I think what creates hesitation for some riders are the obstacles in Working Equitation. There can be an underlying fear that our horses will lose their mind with some of those “experiences”.
I’ve found that the opposite is actually more true. Training at home with obstacles keeps your horse enthusiastic. The confidence that obstacle training can instill in horse and rider seems to make horses very “proud” of themselves.
Let’s use the bridge as an example. Most horses do not like that hollow sound underneath them. I like to start with just a small square of plywood on the ground. Take as much time as it takes to lead them over it, back up, halt, trot and finally ride over. Be patient so you don’t build tension in your horse. It’s also OK to use a dressage whip to guide the horse over. Focus on baby steps! What we want may not make sense to the horse. They will show you that it’s much simpler to go around! Once you accomplish crossing the plywood with confidence, you can move up to a homemade bridge. You can make a step-up training bridge with a piece of heavy-duty plywood attached to a sturdy wooden pallet, then add more for length. If you have a very large or stout horse, be sure that the pallet is strong enough to support their weight and avoid crossing pallet-based bridges at anything but a walk (the force of impact of each step increases exponentially with faster speeds).
First, you might want to train with no sides; remember the horse’s priority is to protect themselves. No sides on your bridge means they can escape if necessary. After using all the same comfort zone techniques you presented with just the plywood, now add sides (e.g., jump standard with rails, jump blocks, hay bales, etc.) to create your bridge-like pathway. If your horse is showing signs of true fear, go back one step and start with only one side of the bridge blocked at a time. If you act like it’s no big deal, your horse will too! Do not let the horse learn to rush through in fear, but it’s also not a good idea to allow your horse to learn to stop and “think”on the bridge. They need to cross confidently! No matter what, offer lots of praise, and always have fun!
Featured image-Madison Waller, Texas member; photo credit Kathy Weir.
Article by: Kristie Cotton, Colorado member