Judging Rules


The epitome of perfection in Mountain Trail competition is having the horse show a bright expression and focus. It’s satisfying to the rider and to the judges to watch a horse pick its way through a tough rock obstacle with boldness and confidence. Recognizing this is essential to accurate and fair judging.


It helps to see what a judge might look for to assess how near perfection you and your horse have become. Good and tight unity between horse and rider is key and the judges can see this. They have designed the competition obstacles so that decision making can be done on the fly and only a great partnership can make it look easy.

But what’s most telling about how horse and rider negotiate the obstacles is how unified they are. A practiced eye can tell right away whether a good partnership exists. When the horse and rider make it look effortless, simple, vigorous and fun with boldness and confidence – it’s a pleasure to watch, a crowd pleaser and a sure winner.


We start with a score of 70 points and add or take away.

The point system we developed allows the spectators and competitors to understand how the judging takes place. It’s also great fun for everyone to score along and see how the competitors are doing as they go. The same criteria are applied to each obstacle whether a bridge, gate, trench, water, logs, rocks etc. The judges will make assessments for the following basic standard maneuvers: each obstacle has a value of 9. This gives a foundation for scoring and or a deduct if an obstacle is not attempted or faults.

  • Entry into the obstacle -2 points – if correct a 0 is given

  • Navigating through the obstacle- 5 points – if correct a 0 is given

  • Exit from the obstacle – 2 points – if correct a 0 is given

  • Wow – If the horse and rider navigated the obstacle in such that a judges only words were “wow” then an extra 3 points can be added – 1 point for entry – 1 point for body – 1 point for exit.

  • Horsemanship – see below

Half-points are recommended where it is needed to differentiate between riders for placing. Some obstacles, as determined by the Head Show Judge, may be valued at twice the points (“times two”)

1. Entry

Two points are given (which = a 0) if the horse enters the obstacle straight, acknowledges the obstacle and maintains forward motion in an alert and willing manner. A horse has up to 3 seconds to examine the obstacle before entry. After 3 seconds it will be counted as a refusal and lack of forward motion. A horse may stop for up to 3 seconds before entry without penalty but will not be eligible for a “Wow” or plus 1 point.

Plus ½ to 1 point – A horse walks up to the obstacle straight drops its head and acknowledges an obstacle in a bold confident willing manner and enters the obstacle without breaking gait.

2. Navigating

Five points are given (which = a 0) if the horse picks its way through in a willing, confident, bold and safe manner without stumbles, clicks, or breaks in gate.

Plus ½ – 1 – The horse navigates the obstacle in a safe confident bold willing manner which is pleasure to watch.

3. Exit

Two points are given (which = a 0) if the horse exits at the same speed that it entered and is straight and on course.

Plus ½ – 1 – The horse drops its head and acknowledges the exit and walks out in a collected manner.

Pluses in a timed event – willing, bold, confident and moving in a safe manner.

If 1, 2 and 3 are all smooth, safe and enjoyable to watch then the judge has the option of granting an extra point for entry, body of obstacle and exit which brings the total possible points to 12 which = a plus 3 (the very best). You can’t plus an obstacle more than 3 and you can’t have more than 9 deducted.

4. Horsemanship

Horsemanship will be on overall presentation of proper working equipment, correct use of hands, use of romal as outlined under AQHA’s rules, proper use of a riding crop or other tools, appropriate behavior between obstacles, appropriate behavior while waiting at a hold, legal equipment, talking only in an appropriate to a judge, proper attire and dress, foot wear, which is clean and neat for a trail ride, Proper equipment for English or Western, It must be recognized that horsemanship scoring may be somewhat subjective but proper use of equip is not so one is encouraged to know the rules for use of equip. The judges will voice what behavior they will find inappropriate before the show starts when the judges address the participants. If one shows good horsemanship as outlined above then the competitor will receive an automatic 5 points from the judge for the obstacles that they judged.

Each judge will give a horsemanship score of 0-5 for the obstacles they are as asked to judge. If there are 16 obstacles and four judges then the total possible horsemanship score for obstacles will 20 points. This will be added to the 70 base score.


It is recognized that each breed may have a different head set, speed of forward motion or gait. However, all competitors must move in a safe manner with a willing attitude.

A horse that receives a -9 for any obstacle for a complete refusal may NOT place higher than a horse with a score for each obstacle. All penalties apply to each obstacle.


Entry Deductions

-1/2 Point – tic, slight change of pace

-1 point – Horse does not enter an obstacle straight one horse length, willing and/or breaks forward motion with a pause longer than 3 seconds. (“stop” is a break of forward motion longer than 3 seconds on entry only), Does not enter the obstacle centered, hops in or out (a hop is two front feet walk in or out and then lightly jumps out), each refusal, 1 point for each delayed stride or gait when asked.

-1 ½ point – slight stumble

-2 point – Horse refuses twice (the horse backs up twice) and/or horse has two refusals and is not straight and/or will not enter obstacle:

– After three refusals the horse and rider must move on; this will result in a 0 for the obstacle (a minus 9 if using a starting base of 70).

– Jumps into an obstacle

Navigating Deductions

– ½ point- For each tic of an obstacle

-1 to 1 ½ point – Horse and rider lose forward motion, Horse steps on or moves an obstacle, Incorrect or break of gait, Skipping space or failing to step into required space, 1 step on dismount or ground-tie (except shifting to balance), Deviates from center of obstacle and or course pattern.

-2 to 2 ½ point – Horse stumbles, rushing, Incorrect or break of gait at walk or jog for 2 strides or more, Out of lead or break of gait at lope, Knockdown, Jumping out the obstacle exit, Steps out of obstacle with one foot, once the foot had entered obstacle, Missing one element of obstacle on line of travel with one foot, steps on dismount or ground-tie

-3 – Horse is not listening to the rider or judge’s discretion, letting go of the gate, scared horse during log pull.

-5 to 5 ½ point – All the above and or the rider’s and horse’s safety is at risk or steps out of the obstacle with two or more feet, or falls off, Dropping slicker or object, cumulative refusal, balk or evade, Letting go of gate, Stepping outside the confines of, Jumping off or out of obstacle with more than one foot, once the foot has entered obstacle, Blatant disobedience, 4 or more steps on dismount or ground-tie, Holding onto saddle, except to mount and dismount and for large step downs or large drops or large step ups or jump ups, excessive whipping or spurring, horse rears up and or bucking.

Exit Deductions

-1/2 – 1/16 to 1/8 of center from straight, tics

-1 to 1 ½ point – Hurries or rushes, not straight one horse length, not centered

-2 point – Not straight and all of the above and not safe, jumps out

DQ from Course

Fall of horse or rider

Abuse or aggressive schooling

Rider can’t receive a greater deduction than 9 for any given obstacle where the rider tries. An obstacle avoided will receive a deduction of 18

Horsemanship Deductions

Use of hand to instill fear or praise, Using excessive hand action to jerk on the bite, Excessive use of spurs, Excessive use of a riding crop, Over correction of the horse, Dirty tack, Excessive dirt on the horse, Use of 2 hands other than ridding with a snaffle or English, Use of romal other than outlined, Equipment failure, Entering or exiting obstacle from incorrect side or direction, Working obstacle the incorrect direction, Riding outside boundary marker of arena or Course hold area, Failure to ever show correct gait between obstacles as designated, Failure to follow the correct line of travel between obstacles, Head consistently carried too low or over flexed, Excessive emotions of anger or praise, talking in any way inappropriate to a judge,


In the open money classes an optimum time will be given for the class. If your time is over this you will have a 2 point deduct for every 5 seconds you are over the optimum time given. This will ensure that we maintain a good working forward motion such as seen in a working ranch horse and mountain trail horse where a job is to be done or a trail ride is to be ridden. To start in 2014

Changes – the rules have been a work in progress over the past four years and will be continually upgraded in ways to keep this judging very objective and understood by all. 

Feel Free to call me at 360 269-5699 to discuss any items. We look forward to your input.