Monday 7 May 2018


The arena was being used for an obstacle clinic on Sunday. When I went out on Saturday evening I was hoping that the obstacles had been brought over from the neighbours and set up ahead of the Sunday event. They were! So I tortured played with the ponies and some of the elements.

Phantom was, as I expected, a Rock Star.

I've done some variations of this kind of stuff with her in the past. I've put a tarp over tall standards and had her push through it to walk under it. I've tied pool noodles to standards and led and ridden her through them. She learned to stand with her front feet on the mounting block (which she loves doing). And she also enjoys kicking a ball around.

I started her off with what I figured would be the easiest - the car wash. This was a frame that had strips of a tarp and shower curtain hanging down. The horse has to push through the strips as they pass under the frame.

I was so confident in how easy she would find this one that I just threw the lead shank over her neck and walked through to wait for her on the other side. About 20 seconds later, she popped through and was rewarded with a click and a treat.

This was, however, the only time that she came through without me leading her. She wasn't scared to do it again - she just figured out that she could go around it and meet me on the other side. She had quite a pleased look on her face when she presented herself for her treat. Typical female - work smarter, not harder.

Next, we walked across the not-at-all scary tarp to the podium. And she walked right up and put her front feet on it, again with the lead hanging over her neck. I've never had a proper podium to use for this, just a narrow mounting block, so she was quite happy to be able to take a proper step to put herself up there.
This was the 3rd or 4th time. She was hoping for treats before stepping up.

From there we moved to the pool noodles attached to standards to walk through (lead still over her neck). They took a few extra seconds to get through, mostly because she was making sure the noodles weren't edible. The target that I use for target/clicker training is part of a blue pool noodle jammed onto a stick, so I found it interesting that she made sure she touched the blue pool noodles on the standards with her nose.

There were two elements that I had never done any work with before. The first one - tires. I'm not really sure what you are supposed to do with them - is the horse supposed to stick their feet in a tire? Or is the point to just pick their way through them, and if they step in tires not get worried?

I kind of went with that idea. I did present her to the largest tire, which she just tried to stand on. And then I led her through the middle. She put her foot in a tire, squeaked through the narrow path when she could, and at one point had a tire attached around a hind leg. She wasn't worried at all.

The last new element was the teeter-totter. Phantom hopped up on the bridge, followed me to the half-way mark, put her front foot down just past that point and the bridge dropped. She took half a step back with that front foot, dropped her head, and kept walking. She made a bigger deal about stepping off the end of the bridge than she did about it dropping under her weight. By the fifth time that we went across it I had the lead shank draped over her neck again.
Phone propped on a barrel footage of rock star pony's 4th time over the teeter-totter.

The thing that worried her out of everything we did? A hula-hoop.

I popped the hoop over her head - her head went up and she gave me the unconvinced eye. I lay it over her back, and hooked it over her butt. She went around in circles certain that it was going to do something to her. When she stopped I removed the hoop. This really surprised me that she was so concerned about the hoop, but I was kind of glad I had something to work on.

Then there was Cisco.

To be fair, I haven't done as much prep ground work with him as I have with Phantom. Mostly time-related - I've been with Phantom for 8 years, and Cisco really only 1.

He started off quite well. He figured out the car wash without any stress. The tarp on the ground is something I have done with him, so no issue there. I actually did the pool noodle standards with him when he was something like 2, and apparently he remembered, as he walked right through.
I see you there.

I've never done the podium with him. I gave him a chance to see if he would figure it out by himself -  he didn't. He would just stand in front of it with he toes against it, but wouldn't take a step onto it. So I did just what I did when I first started Phantom off with it - I picked up a front foot, placed it on the podium, then asked him to take another step forward.

We did it this way a couple of times, then I re-presented him to the podium and he marched right on. OMG, my horse is a genius. This stuff is going to be so easy.

Yeah, no. That was the only time he did that. We had to go back to me picking up a foot and placing it on the podium. I did progress to looping the end of the lead shank around his fetlock and lifting it that way, which is another step I did with Phantom in the beginning. No worries though, it took Phantom a few sessions before she was ready to step up by herself.
Crappy pictures of the boy horse since he was being a twit.

And then the teeter-totter.

It actually went quite well. In the beginning, at least.

He stepped up onto it pretty easily. The first time it dropped he flew off the side. It was also the first time I had been on it and it surprised me too (I did Cisco before I did Phantom). So I understood his shock. But we came around again and he was quite good about going straight across. I wasn't sure if the best option would be to stop when it tipped before continuing or to just plan to continue walking. I tried the first option a couple of times and found that when it tipped he would take a step back and it would tip back to the first position. So I tried to just keep him coming forward without a definite halt.

We went over it 7 or 8 times before I gave him a break and went back to something easier. I wouldn't say that he was comfortable with the teeter-totter, but he wasn't remotely losing his brain about it either.

The break gave him time to use said brain and come to the decision that he'd really rather not do the teeter-totter again. He didn't tell me this until we reapproached it after doing the car wash a few times.

He put his front feet on the bridge and stopped. And got the donkey look on his face. The nope nope nope look. 

I should have figured it was all going too easily.
I bet the moose I saw on the way home would have gone on the teeter-totter.
We'd get front feet on, then pull back. Then crane his head to the side to look out the door, and swing the butt around to the side of the bridge. And the super annoying nose flipping thing he does, where he drops his nose, puts it under the lead shank (where it's under his jaw), kinda circles it so that he hooks the lead around his nose and flips it up. I hate this.

I picked up a dressage whip to help with the lack of straight and forward. At this point I just wanted to get him to stand with all 4 feet on the bridge and then back him off. He would lead happily across the short side, but to walk towards the edge of the surprise cliff was too much to ask.

It took 15-20 minutes to get him to stand mostly still on the low side of the bridge. I got him there a couple of times (I actually did get him across the whole thing again once) but he took himself off pretty quickly. So once he stood for a couple of seconds I called that a win for me and ended the session.

I was able to put a fair amount of pressure on him to get him back on the bridge. Far more than I can put on Phantom. She shuts down far easier, but thankfully she is so chill about most things in life we seldom get to that point.
At least there was a nice sunset that night.
This summer I'm thinking about paying the $35/month fee to use the neighbour's facilities, which include trails and these obstacles. I would like to ride Phantom through them, and definitely have some work to do with Cisco over them. Hopefully he will gain some confidence in himself with some more practice.


  1. i still really wish i had gotten a chance to do an obstacle course with isabel, i think she would have really liked it! charlie might like it too tho, altho he might also get upset. so hard to tell how they'll react lol!

    1. I have no idea how Phantom will deal with them under saddle - she might be a completely different horse. Not in a good way.

  2. Sounds like fun and good for your ponies.