The Indian Pony walks calmly over the bridge in a trail class.
The trail class is popular in breed, open and 4-H shows, as well as in the model horse showing world. Courses are designed to test and showcase the horse’s responsiveness and maneuverability over and through obstacles. Common obstacles include gates, cones, ground poles, and bridges.
Depending on the course design, a bridge may be used alone or in combination with other obstacles or maneuvers. A rider may be asked to simply walk their horse over the bridge or to pause on the bridge – perhaps to check a mailbox next to it. There may be a ground pole ahead of and/or after the bridge to step over, a pole to side pass after crossing the bridge or a ground pole parallel to the long side of the bridge for backing through.
Bridges are also a popular obstacle for in-hand trail classes. Some organizations require the handler to cross the bridge with the horse, some require the horse to cross alone, and others make it optional.
Show bridges come in various sizes. The American Quarter Horse Association suggests a minimum of three feet wide and six feet long, and requires that bridges be negotiated at the walk only. The ability to cross a narrow bridge willingly, while maintaining straightness, demonstrates a higher degree of difficulty than crossing a wider bridge. Therefore, the width should be appropriate for the level of rider – wider for beginners, narrower for more experienced horses and riders. For in-hand classes, bridges should be four feet wide if the handler is to cross with the horse.
Teetering bridges were once popular, but are rarely used now and are prohibited in many organizations. Fixed side rails aren’t typically used, either. If you choose to either of these modifications in model showing, include documentation. Safety is paramount with all real trail obstacles, and we seek to reflect realism with our models.
With these materials, you can make your own trail bridge.
Making your own trail bridge is easy. These instructions are for a 9 ½” by 4” Traditional-scale bridge. You may want to adjust the dimensions of yours, depending on the size and position of your model. You can also scale it down for smaller scale models, such as Freedom Series (Classics) or Stablemates.
This tutorial uses jumbo craft sticks, measuring ¾” by 6”, which are readily available in craft or dollar stores. A scroll saw is ideal for cutting the pieces. Cut straight across one end of a craft stick, removing the rounded end. Measure and cut it 4” long, thus removing the other rounded end. Repeat for 12 more craft sticks. The two supports underneath the bridge are ½” by 3/8” basswood. Cut two pieces, each 9 ½” long.
Using medium grit sandpaper, lightly sand off any rough areas. Keeping your two long support boards parallel, apply a line of tacky or wood glue about 2” long on each one. Place a craft stick across the supports. The ends of the stick should be flush with the outer sides of the supports. Continue placing craft sticks and adding glue as needed. Push the sticks snugly against one another for a solid bridge. Allow it to dry thoroughly.
Sand any rough cuts off of your wood.
|Keeping the long support boards parallel,
glue the cut craft sticks on top.
You may paint your bridge with acrylic paint, stain it, or leave it natural. Most real ones are either white or natural wood, often darkened with age and use.
To create a trail entry using your bridge, choose a walking model that looks relaxed yet attentive. The Indian Pony, John Henry or San Domingo are good choices. If you want to use a standing model that looks quiet and calm, incorporate standing on the bridge into your entry documentation. Remember, mounted or in-hand trail isn’t limited to horses – ponies, donkeys and mules can participate, too. Miniature Horses also excel at in-hand trail.
Depending on show rules, mounted trail may be ridden English or Western. In the model world, there are usually separate classes. Use the same tack and attire as you would for Western pleasure or hunt seat pleasure. If you designate your entry as “Ranch Trail,” the tack and attire should be workmanlike and functional, without silver or bling. Adding brush along the sides of the bridge will give it more of a natural ranch trail look.
In-hand trail contestants usually wear showmanship attire. They don’t wear chaps or spurs, as these could be a tripping hazard. The horse should wear a properly adjusted halter and no other tack. Position your handler in a safe location with respect to the horse’s location and make sure they hold the lead correctly.
An Appaloosa waits patiently on the bridge while Taylor opens the mailbox
Be sure to include a brief description with your entry. While not required, some entrants even provide a diagram of the entire course. Add interest to your setup with flowerpots or shrubs around the bridge, or perhaps a cone at each corner. For increased level of difficulty, make a second bridge about 5” long and place it at a right angle to the longer one, making an “L” shaped bridge.
May your trail bridge setup help you cross into the winner’s circle!