Article by Susan Hargrove, Oh Joy Farms
Ground poles are a basic trail obstacle that can be a good place to start to expand your performance horizons. The first thing you need for a trail class is a calm horse! Trail classes are judged on the horse’s performance over the obstacles... with emphasis on manners, response to the rider and ATTITUDE! The model needs to appear as if they are "paying attention" to the obstacle... not looking off in another direction or up at the sky! Extra credit is given to horses showing the capability of picking their own way through an obstacle.
You will need at least 4 poles... round or square... and they can be natural wood, painted white or have simple colored stripes on them. The poles can be small rails (like those used on jumps... approximately 1/4" for our models) or logs (no higher than mid-cannon height on models...or what would be 12" on a real horse). The poles can be in a straight line, curved, zigzag or placed in a square (adding another element to the obstacle). The poles can lie flat on the ground, have one end raised or both ends can be off the ground. Ground poles can be used for walk-overs, trot-overs and lope-overs. The poles can be used alone...with plants or flowers...or placed between fences or jump standards.
Proper placement of your model is crucial even at this simple obstacle. Your horse must appear to be able to clear the obstacle! As a photo show judge the most common error I see at this obstacle is the model being placed too close to the pole. Either in the process of "picking the hoof up or putting it down"... the horse would hit the obstacle! Think about the motion of the horse’s legs... either walking, trotting or loping... and place the pole accordingly.
The second most common error is reins! Most exhibitors adjust the reins much too tightly! "Give the horse his head"... so to speak... and let him negotiate the obstacle. Loose reins with a nice drape in them for western trail obstacles are what the judge is looking for!
Thinking up appropriate obstacles and then creating them for our models is great fun!