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Tackling Trail Poles – with Tim “The Trail Man” Kimura

Trail patterns have evolved from having a couple of log obstacles to having a whole grid system of poles incorporated amongst the rest of the maneuvers. This innovation has made pole work one of the essential elements of a trail class today. With sharp turns, pinwheels, and raised logs, it takes a lot of hard work from the horse and rider.

Patterns do not get set up and prepared by themselves, though. It takes a skilled designer and a hard-working show faculty to get everything ready for a trail class.

GoHorseShow talked to the best-known trail professional in the industry, Tim Kimura, trail designer and cohost of The Keeping It Real Show. He breaks down some of his best practice tips on riding and succeeding over his well-thought-out courses. 

Buy Poles

“If you cannot set a course at home, you are going to be under the gun. It would be best if you had logs to practice pole work,” says Kimura. Without having the obstacles you need at home, it will be much more challenging to excel at trail. Kimura says he keeps at least 30 to 40 logs on hand to practice with. “But, on the same token, get good at one pole first,” Kimura explains. “If you can do one pole, then you can do 50 poles. So, you do not necessarily have to go out and buy 40 logs. You need at least one to start with, though.”

Have a Plan of Action

“If you do not know where you are going, you will get lost,” states Kimura. Plan ahead, but not too far ahead. It would help if you had a plan of action in your class and over your logs, or it will simply look sloppy. Understand the direction and speed that your horse needs for a good approach and follow through.

Kimura points out that some riders plan too far ahead sometimes. He often raises the last log because riders tend to think about their next obstacle before they complete the one that they are on, therefore throwing off the tempo of the horse’s stride, causing them to hit that last log. Also, a significant stressor from Kimura is to “know your pattern!”

Have the Correct Body Position

“I’m a fan of leaning and engaging over the poles, but not a fan of leaning forward so much that you are going to throw them over the wood,” Kimura says.

A suitable happy medium is ideal for your body position over poles. You want to encourage them to stretch over the logs, but Kimura does not like when you lean on the horse’s shoulder.

“Also, the higher the pole, the less you need to lean,” says Kimura. Leaning is meant to help the rear legs over the logs, but with a higher pole, you should already have more momentum going in a forward direction.

It’s All About the Runway

“If you do not have a good approach to your poles, then you will most likely not have a good run over your logs,” states Kimura.

Starting well is the key to finishing well. It is not easy for a horse or rider to recover from a flawed approach. Having the right speed and distance is very important.

“The horse needs a little power to get over the top of the poles nicely. If they are in the slowest gear, it is very easy for them to break or stop,” explains Kimura. So, taking a good approach down the “runway” to your logs is essential for getting over the obstacle without any faults.

With these excellent tips from the one and only Tim The Trail Man, you are one step closer to getting those desired points from the judges in your trail class. With the log sections making up most of the pattern, practicing pole work at home and planning in your pattern is a must.

Kimura says that he sees higher-quality horses today from hard work on all ends of this event. With the help of Kimura, the trail is, and will continue to be, a great class with great horse and rider teams.

About the Author – Georgia Smith has always been intrigued by anything equine-related since she was a little girl.  She has been riding/showing horses for 14 years with her trainer, Charlene Carter, who has led her to jump throughout the years. As a journalist major, Georgia is adamant about continuing her passion for horses through her writings.