This year I’ve been making it a point to make myself an obstacle course that I can use year-round when riding is not an option. In the wintertime the horses get bored. Zeno Bay has a circulatory system issue and easily stocks up without movement. The other two get excited to be afraid of things just to occupy themselves. By making an obstacle course I can find a way to engage them without riding them on dangerous ground.
So far I feel like I’m doing fairly well putting something together.
THE TRAIL BRIDGE
Earlier in the year I built a trail bridge, it was surprisingly easy. The bridge measures 8feet long and 22″ wide. I find that it’s narrow enough to challenge the horses but wide enough for beginners.
Blade has been over bridges so getting him to cross it wasn’t much of a challenge.
I don’t know whether or not VaiVia or Zeno Bay have ever seen a bridge. It took many tries and some patience but they both crossed the bridge on the second day of training. Lots of treats and lots of praise were given.
To introduce them I gauged their level of comfort being near the bridge. I also put treats on various spots of the bridge and encouraged them to approach. As they became more comfortable I asked for more. A hoof. Two hooves. Back hooves. All four hooves. A few steps. A few more steps. Then finally cross the bridge without stepping off. Whenever they offered more than they had previously I’d reward them with praise, treats, and rest. I’d give them a few moments to get comfortable and relax, graze a bit, then we’d return to the bridge. I spent about 20 minutes with each one per session. They both rose to the challenge and I’m so proud of them.
I also created beautiful ground poles out of scrap landscape timbers. These poles are invaluable and have many uses. They can be used to guide a path. Side-pass over. Step over. They assist with setting a pace and teaching rhythm when riding under saddle.
In terms of the obstacle course, I can use them to back the horses up. Most recently I set them in random configurations and allowed VaiVia to find his way through. I find this helpful in engaging him to be aware of his own foot placement. I never pushed him through I simply allowed him to walk through it and figure it out himself.
This is Blade’s favorite (not). The tarp has always been hit or miss with Blade. Some days it never phased him and others it was the worst thing. In general, he’s gotten much better about it but it took us a while to actually ride over it.
To introduce the tarp I put the horses on a long lead rope or lunge line. I allowed them to check it out for themselves. We then walked with me dragged the tarp and the horse “chasing it” on a long line. I gave them as much slack as they needed to feel comfortable. Over time they realized they were chasing the tarp and I could draw them closer.
I say I did that but it was really just Blade. Zeno Bay and Vai Via were completely unphased by the tarp. So unphased that they walked all over it and let me rub them all over with it. They walked around with a tarp over their whole body. They had no fear.
Somehow over the past few years I have acquired an extra yoga ball. This allowed me to use the old one for the course. Again. I allowed the horses to investigate for themselves. When they approached they were rewarded. Zeno caught on the quickest with this obstacle and nudge the ball with his head so he could eat the grass underneath. We walked up to it again…nudge. Graze. Approach. Nudge. Graze.
VaiVia wasn’t as playful but he was completely unphased by it. In fact he stood on the tarp bunched up around his legs with the yoga ball under him and all he cared about was grazing. When he stepped he casually moved the ball out of his way.
I touched the horses with the ball, rolled it around them. Bounced it on the ground. Rolled it under them. Blade took a minute but all three horses realized that mom’s just playing around and being weird there’s no danger.
Summer time brings cheap summer toys! I picked up a few rattling hula hoops. Again VaiVia continues to astonish me. He barely paid any attention to them and stepped through them, allows me to rub him with them. I rattled them around him. UNPHASED! He even walked around with the hoop around his neck, still unphased.
Blade, on the other hand, has several more sessions ahead of him. He has come far and does allow it do be around his body and head but he needs to be reminded that it’s harmless first. My goal is for him to see it but carry on without stress or trace of worry…like VaiVia!
VaiVia has proven himself to be the most fearless (yet the most anxious under saddle). He has never shown sign of worry while working with new objects. So far I’ve only done the next phase with him because he was ready.
More summer toys…pool noodles. They have many purposes. At their most basic I have acquainted the horses to them by holding them. I rubbed them all over with the noodles and showed them they are safe.
In the obstacle course I can make a “forest” they have to walk through. The noodles can hang down, they can be mounted sideways to jump standards, or they can stand up on end on some base. For the first obstacle I simply hung the pool noodles to see how they would be perceived. As always I allowed VaiVia to check them out. He didn’t have fear but I needed to walk through them first to show him it’s alright. After a few tries I was able to send him through the noodles on his own.
THE ACCIDENTAL FLAG
While hacking around on Zeno Bay one day I noticed the flag pole had collapsed again. For whatever reason, the pole will not stay at its extended height. Instead of dismounting I rode Zeno over to it to see how he felt around the flag.
He didn’t care one bit.
I proceeded to “fix” the flag but instead the top of the flag pole came out in my hands. Zeno was ever so wonderful. He didn’t lose his marbles but signaled to me that he wasn’t sure about it (head raised, took a few steps to the side).
I returned his message by reminding him that he’s a good boy and that it’s all ok. This became an unplanned opportunity to train/desensitize. I rubbed his neck and he settled down. Holding the flag and carefully watching for his reaction I slowly touched him with it and vocally reassured him. He quickly became more interested in grass than the flag. I asked him to walk and we walked around on a loose rein while I allowed the flag to fly. I held it in his line of sight and gradually moved it to the other side. Within a few minutes, it didn’t matter where I held it.
In only 5-10 minutes we began to trot and canter around the yard flying our flag, my neighbors driving by must have thought I was nuts.
I still have many more ideas I’d like to work on for my obstacle course but I’m happy with how it is coming along. Some other ideas I have…
- Some type of water to step in and out of
- Flag carry (that’s not our lawn’s American Flag)
- Raised box or tractor tire
- Narrow Maze (can be made with ground poles)
- A carousel that the horse pushes with his chest
Of course time is our worst enemy and most of my summertime is spent in the saddle so we haven’t had many groundwork sessions (One a month?). We are on our way to having a hopefully productive winter, at least! Getting them out of the paddock and using their brains during the winter is just what they need.
I am still in complete awe of Vai Via. He has proven himself to be so brave. On the ground he is calm, quiet, and relaxed. Carrying a rider he loses his confidence. It seems that perhaps he’s had a bad experience with riders in the past. My focus has recently switched to helping him find peace with a rider and to show him that riding can be enjoyable for him too.
I want to know your ideas!
If you can think of some fun easy to make obstacles comment below!