Barely Domesticated Obstacles!

First of all, let me be clear in that I am not a professional horse trainer.  I don’t even play one on TV.

June 2016


What I am is a serious amateur adult rider who is interested in almost everything having to do with my horses.  I enjoy many different disciplines which are based upon good horsemanship, kindness, and partnership, and love to travel with my partner in crime, a wild caught Mustang named Tim.

I want to talk about obstacles because this is something I personally enjoy, and am very interested in eventually participating in Working Equitation, or National Mountain Trail Championships, or Ranch Versatility, or whatever else looks like fun.  Tim, on the other hand, not so much.  I am looking forward to another fun weekend in the series of Obstacle Challenge Weekend with Cherie Cross on July 8-9, 2016.  As for Tim, read above.


Thinking in advance of the weekend, I’m feeling unfair to ask him to participate in something he’s unsure of.  Sort of torturous for him, and nothing like the partnership I work hard to nurture.  Our experience with obstacles thus far has led me to come conclusions that are pretty much common sense, keeping in mind my Tim is a wild caught Mustang;  natural looking obstacles such as logs and ditches, even with dead animal pelts draped around (sucks to be you!) are no problem.  Human made weird things are just not ok.  At all.

I’ve learned after working with Mustangs over the last few years, they will tolerate A LOT.  That doesn’t mean they accept whatever you’re doing, they are just tolerating it to get through their day.  My personal goal is not to just desensitize Tim to unfamiliar things, but to have him accept the fact I will keep him safe, he can rely on me, and we can complete any obstacle with grace and softness.  My plan is to start everything on the ground, because whatever I can accomplish on the ground will transfer to the saddle, and the ground is a lot safer at this point!  If at any point I’ve rushed him, we’ll take a step back and start again on the ground. This may take many sessions, so I’m just going to summarize my plan.


Tarp: The most obvious, and most demonic of them all.  Why why why with the tarp???  My strategy with the tarp is to lay it on the ground and walk him past it.  It’s just there, but I don’t really care at all.  Just walk past and keep going la dee da.  My next goal would be to have Tim put his nose over the tarp.  Just that much, his nose.  Pat pat pat, keep walking, thank you very much.  Then a single foot.  That’s all I want, one foot.  Then two feet, then three, then all four.  Once I can have him walk across the tarp, stand on it, and walk off quietly and calmly, I can try under saddle.  Start slow, stay slow, stay on.


If I only had a pool….  noodles:  Again with the crazy?  Tim has experienced noodles, and has tolerated it enough to scootch past.  Nothing graceful, soft, or smooth about that. ‘m going to just have the noodles out and around.  On the ground, on the fence, all over.  He can sniff it, walk over it, move it around, whatever.  That’s all I want for right now.  Just get used to those weird things being around.


Bunting: Interestingly enough, this little party decoration is very good for obstacle work.  It moves and flaps and is colorful and crinkly.  Very good for desensitization.  Again, I’m going to start on the ground, and again I’m going to work both directions.  I have 2 tall traffic cones which I will use to tie the bunting across.  Hopefully there will be a small breeze so the bunting will flap a little bit.  I’ll gradually increase the pressure by first walking him past it, then walk to it and stop, then opening it like a gate and having him walk through.  Once he can tolerate me opening it like a gate, walking through, closing it behind him, I’ll try under saddle.




Cowboy Curtain: this obstacle is supposed to represent vines you might find out on the trail. Lots of different material is used, rope, tarp, noodles.  I don’t have a structure I can use for this, other than the entrance to Tim’s pen.  Perfect!  The plan is to create the curtain, and bring a few strands out at a time.  Have him walk through 4 strands first.  Then bring out another 2, then another 2, until you have a curtain and he is willing to walk through it.  Of course, then I’ll have to work on building a real structure with a curtain, but that’s for the next level.


Slicker: Seems like this would be easy, but it’s crinkly and plastic-y, and never to be trusted.  Again, I’ll start on the ground, and I’ll repeat every exercise from both directions.  The slicker will be draped over the arena wall.  I’ll walk him past it, like no big dealeo, nothing to see here….  Then, once he’s ok with the slicker, I can pick it up, put it down, and walk on.  Once he’s ok with that, I can pick it up, drape it over his back or neck, put it back.  Finally, I’d like to be able to pick it up, place it on his back, walk 20 feet, and put it back on the wall.   If all goes well, I could repeat the process under saddle, then start leaving the slicker in unexpected places, drape it over the hitching post, round pen wall, etc.


Drag:  I have a suspicion I could get this done under saddle, but would rather not rush it.  I’m going to use a rope tied to a piece of wood and walk alongside Tim, both sides, and drag the wood well behind us.  when he can tolerate that much, I will attempt to make circles, U shaped turns, back up with it, etc.  Once if see he is tolerating all of this on the ground, I will try it under saddle.


There is so much more to be done with obstacles; bridges, teeter totters, water bottles, water features, pedestals, etc.  The key for me is to start slow, stay patient, reward the smallest try, and stay safe!

Ride on!