When most people think of Arabian horses, a course of obstacles being carefully and athletically navigated isn’t the first image that springs to mind, yet our breed is intelligent, agile, and tends to love the challenge that an obstacle course creates. In addition to training style obstacles and extreme trail competitions, Trail classes are becoming increasingly popular at shows. During a Trail class, a horse and rider navigates a series of obstacles in a predetermined pattern and is scored on each element they complete. The breed’s success in these disciplines demonstrate that for our Arabian and Half-Arabian horses, obstacles are no problem.
Obstacles can range from elaborately made to economically upcycled items from around the farm. Curtains of ribbon or plastic, hardwood pallets safely repurposed into bridges or steps, ground poles in a variety of formations, tarps and umbrellas - they can all be employed to create a new challenge and a fun change of pace for you and your horse. Working through an obstacle course and introducing your horse to new objects can have a wide range of benefits for both of you.
Andres Castano, trainer at Arabian Acres, LLC, is one horseman who incorporates obstacles in his program. “At Arabian Acres, we believe that these horses should embody not some but all of the characteristics the versatile Arabian is known for,” the website explains. “We’ve titled such an ambition ‘The Complete Arabian Horse,’ and it is what we strive for in every aspect of our program. From the moment a foal is born at Arabian Acres, he/she is treated royally and with utmost respect. However, in return, the foal should echo that respect to all humans–not just trainers. We employ a blend of techniques based on natural horsemanship to instill polite behavior in all resident horses in training, regardless of age and gender.”
“Obstacles are great for improving your horse’s coordination and foot control while developing the thinking side of his brain,” Andres explains. “They also help riders improve both timing and feel in their cues.”
Setting aside time and creating a challenge in a controlled environment allows you to provide your horse with a learning experience. By confronting something that could potentially be scary to your equine partner then working to overcome that fear in small and systematic steps, you lay a groundwork of trust for the next time you encounter a challenge together on the trail or at the show. Tackling obstacles together also provides a break from your regular routine, be it schooling, jumping or trail riding. Sometimes a change really can do both you and your horse good and allows you to return to your regular training program with a better attitude and increased focus.
Physically, working over obstacles offers multiple benefits. Navigating a series of poles requires increased awareness of where each of the horse’s legs are placed from both parties, as well as greater balance from both horse and rider. Riding unusual movements such as zigzags, weaving, or keyholes employs different groups of muscles that may not usually be activated in regular work, increasing athleticism and requiring you both to stay engaged at all times.
One of the biggest benefits to training with obstacles is helping the rider to develop the much-coveted ‘feel’. Giving complex cues, reading your horse’s response, adjusting your body and aids in reaction to understanding the positioning and movement of the horse’s body all help in navigating a course of obstacles. Developing this feel and sense of timing, as well as an understanding of your horse’s subtle cues and behavior indicators, is a skill you can take back to the show ring or trail to achieve a better partnership and more polished overall look.
Whether you are looking for new ideas to keep your young horse busy before his saddle training begins, or for a new way to work with your riding horse, obstacles are a great option.
For more information on Arabian Trail classes and help getting started, visit the In the ring with Arabian Trail and Ranch horses Facebook group. For easy make-at-home obstacle ideas, get inspired with a quick search on Pinterest.
To learn more about Andres and his training program at Arabian Acres, visit his website or Facebook page.
Out on the trail or in the practice or show pen, drop a picture in the comments of you and your favorite Arabian horse navigating an obstacle. We’d love to see them.