You’ve done the work, and you and your horse are now a confident, skilled team; able to confront new distractions with aplomb. So, what’s next? You could leave it at that and head to the next trail ride, or show with confidence, or you could really challenge yourself by setting up your own obstacle course. Here, we provide some ideas for obstacles that will test your horse’s training and trust in his rider. If you excel at this, the next step might be to organize an Extreme Trail Challenge or Horse Agility competition (see sidebars).
Rule number one for setting up challenges is that they should be safe if ridden well. A sheet of plywood placed over lumber to raise it must be thick enough to support the horse’s weight. Add more cross-pieces if you have any doubt. Tarps should be secured with jump poles or fence board to prevent them from lifting up in the wind and striking the horse. Other than abiding by sensible safety measures, you can let your imagination go. Below are some examples to inspire you.
- Poles are indispensible for building various obstacles. You can create maze and walk the horse through, forward and backward, starting with a basic L-shape.
- Whether placed by Mother Nature or constructed by shovel, puddles can be useful training tools for crossing larger bodies of water.
- An old mattress can make an interesting variation on a “bridge” and a good transition from a tarp. A sheet of plywood or wooden planks nailed to rails are more common and raising the surface will change the sound.
- A raised obstacle, such as a pedestal, must be strong enough to support your horse’s weight without tipping or breaking.
- Tarps are cheap and easy to use for beginner bombproofing.
- A flag game in which a flag (or umbrella) is taken from one location and placed in another, is a common mounted games competition.
- White objects (perhaps due to contrast) are often startling to horses, especially if moving. A feed or grocery bag hung from a tree or fencepost is an easy obstacle to make.
- Objects placed close together for the horse to walk between (straw bales, tires, mounting blocks, jump standards, barrels, etc.) should be approached first when comfortably wide before narrowing the distance.
EXTREME TRAIL CHALLENGE
This relatively new sport involves riding your horse through a course of obstacles with skill, energy and a good mental attitude. The horse should travel through and between obstacles with a clear desire to go forward without compromising his calm, relaxed attitude and way of going. He should approach each obstacle squarely with authority and correct form, with his own style, yet maintaining his willingness to be dictated to completely by the rider, with no apparent resistance.
This competition is designed to bring many elements of trail riding onto one course. You may be asked to perform such manoeuvres as backing through an ‘L’ side passing over a log, loping circles on the correct lead, jogging over a series of poles, navigating a bridge, opening and closing a gate, stepping through water or brush, jumping onto a platform and so on. Exhibitors may be asked to change gaits while they navigate the course.
Competitions are open to any horse, mule or pony and will usually require helmets for young riders. The rules are usually similar to AQHA trail competitions.
Another new sport that is making great strides overseas, but has yet to deeply penetrate the North American market is Horse Agility.
The International Organization now has a Canadian branch (www.thehorseagilityclub.com/canada.html) and the first competition was held this year in British Columbia.
Most competitions are unmounted, so it a very suitable sport for horses who are unable to be ridden for behavioural or physical reasons, young horses in preparation for ridden work, ponies or Minis who are too small or too young for the owner to ride or for people who can’t or don’t want to ride or just want to do something completely different with their horse. Just like dog agility, the horse completes a course of obstacles, sometimes on a lead rope and sometimes running free.