14 Super Tips for Trail Classes

AQHA Professional Horseman Tommy Sheets gives you the lowdown on showing trail, plus how to ride this Tim Kimura-designed trail course.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

"Always try to ride perpendicular to your first pole," AQHA Professional Horseman Tommy Sheets said August 2 at the 2014 Ford Youth World's Ride the Pattern trail clinic. Journal photo.

When showing in a trail class, there is an art to staying out of the penalty box. That art comes down to knowing where your horse's legs are, says AQHA Professional Horseman Tommy Sheets. 

"You have to ride every single pole," the New Albany, Indiana, trainer said during the Nutrena Ride the Pattern trail clinic at the 2014 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show

Tommy focused on the prelims pattern for the 2014 Ford Youth World trail class. The insights that he offered, however, can be applied to any course for trail-class success. 

The Feet

  • When the maneuver calls for a stop, your horse has got to stop and land on all four feet. Transitions in trail are crucial.
  • If you stop and land too long or too short from your desired destination, adjust to your next spot as you move on; don't back up and tell on yourself that you missed your mark.
  • Every time you stop in trail, do not go into the next maneuver until you evaluate where the front feet are.
  • Always ride with your horse's front feet in mind and you won't have to worry about his back feet.

A walk stride is 2 feet, a trot stride is 3 feet and a lope stride is 6 feet.


  • For the sidepass like in Maneuver 2, put your horse's nose over the flower box. This will give your horse plenty of clearance in the hind end.
  • When you sidepass, hold your body still. The quieter you are with your body, legs and eyes, the better your horse will perform. 


  • Always try to ride perpendicular to your first pole.
  • For poles that are alternatingly raised, ride perpendicular to the highest pole.
  • If your horse is hitting poles with his hind feet, ride with more pace.

The Gate

  • When you get to the gate, say "Whoa" three times so your horse is thinking "Stand still."
  • As you are lined up next to the gate, you are better off to reach back to the gate than to reach forward; reaching back will keep your legs quiet whereas reaching forward will cause your legs to swing back as you reach.

@AQHAJournal first tweeted these tips from Tommy Sheets live at the Ford Youth World’s Ride the Pattern trail clinic, sponsored by Nutrena, in Oklahoma City. If you’re looking for more trail insights, the 2014 Adequan Select World Championship Show will feature a Ride the Pattern trail clinic at 9 a.m. on August 24 in Amarillo. Follow @AQHAJournal on Twitter for updates from the clinic.