Circles and Decisions – The September course

Vanessa Bee discusses the challenges and triumphs of the September course

‘It’s always interesting when I design and present a course that really challenges people’s perception of their horsemanship.
I believe that when this happens people fall into one of four groups:

Group 1 are people who look at the course and immediately say ‘Can’t!’
Group 2 read the course, have a go and lose confidence, the fear of getting it wrong puts them off.
Group 3 have a go at the course, adjust the criteria to suit their abilities and put in a video.
Group 4 download the course early in the month and start practicing, they may not get any further than those in group 2 or 3 but they sure are going to take a good long go at it.

Is any group wrong or better or right?

It’s just where we are at that moment in our lives, the important thing is to acknowledge that. Be interested in our reaction to this challenging course and decide if we want to change that reaction.

As John F Kennedy said:
‘There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.’

So why was that course so difficult for some people?
It wasn’t difficult for everyone because we had some very high scores even at the earlier levels.
I believe what made it tricky was the sudden change of leading position from communicating entirely with horse’s head to having to start to communicate with the whole body AND at a distance. No longer could the head be used to steer and guide, suddenly there were four feet to move around. Thinking about it, that’s how horses move each other about so they understand that, it’s us who have to learn how to do it!

So what did I learn as the designer of that course and the one who assessed the entries?
I now know need to help people experiment more with leading positions and moving feet. It’s too easy to think we are really good at something until one thing changes. It is then that we need to go back to our foundations and start building our knowledge again.’


  1. Mary Ballard

    You are right, it was difficult and different and it was so tempting to just say “I can’t do it”. But I loved the challenge in the end, and believe we will only get better if we keep trying our best and learning from the mistakes and the feedback. Great article and very encouraging. Now to get the October course set up!

  2. Mary Adams

    I admit I am focusing on our newest acquisition right now (Shaboda) and even though we have others that could have dealt with this, I am too old (75) to change my focus! This month I am working on the new course that I hope Shaboda will be able to handle. Plus I have a new, much younger helper!

  3. Denise Baldry

    Thank you for posting this Vanessa. It was a challenging course, and I think that I fell into all 4 of your categories before I finally settled on Category 3, focusing on what we could achieve rather than what we could not. That being said, it was a wake up call for me to start thinking about slowly moving out of our comfort zone whilst still retaining the level of trust and connection we currently have 🙂

  4. The International Horse Agility Club Post author

    Thanks for the comments, I am glad you rose to the challenge. it would be very easy to set simple courses each month that just win rosettes, that’s not my style! I really thrive on watching people grow and unless we stretch those comfort zones we never will.

  5. Kathy Richardson

    Having as many young students and beginning adults as I do, I started everyone off standing in the hula hoop and driving the horse through one obstacle before adding the next one. I began to see frustration as there are so many things they are working to master; proper leading position, not pulling on the head, keeping their body and feet quiet, looking forward, not down, not looking at the horse when leading, and so on, that I decided to have them work on body position and just pass on competing this month so we continued to end each lesson on a good note.

    Unfortunately, for me, I was unable to compete, due to time constraints and a lack of video person but I did practice the course with several of my horses. It was definitely challenging, especially keeping them on a loose lead as they navigated the circle.

    I loved the new circle pattern with the hula hoop. It does change up how we move the horse and teaches us how to still move them softly, but from a distance. I am looking forward to more challenges like this, and teaching my students these skills.

    Thank you.

  6. Julie Gifford

    Super challenging course for me just getting started in agility with two two year old horses who both learn very differently. But what it did give me was some great training opportunities and we had fun experimenting with new communication methods. However, we didn’t get to the point of a full video to submit. I’m happy with something with errors as the feedback is really helpful but felt I couldn’t submit a partial course. Maybe I should be doing this?

    My only comment as a beginner is I’m finding it difficult to learn everything and creatively find or build and store obstacles on my livery yard in order to take part even at starter level.

    So I enjoy being part of the community and having access to courses to see the kinds of things we can achieve but it is a bit overwhelming getting started in this sport. Perhaps it might be better for me to do the training courses rather than the monthly competition? Be good to hear how others have felt re this? Do the courses start at a more basic level?

    1. The International Horse Agility Club Post author

      Hi Julie, Thanks for the feedback, yes it can be tricky if you keep your horse at livery and have to store all the agility toys. We do try to keep the obstacles as simple as we can.
      The Certificate courses don’t create so much pressure as there is no time limit on them and the obstacles used through the certificate course are all the same throughout the levels (and simple). You get a lot more individual feedback on the certificates because it’s a coaching course that Vanessa assesses herself and can really pinpoint where you can improve and where you are really getting on well. You also can send in bits of videos for help if you’re getting stuck without having to submit the whole thing in one go. That may be better for you. Perhaps other people can add their thoughts on this.

    2. Denise Baldry

      Hi Julie. I only started doing Horse Agility earlier this summer (although have about 18 months experience using positive reinforcement and basic liberty work). I started by doing the first 2 levels of the Certificate Course, which I would thoroughly recommend mainly because, as Vanessa stated, you can work at your own pace without pressure. The last thing you want to be doing is rushing training because you have the deadline of submitting a competition entry. Having passed the first 2 levels of the Certificate Course, I felt confident enough to have a go at submitting a couple of competitive entries. I would like to try and progress up the levels of the Certificate Course, but have found that I can’t do that and train for/submit competition entries. I think that the Certificate Course would be a great place for you to start. And yes, I think Level 1 of the Certificate Course is easier to achieve than the September Obstacle Course 🙂

  7. Laura Stokking

    Spyder and I fell into Group 2 the dat of filming. We learned so much along the way, however, that we will call it a win. Spyder backed over a pole with me in the middle of the circke. Given our issues with backing, I waa absolutely delighted with that achievement. As always, my problem is getting him to stop. We are working on that for our October course. (What…stop and be STILL for 7 seconds???)