By Mark and Lee Bolender
Did you know that AQHA did research and found that only 3% of their members show their horses? Even more surprising, they found that recreational trail riders make three times more annual income than those who show horses. The International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) was created to give those recreational trail riders a way to compete and continue riding year-round. Both indoor and outdoor courses are designed in such a way that they are safe rain or shine. With my horse, Checkers, becoming a Breyer model, this sport is only going to continue to gain in popularity. If you’ve been looking to add a sport to your barn to bring in revenue, IMTCA should be at the top of your list!
Your first question might be, how much space is needed? I only have a small arena or an acre or two of extra space, that can’t be enough to build a full course!
The good news is, we’ve built IMTCA approved courses in all sizes of arenas and outdoor spaces. If you can fit six obstacles, you can have a course. There is a barn near us that does IMTCA mountain trail in their indoor arena that is around 60×120. They can canter and do all the obstacles just fine. The Bolender Horse Park outdoor course is around 2 acres, and most of the ones I have done around the country (and all over the world) are about an acre, acre and a half, so you don’t need a huge amount of space to have a beautiful outdoor set up either.
Can I build my own obstacles or do they need to be specific ones?
To keep competitions and judging similar for regional and world high points, obstacles need to be IMTCA approved obstacles. The best thing to do is become an IMTCA member and get access to our plans so you can build them yourself. I can also take your order, build them, and ship them to you. I’ve shipped obstacles all over the United States. These plans are for tried, tested and truly safe obstacles. A friend of ours was just at a trail clinic in Idaho and she said the boards on the bridge were giving out as they walked across it. Our plans are made to withstand many horses crossing over them many times a day without danger of breaking.
Can I add obstacles not on the IMTCA list?
Of course! IMTCA uses only natural trail obstacles, but you are welcome to come up with your own and please share it with us if you do, we always like hearing about new ideas. This year alone we added three new obstacles to the IMTCA list based on ideas. For competitions, you will need to use the approved obstacles though.
What is the approximate cost?
Most outdoor trail courses are between $125,000 and $280,000, depending on size, fluctuating cost of materials, etc. To build a park like Bolender Horse Park today would be around $225,000.
Of course, buying individual obstacles to set up in an arena is a much more cost-effective way to get started. The good thing about the outdoor courses, however, is that they keep even the most advanced rider challenged, so they keep coming back. That’s a bit harder to do with a moveable arena course. The individual IMTCA planned obstacles are a few thousand each, but they are made to be safe for horses and riders and to last for many years.
We are here to help as much or as little as you need to get your course open. If you want us to come and design your course, which I have done in several countries, we charge a $15,000 fee for six days of work. By the end of the sixth day, your obstacles are made and your course set up, provided you had the lumber and equipment waiting and ready to go.
How do I generate income?
With any business, marketing will make or break you in mountain trail. Social media is your best friend. As an IMTCA member park, you will get listed on our website and get support from Lee Bolender when it comes to how to get the word out. Mountain trail courses are money trees, but they still require you to get on a ladder, prune the branches, pick the fruit, etc. But the courses that do the work see between a 20-30 percent return on investment. A finished course can have clinics, competitions, lessons and play days. Our last play day of August 2020 had 47 horses at it, each paying $35 for all day use. Lee and I travel to clinics at all the IMTCA Parks, so that is an immediate revenue stream at your fingertips as well.
At a time when many shows are seeing dwindling numbers, we are seeing more and more. This year already 2,000 horses have visited Bolender Horse Park, up from 1,600 last year. IMTCA mountain trail is a fun sport that builds confidence in horse and rider, while strengthening their partnership. We get show people who want to give their horse a break from the ring and many recreational riders who are excited about a competition that matches their passion for real trails in a low-key “show” environment.