think it’s a bad idea to let the horse learn too much of the pattern in order, because naturally they will begin to try to do things without their rider!  Sometimes, I practice the pattern pieces and even go through the obstacles backwards or differently just to keep the horses fresh and listening, as long as I’m not interfering with other riders.

How do you keep your focus when there are so many other people practicing their pattern out there at the same time?

I try to stay close with my customers and make them feel like it’s just the two of us. Again, finding the obstacles that are not crowded will really aide in this rather than waiting with the crowd to do just one thing over and over. When I am practicing for myself, I am learning how the horse feels  best going through the obstacles and finding their strengths and weaknesses.  That way I know where I can show off and know where I need to stay conservative.

To read Blake’s full list of tips and trail warm-up etiquette in this month’s Show Horse Today, click here to go right to the article.

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