Obstacles are a great way to add variety to your training program. Here are 5 simple ones you can create yourself.

When researching this article, I had grand illusions of building (from scratch) a few obstacles for my own horse, including a bridge similar to what you see in trail classes. It quickly became apparent that building these items was not going to be fun, and that I really should not be giving advice to people about construction projects, especially those involving power tools. So I decided to leave those obstacles to the professionals!

Instead, I discovered a few fun, simple, inexpensive and safe obstacles you can create to help keep your horse’s training fresh. I have used these with my own horses with great success.

People often underestimate the value of obstacles to enhance their groundwork and flatwork, but they’re a perfect way to add new challenges to your horse’s program and break up your usual routine.

1. Get rolling
The simplest obstacle is a simulated log.
You will need:
• Industrial cardboard rolls, available at big box hardware stores. These are several feet long, close to 2’ in diameter, and sturdy.
• Two clamps

These rolls are inexpensive, and light enough that you can place them almost anywhere you want. Use one to simulate a log or jump, and ask your horse to sidepass its length, etc. To create a larger jump, use the clamps to set up three rolls in a pyramid formation.

2. A safer take on tarps
Most people just throw a tarp on the ground and ride or lunge their horses over it. This can be unsafe. The horse can catch a foot (or shoe) under the edge of the tarp and drag it with him, or the wind can catch it and blow it under him.
You will need:
• Two regular length jump poles
• Tarp Roll opposite ends of the tarp around the poles.

This helps hold the tarp in place, and the raised edges cause the horse to lift his feet more as his goes across the tarp, preventing him from getting caught up on the edge.

3. Working the poles
If you want to get your hands a little dirtier, create a set of vertical poles.
You will need:
• Four five-gallon buckets
• Four pieces of PVC pipe (or similar item/material) about 3’ long, with caps
• Rocks
• Sand

Place a pole in each bucket and surround it with rocks to hold it in place. Fill in the remaining holes with sand. Cap off the tops of the poles so there are no sharp edges. Voila! You can now work on pole bending, PC games, and create various patterns to ride around.

For a more permanent solution, cement the poles into the buckets – but use smaller buckets so you aren’t lugging around a five-gallon buckets of hardened cement.

4. Reuse, reduce, recycle
This simple obstacle is fun for sensory training.
You will need:
• Four jump poles
• Old newspapers and/or fliers

Set up the jump poles so they form a square frame. Crumple the newspapers into balls and place them inside the frame. You now have the equine version of a ball pit! It’s good for groundwork and undersaddle work.

5. At the car wash
This one is my favorite. The “car wash” is something we can only drag out once in awhile, as it tends to interfere with other arena work if left set up. It’s a blast to play with on the ground and under saddle, and it’s a great desensitization tool.
You will need:
• PVC pipe at your preferred lengths (longer for the sides, shorter for the top, small rectangular formations for the feet) and applicable connectors.
• A tarp that you won’t mind cutting up
• Binder twine

Set up your “frame” – three sides of a rectangle, two long, one short. Use the connectors to hold the frame together. You may need to reinforce the joints with duct tape, depending on the strength and weight of the piping, but don’t go crazy with it if you want to be able to set up and take down the obstacle easily.

Create two “feet” – one for each side of the structure. You can create a small rectangular frame using your pipe and connectors, and slot each side into it to help stabilize your structure.

Cut your tarp into strips 4” to 5” in width, leaving about 1’ of tarp uncut at the top. Tie the tarp to the short side (top) of the frame.

Set up your structure, and stabilize it if necessary by tying one side of the frame to something solid – a roundpen panel, fence, arena support, etc.

Note: Make sure your obstacle is stable before introducing your horse to it – the last thing you want is for the entire thing to fall down should your horse get worried or caught up on a strip of tarp.

Making something new and challenging for your horse does not have to be time consuming or difficult. Working around these simple obstacles improves your timing and control while increasing your horse’s trust in you to help him navigate new situations. Have fun!


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