Western Showing 101 - Trail

Trail is an arena class and allows you to demonstrate that your horse is adaptable and pleasurable to ride through an obstacle course. The trail class is judged on the performance of the horse over obstacles, with emphasis on manners, response to the rider, and quality of movement.

Most western associations have a trail class; AQHA describe the trail class as “The trail class tests the manoeuvrability of an American Quarter Horse through an obstacle course. Mandatory obstacles include one in which the rider will open, pass through and close a gate. Scoring is based on the horse’s willingness, ease and grace in negotiating the course. The other two mandatory obstacles are riding over at least four logs or poles and one backing obstacle.”

The UK’s Western Equestrian Society description of trail “This class requires horse and rider to negotiate a series of obstacles placed on the arena surface. The horse is marked on its attitude on approaching and dealing with each element of the course. Obstacles include a gate, walking, jogging or loping over poles and backing between poles or around cones. Other obstacles can be four poles forming a square of between 5 and 6ft in which the horse must turn 360 degrees, side passing over, in front of, or between poles in both directions, and carrying an object from one point to another.”


Trail Manoeuvres
The course contains 6 to 10 obstacles, including mandatory and optional obstacles, there are three mandatory obstacles which will be included in all patterns, there are then a number of optional obstacles that can be added.

Mandatory obstacles are:
Open, pass through, and close gate
Ride over at least four logs
A backing obstacle


Optional obstacles are:
Water hazard
Serpentine at walk or jog
Carrying an object
Ride over wooden bridge
Put on and remove slicker
Side pass

Unacceptable obstacles:
PVC pipe
Dismounting or ground ties
Rocking or moving bridges
Water box with floating parts
Flames, dry ice, fire extinguisher, etc.

Judging and Scoring

Scoring (Based on the AQHA scoring system)

  • Basis of 0 to infinity, with a score of 70 as an average performance

  • Each obstacle is scored on a range from a +1½ to -1½

  • Points added or subtracted from the manoeuvres:

-1½ extremely poor, -1 very poor, -½ poor, 0 average

+½ good, +1 very good, +1½ excellent.


  • Contains ½-point, 1-point, 3-point, and 5-point penalties, with the most severe due to:

Dropping slicker or object

Letting go of gate or dropping rope gate

Use of either hand to instil fear or praise

Stepping out of, falling, or jumping off an obstacle with more than one foot

Blatant disobedience (kicking out, bucking, rearing, striking)

  • Obstacle score of 0

Ride outside course boundary

Wrong lead through entire obstacle

Fail to complete an obstacle

Wrong line of travel

Touching the horse to lower the head

Third refusal or evasion of the obstacle

Use of two hands when riding with a curb bit

Useful Resources
If you are thinking about giving trail a try, here is a roundup of resources you might find useful


One Pole at a Time is a how-to instructional video series for those interested in trail competition at American Quarter Horse Association events. This three-part series features Tim "The Trail Man" Kimura who designs the trail class courses for the AQHA World Championship events. Learn how to measure and set up trail class obstacles at home along with valuable tips and tricks of the trade that will help you excel in showing your American Quarter Horse in trail classes.

One Pole at a Time Part 1 https://youtu.be/XKH19ZryMdc

One Pole at a Time Part 2 https://youtu.be/lpR8WSVZfB4

One Pole at a Time Part 3 https://youtu.be/tLqcmub_wy4


We asked Avril Wilson, a talented British show clothing designer, what should be worn for trail classes:

Trail, Western Riding and Pleasure are informal classes. This means the judge is focusing on your horse, so you can wear whatever you like! These classes give you so much freedom. For women riding jackets and vest sets look vibrant, smart and fun with all of their leather appliqué. Vest sets are especially good options because you can change the colour of the shirt under the vest, creating a whole new look!


TIP: Block-coloured shirts also look great in these classes, especially if you or your horse is a novice.

Men, should wear starched jeans and smart shirts. Make sure the sleeves and body are long enough that the sleeves don’t ride up your arm when reaching out, and you don’t become untucked!

Look out for Avril’s stunning Collection 33 outfits in the show pen and if you are interested in your own one-of-a-kind, custom piece then look for Collection 33 on Facebook or call 07970462486.