At first glance a printed trail pattern can make the whole class seem very overwhelming. Deciphering between the dotted lines, dashed lines and where those looping solid lines go is enough to ensue a headache after reading.
But that is not stopping the AQHA Trail classes from becoming increasingly popular each year. The 2016 AQHA World Championship Show hosted 255 Junior and Senior horses in the Open Trail alone.
Looking at any trail course will reveal a set of common maneuvers; striding over, backing through or side-passing over obstacles. Of course, there are many variations on these basic movements set up to create a challenging course. The challenge is the allure.
For over forty years Mary Locke, has been testing her riding skills on the trail course. This Southern California native has been showing horses on the AQHA circuit for most of her life. She has participated in different classes over the years but her passion is trail.
For Locke, the allure of the trail course is the difficulty of it. Each and every show is different, and sometimes the trail pattern is not posted until a few days before the class runs. Between constantly memorizing new patterns and then trying to find the correct path through each obstacle, she fell in love with the complexity of the class.
To help her memorize her patterns she will review the course on paper and then she will walk through the actual trail course on foot as many times as it takes for her to know it completely. Locke explains that she does not want to have any surprises when she goes in the pen to show, so walking through the course allows her to see how each obstacle is set up and plan how to maneuver through it.
When warming up for her class she will jog and lope her horse over some poles a few times. This helps her to focus on finding her distances and path. Basically, this mentally prepares herself and the horse to enter the pen and compete.
Competing in a trail class can be intimidating to many riders. Just like any competitor, Locke still has certain obstacles she struggles with in a pattern. She finds the diagonal lope overs to be particularly difficult for her to find her line on. But that one does not stop her from competing.
For riders that are new to trail or nervous about getting started Locke states that it is okay to make mistakes, everyone does at some point. There will always be another show to try again at. She suggests that riders walk the course to learn the pattern and the paths to ride, take a few deep breaths before going in the pen, and always enjoy the challenge of the course.
“You are out there in the pen by yourself and it’s your class to win or your class to lose. That’s what I like about it.” Locke said.
She started her show career with a mare called Simplistic, showing the at open breed shows and perfecting the concept of the trail course. From there, she started on the AQHA circuit and had a very successful career with Too Flashy To Zip, a 1999 chestnut gelding.
The team had a great show career, with over 100 points in trail they earned an Amateur Performance Register of Merit, and both the Amateur and Open Superior Trail Horse titles.
Locke just recently started showing Sleepin With A Diva, barn name Lilly, a 2011 chestnut mare. Lilly is sired by Too Sleepy To Zip and out of Show Diva. She rides under the guidance of Lyn McArthur. McArthur rode Lilly to a third place at the 2016 AQHA World Championship Show in Jr. Trail, Level 3.
While trail is Locke’s class of choice she has recently started participating in the performance halter classes with her mare. She enjoys the class, as it is a little break from the hard work of trail and allows her to show off her nice mare. The team just won the AQHA Level 1 West Championship in Amateur Performance Halter Mares.
Currently, her favorite obstacle with this mare is the technical back through. She feels comfortable in knowing where the mare is placing her feet and can maneuver through even the difficult set ups with grace. Now it is Locke’s turn to start competing with Lilly, and they are working towards getting qualified for the AQHA Select World Championship Show this year in level 2 trail and performance halter.
Locke has competed at the Select World before, and said that some of her favorite trail courses have been designed by Tim Kimura at the world shows.
“I’ve been competing for a number of years and I still love it. It will never bore me.” said Locke.
Best of luck to Mary Locke and Sleepin With A Diva.