Off the Beaten Path - Extreme Mountain Trail Riding

Updated August 10, 2023
log grid on extreme trail riding course

Are you looking for the next challenge to try with your horse? Extreme trail riding courses might be your next adventure! 

What is Extreme Trail Riding?

Extreme trail riding (also called competitive mountain trail) involves navigating an obstacle course with challenges ranging from easy to complex. Some of the obstacles you and your horse may encounter  include:

  • bridges with water flowing underneath
  • giant teeter totters
  • step-ups 
  • narrow walk-throughs
  • steep hills
  • Rocks and large branches to navigate over 

Obstacles on the course are designed to resemble what horses and riders might encounter while traversing wooded or mountainous terrain. All skill levels and disciplines of riding can partake in extreme trail riding. It’s an excellent way for you and your horse to build trust and bond as a team. 

Introducing Your Horse to the Course

You might be intimidated when you first see an extreme trail riding course. Working the course with your horse on foot is a good idea before you tackle it under saddle. 

See how your horse responds to each new obstacle, allowing plenty of time for her to become comfortable. You may come across small boxes to step on, bridges, and even obstacles that spray water when you step on them.  

Your horse's bravery might surprise you, or she might find this new experience incredibly challenging.  Either way, this is a training opportunity to help your horse build confidence.

Riding the Course

narrow bridge on extreme trail riding course

Once your horse is comfortable being led near, around, through, or over the obstacles, it’s time to saddle up. Since your horse has already seen the course, she may breeze through it. Conversely, your horse’s behavior under saddle could make it seem like she has never before laid eyes on these obstacles. Take your time when approaching each obstacle and consider each completed part of the course an accomplishment. 

Technical obstacles, like a narrow bridge, will require her to step up and walk strategically, placing one hoof in front of the other. There will always be certain obstacles that your horse has to think through. It’s your job to be her guide, confidently leading her. 

Competing in Mountain Trail Classes

Mountain trail riding classes at local shows are a great way to become more confident and finesse your skills. Each show varies, but most that provide this type of class will set a course with an obstacle pattern you’ll need to memorize. Both in-hand and riding classes are offered. Depending on your level, you may walk, trot, or canter over or through obstacles.  

Your performance is judged on how well you and your horse work together to complete the course. Scoring is based on how the horse ventures through each obstacle, how willing they are, and how cleanly each obstacle is completed. For example, if the obstacle is walking through logs set as a grid, a point would be deducted if your horse nicks one of the logs.

Progressing in Extreme Trail Riding

You can enter higher-level, more challenging courses as your skills and confidence grow. Your bond with your horse will grow as you face each new course. 

The great thing about this type of riding is its unpredictability. If a course gets too easy or feels repetitive, you can change it up by adding new challenges. 

 If you already have a solid foundation with your horse, adding trail riding with obstacles can be a great way to get out of the arena and change up your regular routine.

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.