Obstacles on the trails gives both the rider and horse different skills to work on. Installing obstacles is also an opportunity for barn managers to get creative and think outside the box to create challenges that keep horse and rider thinking.
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Getting started could be as simple as adding a mailbox, a sturdy bridge crossing, a gate latch that can be worked from horseback or a rope drag with a log from the woods. Obstacles can become as advanced the person building them such as a cowboy curtain or elevated telephone poles that horses must step up and over, which teaches a horse to guide willingly without resistance and trust its rider.
Barbara Bouck of Altmar, New York, has gone all in by building an International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) course on her property. Her Salmon River Horse Park features 40 obstacles, was built following precise technical specifications, and it is used for competitions.
For example, she installed a grid system beneath her 18” water crossing. The geotextile is covered with gravel and sand so that horses can walk, trot or canter through without slipping or pulling shoes. She also has obstacles like a cake box, where horses step up and over three tiers.
“It’s bringing the recreational rider back into competition,” she said. “People can dust off their saddle and paddock boots and put on a cowboy hat and compete for a lot less than a sanctioned show.”
The most important thing to remember with any obstacle is to make sure it is safe for horse and rider. The obstacles should be checked regularly for damage and repaired or replaced if damage occurs.
“We have to repair broken lumber every week that horses break by stepping on the edges with shoes,” she said. “We have to haul in gravel and sand to make sure footing is safe. We are doing maintenance on weekly basis and have a team to maintain our obstacles.”
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