Master Riding Logs – Illustrated Horse

Will your horse ride easily and with interest on the logs? In popular ranch riding courses, log obstacles are part of every pattern. Most often, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) patterns call for walking or trotting on logs. A few models also require jumps or sideways over wider and taller logs than found in traditional trail classes.

Shift your shoulders forward as you cross the log obstacle, only sitting down once you’ve gone all the way. Photo by Heidi Nyland Melocco

Rolling over logs might seem like a common obstacle, but ranch riding judges don’t want to see you take a long time to cross. They want to see horses that come forward with interest and without breaking the pace.

To master this competition obstacle, you have to know how to regulate your horse’s stride and use precise body cues that make it move forward without rushing. Your horse also needs to be precise – only one hoof can land between each log.

Here, champion trainer Julian Nemmers coaches his son, Justin, as he practices his pole crossing protocol. The Nemmers family ranch is in Longmont, Colorado, where amateur, non-professional and young clients of Julian and Nancy Nemmers have received world championship titles and national level honors.

Julian Nemmers shares his training tips to help you walk and trot on logs in the show ring after training at home.

“On ranching, you have to ride aggressively and forward,” says Nemmers. “If you’re complacent, you won’t get a good score. You must be in a hurry to get to your next transition or obstacle, but your horse cannot look in a hurry. To find that balance, you have a lot of practice to do at home before the show.

The set up

Logs for ranch riding classes are wider than poles in trail riding classes. Logs are often natural, cut trees or natural colored round fence posts. The precise distance between the logs is not mandatory and riders may not know what spacing to expect until they approach the obstacle in the show ring.

Logs are placed 26 to 30 inches apart if horses must cross. For trot-overs, the posts can be spaced 36 to 42 inches apart.

Duty on Log Riding

Nemmers suggests placing logs or posts around your riding area and changing their location and distance daily. Your horse must learn that the obstacle will be different.

Small tree trunks or round fence posts work well. You can also change the height of your logs by stacking 6 inch diameter fence posts. With two on the bottom and one resting on top, your horse will need to step higher than usual.

roll on logs
Ask your horse to step forward by raising his hand and moving it towards his ears. Photo by Heidi Nyland Melocco

When it’s time to mount, approach the logs with your horse pointed in the middle. Since logs are often shorter than standard ground posts, your horse could run around and miss the obstacle if it starts at an angle.

Stop your horse and wait for him to look eagerly at the logs. In a show, you won’t stop until you’ve rolled over the logs, as that would be considered a break.

To practice, however, Nemmers says he often stops his horses to encourage their curiosity and keep them from rushing. Judges like to see ranch horses with forward facing ears, looking interested and alert.

Have your horse step forward by raising your reining hand and moving it slightly forward (about 5 inches). Keep your lower leg in its usual riding position, but rise up and move your shoulders forward. Watch the slots between the logs to help your horse move in the direction you want to go. You can hold the saddle horn when leaning forward.

Hold this position consistently until you’ve gone through all the logs. Only when your horse’s last foot is out of the obstacle should you lean back and sit down.

roll on logs
In the show paddock, make sure your horse looks alert, forward and interested. Photo by Heidi Nyland Melocco

Trot with cadence on the logs

Trotting through the poles means learning to adjust your horse’s stride to accommodate the distance between the logs.

“When trotting, look past the obstacle and not down at the logs,” says Nemmers. “It will help the horse move forward. I may feel like I need to speed up to cross, or I may feel like we’re going too fast, and I need to loosen up and slow my horse down a bit. Be sure to allow your horse to look forward so he can see the oncoming obstacle. Don’t pick up so much that your horse can’t see.

If you feel you need to move faster, move your reins towards your horse’s head. Also increase your leg pressure. If you need to slow down, raise your hand slightly. Even a half-inch movement should slow your horse’s speed. Repeat the obstacle often and let your horse trot for several strides before rolling over the logs.

“With repetition, you will learn to control your horse’s gait,” says Nemmers. “The more you go through different setups and get out into a pasture, that will be a big advantage as well. Work where it is natural.

Showing success on logs

When it’s show time, make sure your horse looks alert, advanced, and interested in every obstacle. Your horse shouldn’t have a pattern memorized, but he should be ready to listen where you want to go.

When it comes to riding over logs, the judge wants to see a horse that knows where its feet are going and moves easily. Although there is no penalty for ticking off a log, it is up to the judge to score the entire maneuver as a plus 0.5, 1 or 1.5 or deduct on the same scale.

Make sure you don’t break the gait and cross the log obstacle knowing your horse’s stride and cadence. If you’ve been working on this at home, showing will be a natural step.

Special thanks to Justin Nemmers on Boxo Heavens Firefly. With Justin riding, the mare won bronze at the 2020 AQHA World Show and was NSBA World Champion at AQHA World for ranch riding, both in the amateur divisions.

This article about driving over logs on a ranch originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of illustrated horse magazine. Click here to subscribe !

Clyde P. Johnson