Horse Showing

Tips From the Trail Man

September 28, 2011

Tim the Trail Man’s first four tips for trail mechanics.

Use Tim's tips to help you through your next trail course. Journal photo.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Tim Kimura has been designing trail courses since he was a young boy growing up in Reedley, California.

He is now on the road weekly designing and setting courses at shows and putting on clinics to educate newcomers to trail. That’s how he earned the nickname that he sports proudly on his ball cap: “The Trail Man .”

Changing Courses

Before you learn how to navigate Kimura-style courses, it’s important to know how they evolved into their current form. Tim says it all came down to one element.

“I was looking for a balance,” he says. “I wanted to level the playing field, because the West Coast had an advantage.” Tim figured that once exhibitors from the rest of the country were educated about the upper-level patterns, they wouldn’t be so negative about his courses. However, it didn’t happen that simply. “I got a lot of negative reaction,” Tim says about the changing style of trail courses in the last few decades. “I don’t blame them; it was a hard change.”

The “Showing to Win: Trail” DVD is an in-depth look at one of the most popular western show classes.

Tim notes that as horses changed and improved, the courses had to follow suit. The progress of the trail class from the stereotypical gate, to mailbox, to bridge, to sidepass had fallen into a rut. So the trail revolution began at the 1995 AQHA World Championship Show, and Trail Man Tim has not failed since then to surprise everyone with his abilities to create new and exciting complex trail patterns all over the country.

Tim’s first tip to trail mechanics is learning the pattern.

Obviously, before you can navigate a course, let alone place in the class, you have to learn the pattern. That means upside down, backward, inside out.

Bottom line: Be the pattern. Before you walk the course on foot, Tim says you have to know the pattern.

“It’s pretty hard to learn the pattern while you’re walking it because, at the same time, you’re getting instructions from your trainer as to what spots to go to,” Tim explains. “Learn the course on paper first, then walk the course to find your approach and angles. If you don’t have the pattern down by memory before you go walk, you’re complicating your brain too much.” Tim also says you should be able to verbally explain the pattern to anyone or anything before you ride or walk it.

Tim’s second tip is to always be ready to go first.

While many competitors are convinced drawing first is a death sentence, Tim urges trail maniacs to ditch that fear.

“People like to hide,” he says. “They like to wait until the end or watch one competitor go first. They say that they can’t go because their trainer isn’t there. I get all sorts of excuses. If the show has a 10-horse class, the first horse scratches, and the second is in the other arena doing horsemanship, and you’re third, what are you going to do? A judge is waiting for a horse. You have to go.”

If you’re always prepared to go first, it won’t matter where you draw.

Tim’s third tip is to let mistakes happen.

So you blew the trot-overs, the third obstacle of the course. Regardless of what you think at the time, the arena walls will not come crashing down on you. It’s not the time to punish your horse either.

“Stop and get your composure,” Tim advises, “Re-think the situation, slow your heart and regroup. Once you have done an obstacle, get rid of it. You can’t think about how many poles you hit on the third obstacle. You have six, seven or eight coming up. That’s why I keep poles coming up so fast – I don’t want you to think. I want you to react.”

He says many mistakes occur because you expect to make them. Maybe not consciously, but you didn’t trust you skills or your horse and probably willed the mistake to happen.

The “Showing to Win: Trail” DVD is geared for all trail exhibitors, trainers and judges, and it walks viewers through the required parts of the pattern and explain the maneuver scores, pluses and minuses.

Tim’s fourth tip: Be a shark.

“I call it being a pool shark or a golfer,” Tim says. “It’s not about the shot you’re at; it’s the next shot you’re going to. You have to set yourself up for the next obstacle. Once you’re in an obstacle, you’re reacting to how you’ll approach the next one. You can’t keep your focus on the (obstacle at hand), then when you get out, look up and try to find your spot on the next one. There’s not enough time for that.”

That’s where the game plan comes in handy. Tim likens his trail courses to puzzles – you have to dissect them, figure out how the pieces fit and then actually put them together. You can’t tackle an entire course at once, but at the same time you can’t focus on the pieces you’ve already put together.