Tim Kimura started drawing trail patterns for his dad’s local saddle club horse shows in Reedley, California, as a teenager in 1982. Little did he know at the time that he would become known fondly to many as "Tim The Trail Man" and help transform trail into one of the most popular classes at the horse show.
Tim’s love for horses and horse shows didn’t start in the trail pen. For most of his youth, he competed in Working Cowhorse and Reining classes, getting help from legendary California trainer, Bobby Ingersoll. Tim found himself sketching trail patterns in his free time, and he soon found a passion and talent for putting his thoughts on paper. Friend (and now AQHA judge), Michael Domianos, gave him some pointers and also helped him get a few paying jobs designing patterns at AQHA shows. “Those were the days,” Tim says, fondly. “I would design a trail pattern for the morning and I’d show in the reining in the afternoon. The trail patterns would pay for my showing. It was a good gig,” Tim admits.
From there, Tim started assisting a local horse trainer. “Helping Gary VanHoosen’s youth girls with trail is where I started learning how to teach. That’s where I learned to set courses. That’s really where it started.”
Tim was busy drawing trail patterns for California horse shows in 1994, when friend Karen Stone-Graham suggested that Larry Myerscough, an AQHA official, take a look at his patterns. “The next thing I knew, AQHA asked me to design the trail patterns for the AQHA World Show in 1995, and in 1996 I added the AQHA Youth World.”
The west coast exhibitors dominated those early World Show trail courses. “Back then, the California people had more exposure to my type of pattern, so that when they came to the big shows and I was doing the patterns, there was no stress,” Tim says in his native California style.
By the late 90’s, Tim was designing courses all over the country and had even branched out to other breeds including Arabians, Paints, Appaloosas and Palominos. Additionally, the demand for him to teach at clinics was increasing and he travelled far and wide to share his knowledge. His clinics are still very popular and often a tough ticket to get.
“We have Tim do clinics at our horse shows and he’s the best,” says horse show manager, Mark Harrell. “The people love them and they love his patterns. They are very thought out, they’re not tricky and they ride great,” Harrell adds.
Michael Colvin, All-Around trainer and AQHA judge, enjoys both showing and judging Tim’s patters. “Tim thinks about giving you a clear view of all that is happening and it's done in a very organized way. The exhibitors have the chance to really show their horses, therefore giving a judge much more to actually judge and not just rely on mistakes to get the placings of the class.”
“I get satisfaction when the judges tell me that my patterns are easy to judge and the contestants tell me it rides well and it is challenging,” Tim says. “My goal is to challenge the top third of the riders, to educate the middle third, and not to scare the remaining third of the riders.”
Tim’s grueling schedule has him on the road an average of 250 days a year giving clinics, assisting trainers with their clients, and working at some of the shows where his patterns are used. When he’s not on the road, he’s busy drawing patterns for upcoming shows. Tim’s headline shows in 2008 include all of AQHA’s World Championship shows (Youth, Select, Amateur and Open) as well as the APHA World Show and the European Championships. On the average, it takes him three days to draw a World Show level pattern. “The big patterns are my works of art,” Tim says, fondly.
Like a true artist, Tim is tormented by imperfection. “I do not have a favorite pattern and I have yet to see a perfect run. I guess that’s what keeps me going,” he admits. And it is this concept of perfection which Tim believes is one of the reasons that Trail is so popular. “Trail can be very addicting and I never let them be perfect. When they think they know it all, I throw another loop and it keeps them coming back.”
Michael Colvin won the Senior Trail 2006 AQHA World Show on Double T Blue Chip scoring a 223.5, a full four points higher than the Reserve World Champion horse. Michael admits that “the (2006) finals was one of the most difficult courses I have ridden to date. After the gate, there really wasn't a moment to catch your breath. It was a lot of guiding over high poles, lots of angles at the trot and lope and one transition after the other without even a second to think about what happpened. Of course, winning was an amazing experience and one that I will remember for a long time to come, I am sure!”
Today, Tim’s biggest challenge when designing courses is the clock where regular patterns must ride under three minutes in length and his finals patterns under four minutes. “Time is the biggest nemesis,” he says. “The classes are bigger and we have so many rounds per day and they have to be fast. It’s almost become speed trail and that makes me sad, but I know I have to keep them moving or we’ll be there all night,” Tim laments.
Colvin is quick to credit Tim with the helping to transform trail into one of the most popular classes at the horse show. “Tim has made an amazing impact on the trail in our industry, as it is obvious by the MANY hours of trail at all of the major shows and by the number of entries at the world shows. Not only that, but his persona is so much bigger than life, that he draws and keeps the interest in trail at an amazing high.”
Over twenty years has passed since Tim designed his first AQHA World Show pattern. Today he is able to sit back and reflect on the past, as well as wonder about the future of the class that he has helped transform into what it is today. He has no protégé, and although he would like to pass the torch, he knows his job is not yet done.
“Everyone wonders why I have never married and have no kids," Tim questions. "I tell them the trail industry is my child and I have to make sure this child still grows. I am going to plant seeds with as many people as I can. It’s a good event, a good industry and I love to educate people. I just like to come in and make people happy.”