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GoSmart with Highpoint & Searles: Riding Your Ultimate Trail Course

Team SmartPak riders Charlie Cole, Jason Martin, Deanna Searles, and Jim Searles join forces for SmartPak’s Trail Day at Sun Circuit to provide the ultimate trail experience

“First you should focus on being correct, then on being clean, then on being smooth,” revealed SmarkPak rider and clinician Jim Searles. SmartPak Trail Day was held January 8th at the Arizona Sun Circuit. The free trail clinic generated an unmatched buzz of excitement that morning for exhibitors and attendees alike at WestWorld of Scottsdale.

Not only were Team SmartPak riders Charlie Cole, Jason Martin, Deanna Searles, and Jim Searles sharing their pointers for perfecting trail patterns, but at the end of the clinic, one lucky winner would walk away with an Ultimate Trail Package from SmartPak, valued at $5,800. Lissa Hines, Marketing Director for SmartPak, explained why this clinic was chosen for the drawing. “We offer a great product, and it’s a terrific prize for people to win. We’re conducting a lot of raffles at this show, as well as some user testing with our online shoppers.”

smart pak trail clinicTrail, however, was also chosen as a topic due to its complexity and appeal. “Trail is one of our most popular events. It’s a class that’s technical, it’s fun to teach and there’s a lot of information to share with people,” added Charlie Cole.

Participants had entered online at a chance to win before the clinic and the crowd of over 80 exhibitors, fans, and trainers radiated an unrivaled level of enthusiasm for the demonstration. The Sun Circuit Green, Junior, and Novice Amateur trail pattern was distributed to attendees, and the fun ensued. Click here to view the pattern.

The Clinic

smartpaktrailThe theme of the clinic included an open invitation to questions, along with a step-by-step analysis from Jim Searles and Jason Martin of each obstacle, including how to approach it, how to maneuver it, and a demonstration of a ride over each by Deanna Searles and Charlie Cole, who taught from horseback.

Deanna Searles emphasized participation from the start. “I want our participants to feel comfortable enough to ask those questions, since being more interactive will facilitate them learning.” Deanna initiated the first set of questions by asking if everyone knew the measurements for the first obstacle, jog poles. She stressed the importance of knowing those measurements for practice and for showing.

smartpak trail clinic2The session began with an introduction, then each obstacle was analyzed with a walk-through by Jim and Jason. The crowd, rather than being relegated to the stands, was invited right onto the course to watch the clinicians walk the course and explain elements like angle, steps, and stride for each obstacle.

Then, they were treated to watching that advice put to use while Charlie and Deanna rode the obstacle. At each phase, questions were encouraged to maximize learning. “Trail is a very different event and complicated event,” said Jim Searles. “I want people to come away with an understanding of how to prepare for trail and how to execute maneuvers. Each maneuver is scored separately and to us, every maneuver is ridden separately. It’s not an easy class and it’s our goal to address each maneuver individually for the audience today.”

The Tips

charlie trail smartpakThe pointers to help riders polish their trail patterns abounded during the clinic. Below were some of the key factors to help improve your score.

•Over-practicing a show pattern

“A thinking horse is always preferable over an anticipating horse,” advised Jason. “We try not to practice the course for ourselves. You don’t want to say ‘one more time’ to yourself in practice.” Jim agreed, “I’d rather see you walk the course 100 times. I use the warmup to know my pattern but don’t get caught in the trap of having to figure everything out in the warmup.”

•Overcoming problems with a particular obstacle

Jason recommends applying the same concept to fixing issues. “If you’re at a big show and you’re having problems with an obstacle that requires a jog in and stop, I wouldn’t keep practicing that obstacle. I would find another one with the same gaits and practice that instead.”

•Learning to approach an obstacle correctly

Angle, and position for each obstacle can make or break success, and your horse’s stride has to be taken into consideration. Most obstacles are ridden with forward motion, but knowing how much to approach with and rating your horse makes a difference.

charlie cole smartpak trail clinic•Riding an obstacle itself

Adjusting step and stride in an obstacle is important, and knowing your own horse is best – some horses may need to be in a position to take three strides where allowed in an arched or wheel-type lopeover, but others will need to be positioned to take two. A big emphasis on how the rider handles the obstacle was made, such as the habit of looking forward to the next obstacle instead of the one you’re traveling over. “If you’re in an intersection when you’re driving your car, your eyes are looking to the lane you’re traveling to, not to the lane you’re in,” said Jason. Jim added, “I tell my clients to quit looking at their horse’s head. Nothing you can do when you’re over the obstacle will change it, so it’s necessary to look ahead to the next one.”

• Show to the best of your ability

Jim admitted that the best laid plans don’t always work, as even the experts had to adjust during the demo. His advice: Just ride it and go with it. Jason concurred, “Trail never comes out the way you want it to each time, so you have to learn to go with it.”

smatpak trail clinic3• Handling style and expression

When asked if expression counted in a trail horse, all the clinicians agreed that was up to an individual horse’s personality for the most part. However, they did explain that the rider’s quietness can influence a score, especially when it comes to adding speed to a maneuver, such as a spin in a box. “If I see someone that’s riding overly dramatically, they’re helping the horse and it takes away from the maneuver,” said Jim. “Be light and pretty,” recommends Charlie. “A medium speed turn in a box, for example, with a horse that guides well, is more preferable than a horse spinning fast with a dramatic rider.”

smartpak trail2• Educate yourself

Learning fundamentals like the difference between a plus one and a plus half maneuver is extremely helpful, since each obstacle is scored separately, and the clinicians advise approaching each one from an educated standpoint. Deanna recommends memorizing distances such as measurements, and Jim explained that the course designer needs to measure. An educated rider will start to feel what is correct, and Jim said not to be afraid to ask for a measurement if a course doesn’t ride right.

The Grand Finale

Kaitlin Bowen, Appaloosa Exhibitor from Phoenix, Arizona, was elated to be drawn as the random winner of the trail course sponsored by SmartPak. She came to learn, but had registered online with the faint hope she just might have a chance to win the entire trail course. What did she think she would do with the course? “Practice, practice, practice,” she smiled. Bowen says it was all the tips that helped her as an experienced trail exhibitor. “I’m taking away all little things that give you that extra edge as an exhibitor, such as how to back to get the correct steps to the gate. I also am going to focus on looking ahead to the next obstacle!”

smartpak trailAnother excited attendee was Sandy Sellers of Tucson, Arizona. Although she wasn’t showing at this year’s Arizona Sun Circuit, Sellers is an all-around western exhibitor with a goal of competing there in the future. Sellers spends her winters riding in Arizona with the help of Trainers Tom Duke and Kelly Penrod, and summers in Wisconsin with Trainer Jennie Griese. “I came up here to Scottsdale specifically for this clinic. I wanted to see and hear the expertise offered. The biggest thing I came away with was to always look ahead and focus on that next pole!”

The SmartPak clinic finished with a big round of applause for Charlie Cole, Jason Martin, Deanna Searles, and Jim Searles by the 80-plus attendees, who left the clinic with their eye on looking forward, approaching things a new way, and a greater appreciation for the technical yet fun event of trail.

smartpaktrail4Photos © Delores Kuhlwein