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Last-Minute Tips: Trail – with Anthony Montes

Many non-pros joke that they put a lot of work into preparing for their classes, and it all goes out the window the moment they step foot in the show pen. Preparation is one thing, but actually showing is a whole different beast.

We spoke with top trainers to get their advice on “last-minute” tips they give their clients before entering the show arena. In our first article in this series, we learned some last-minute pointers before heading into the Pleasure pen with RJ King and Blair Townsend. In our next installment, we focused on Showmanship with Clint Ainsworth and Jenell Pogue. Our next article checked some final Hunter Under Saddle boxes with Keith Miller. And in our last article in this popular series, we got some final pointers before heading into pattern classes from leading trainer Brad Jewett

Today, we get some great eleventh-hour Trail tips from Anthony Montes of Vickery Performance Horses.

Know Your Pattern

In any pattern class, knowledge of the pattern is fundamental to going into the class with confidence and the ability to succeed.

However, Montes reminds us that the brain can only process so much. Therefore, he doesn’t like to overcomplicate anything before entering the arena. “I want my clients to be able to walk me through the pattern and their striding, but I don’t like to discuss the nuances – I cover that during our practices and walk-throughs well in advance of the actual class.”

Montes finds it is helpful to focus on striding at tough spots and remembering which colors to aim for as more last-minute thoughts. He also thinks it’s wise to say “turn toward the judges” instead of more complex directions like “turn left” because, although directions may seem basic, they are easy to mess up in a class if you don’t visualize where in the arena you are going.

Use Your Warm-Up Wisely

Warm-up for Trail can often seem like a free-for-all. To avoid being overwhelmed, Montes suggests focusing on your foundation and “carefulness” before entering the ring. Specifically, Trail has multiple transitions, speed changes, and direction changes. Therefore, Montes advises that you practice your transitions and steering right before going in.

Montes says, “You want to make sure that your horse is responsive and thinking about you and your cues. Are your buttons working? Is your horse distracted? This is your time to get them in the zone and make sure they’re tuned to the task.”

To help his horses remember to be careful and “get in the zone” for Trail, Montes will often make them walk over elevated poles that are a little higher than expected in the class. This keeps the horses thinking about minding their feet right before going into the pattern, hopefully setting them up for better pole work.

Remember the Class Purpose

One of the primary purposes of a Trail class is to show off communication between horse and rider by testing their ability to navigate obstacles at different gaits. Montes finds that many non-pros approach Trail like a horsemanship class and, therefore, they tend to ride the pattern more rigidly to try to make it “pretty.”

However, he prefers his riders to be more relaxed through the pattern and show off the communication with their horse. He finds the prettiest Trail patterns tend to be the ones where the rider isn’t overly “bracey” and seems to feel the rhythm of the lope and the jog and feel their horse stepping over poles.

Montes reminds his riders that a bit of movement in the saddle is ok in Trail, as long as it results from connected riding (don’t overdo it) and good communication between the rider and horse.

Keep Showing…Unless it’s Tragic

Almost all the experts we’ve spoken to agree that you need to “keep showing” through little foibles. But, Montes provides an essential caveat, saying, “A rider should keep showing in a Trail class through little mistakes like a ticked pole, a split pole, or a poor transition.” However, Montes says that it’s ok to stop showing when things really go south.

Specifically, Montes admits that he has, “never had a horse show multiple times in a row and not need a little schooling.” He wants to see his non-pros know when things can’t be recovered and fix them in the middle of the class, so they are set up to go better in their following pattern.

Horses are creatures of habit, and if you let them get away with laziness in the Trail class, chances are it will only get worse with time. Therefore, if your pattern isn’t salvageable due to more significant mistakes, like going off pattern or repeated missed cues, don’t panic and, instead, use the class to school your horse for your next trip.

Have Fun

Montes’ favorite thing about the Trail class is that, at any point, anyone can win it. The difficulty of maneuvers and length of the pattern makes it a class where anyone can succeed…or fail.

Therefore, he reminds his riders to go in with a mindset to have fun. Trail is meant to be hard, so if you intend to do your personal best in a challenging pattern, this more relaxed attitude will translate to your horse and result in a much stronger pattern overall.


CLICK HERE to read the first article in this series, ‘Last-Minute Tips: Western Pleasure – with RJ King & Blair Townsend’

CLICK HERE to read the second article in this series, ‘Last-Minute Tips: Showmanship – with Clint Ainsworth & Jenell Pogue’

CLICK HERE to read the third article in this series, ‘Last-Minute Tips: Hunter Under Saddle – with Keith Miller’

CLICK HERE to read the third article in this series, ‘Last-Minute Tips: Pattern Classes – with Brad Jewett’

About the Author:  Megan Rechberg has been riding horses on-and-off since she was in sixth grade. She works as a full-time mom to son Jackson and daughter Sterling, part-time litigation attorney, and social media manager for up-and-coming APHA stallions.