How to get started in the sport
By Vanessa Bee
It looks impossible doesn’t it? A horse jumping through a hoop in an open field. I thought it was difficult to do once but now I can send my horse at liberty around an obstacle course and the exciting thing is I know anyone can do it.
By Vanessa Bee
When I first thought of The Horse Agility Club in 2009 I had no idea how big it would become. I thought of it as a fun way to get people doing groundwork but very soon I was helping people and their horses to complete a simple obstacle course at liberty.
To get started I had a look at Dog Agility to see how they trained, handled and competed with their dogs.
They had no leads or other restraints.
They did not whip or hit their dogs.
One method of training the dogs was to show them the course while they are on a lead, then move onto simple obstacles using body language and verbal commands to show the dog what they wanted him to do. Then they would take the lead off and, using the same signals, see if they could still direct the dog over the obstacles.
This seemed to suit the way we handled horses but would it work in the same way?
There was only one way to find out – I had to try!
The first thing that I decided was that no whips were to be allowed but long ropes (about 10ft, 3m) were needed so that the horse could move freely. Any headcollar would do as long as it was suitable for the horse in design and size.
Then I helped the horse to lead – forwards, backwards, right and left and halt on a loose lead rope.
When that was smooth and easy, I helped the horse to negotiate simple obstacles.
When all that seemed to be working, I turned my horse loose in a safe place to see if I could still do the same thing, it worked! If my horse left me, I asked why. It was possible she didn’t understand but it could be that she didn’t want to stay! So I really needed to become a nice place for the horse.
There are a number of ways of telling our horse that we are good person to be with:
We use a gentle voice – not by shouting Good boy in his ear!
We can stroke him softly, or scratch him where he likes it – horses don’t like being slapped.
We can feed him treats but remember timing is important here.
Or we could just leave him alone! By being relaxed and happy we can share his space and help him feel secure and comfortable.
There is no method in Horse Agility so you can use the training and reward system that suits you and your horse.
My advice, whatever method you use, is not to cut corners. Get the leading solid first. Remember body language and verbal commands for each of the movements must be the same every time. You can’t say ‘Go Backwards’ one minute then ‘Backup’ the next, the horse just won’t connect the two! The aim is to get rid of the rope, don’t use it unless you have to, it’s only there if your voice or body language doesn’t work.
This is something that can easily be practiced while moving your horse around the yard and to and from his field.
Once the leading is established you can start to play around obstacles.
Adult membership starts from just £30 per year, to find out more and see a list of benefits please visit our joining page.