Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trail Obstacles

Westy wrote and asked: "I really like the videos on getting your horse to accept strange objects. I will be riding soon in an American Competitive Trail Horse Ride and would like some ideas on what I need to get my horse used to."

Westy, thanks for your question. If I were you I would go to the ACTHA site and download the rules and list of obstacles. This will give you an idea on what you will see. I would not limit my training to these obstacles. I think the point in desensitizing horses to strange (and scary to them) objects to getting then to think through problems as opposed to reacting out of instinct and fleeing. Horses are naturally curious animals,...that is why so many horses get bitten on the nose by snakes, you can use that portion of their instinct to make them more comfortable with thinking first.

However, just because your horse has no problem going over an obstacle, say a tarp, at your place does not mean that any tarp, at any place will be just as easy. This may be frustrating to you, but bear with it. It just appears different to the horse. Being at a strange place, away from his herd can also bring in anxiety.

The vibes you give off can also make a difference. If you are nervous about approaching an object, your horse will sense that as well. You are in effect telling him to be wary. Another mistake is pushing your horse too fast on an obstacle. Let him figure it out. That 20 seconds or so, or even 5 minutes, that you allow him to figure it out will go along way towards establish trust in you and teaching him to think.  Cowboy curtain obstacle at left. 

I think another mistake may be the tendency to drive your horse from one obstacle or problem directly to another rather than give him time to absorb that lesson and calm down before you challenge him again. That way you can approach each and every obstacle as a new challenge as opposed to running them all together and over loading the horse. 360 degree pole travel, pin wheel, obstacle at right.

We host riders at our place to go over obstacles and expose their horses to different things, again not primarily to get ready for those exact obstacles, but to expose their horses to different things, teaching them that they can think through a problem. Wooden bridge obstacle at left.

No matter if you are preparing for an ACTHA ride, or have a horse for informal riding, exposing your horse to obstacles will make it a safer horse if you do it right. Western or even English show horses and hunter-jumper horses alike can benefit from trail riding as well. Single log obstacle at right.


  1. Love this advice. You cannot hide your fear or apprehension from your horse. Deep breaths and a calm attitude can help you both in any situation!

  2. Good advice! My horse needs more de-sensitizing. Plastic bags are her worst 'monster'. For now we will just use a flag, then go on to the plastic 'horse-eating monster'. ;) She isn't comfortable with the tarp either. So many things and ideas, thank you!

  3. Try giving your horse his apples & carrots FROM a plastic bag. My horse loves them now but, he does want to look in all of them. “Thinks something good might be in there.”