It’s not about the obstacles! by Vanessa Bee

It’s not about the obstacles!


I have a privileged job, I watch over 200 videos a month of people with their horses and I love it! These videos are of Horse Agility Club members completing obstacle courses with a variety of equines, and it looks fun!

I don’t have time to see a lot of other people doing this but one video came into my social media feed the other day and I watched 30 seconds before I had to move on. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a pony being dragged on the end of a tight rope with an inattentive handler.


So, I began to really think about what The Horse Agility Club is really about. We have competitions, we have obstacles we have people but how come I haven’t seen a tight rope and a disgruntled pony with an oblivious handler for so long?


Then I realised, our Club members know that it’s not about the obstacles, the obstacles are incidental, it’s the journey that’s the important thing.


The monthly courses are just journeys, with little tests along the way, giving the horse and handler an opportunity to communicate and prepare for moments outside the arena when that ability may be a life saver.

The variety of obstacles create opportunities for a conversation and can be as dramatic as a curtain or as simple as a line drawn in the sand. Some obstacles are easier for the human to understand, a busy road crossing for example, but any horse is far more aware of a dangerous bog in wild country than any human.


As the journey progresses there is a constant conversation:

Are you sure that’s what you want?

Is that safe?

Why do you need to do that?

And these are just a few of the questions both the horse AND the human may ask each other as they travel.

I believe that once we learn to stop telling the horse what to do all the time and listen to what he might say on the subject, things start to change for the better.


So, this is what Horse Agility is, it’s communication between two beings, not control.

It’s shared journey, where both travellers have a point of view. The obstacles are just a way of strengthening that relationship.


  1. Maggie Cason

    Wow! Vanessa, this is such a powerful statement. And so true! It’s the main reason that I typically do not need ribbons, and honestly, I don’t stress too much about the scores my horses receive or how my horses place in the rankings! What I get is the precious time with my horses, and two way communication with them about how we are going to work our way through each new obstacle course. And to be honest, I think my horses absolutely love the attention that they get. They love the new courses, and the new challenges each month. Your horse agility club has been the best thing that could have ever happened to me and my horses.

  2. Leslie Clough

    Here is a story that is exactly what you are talking about:
    Ducky and I were videoed doing the starter course. I was having one of those days of feeling extra fatigue ( medical condition). Ducky was easily distracted and while we completed the course I had a niggling feeling about it. It was clear why I felt like that as I watched it. The rope went tight several times during “his distracted moments. “. I put those words in parentheses because they were not his moments but mine. I was focussing on the obstacle and not him. My lovely sensitive guy did a great job despite the less than adequate attention and support from me.
    We videoed again a few days later, I was still feeling very fatigued but was determined to keep my focus and support on him. Completely different outcome for everyone. It is our starter entry this month.
    Thanks for agility reminding us that as we support our equine partners we support and nurture the relationship between us.

  3. Barbara Winmill

    When April and I did our first Starter course, on our comments sheet you had put ‘tight rope’. As I read it I thought, ‘ I NEVER have a tight rope!’ But when I looked at the video again i was forced to admit that there it was! not really noticeable by anyone else, but definitely straight a couple of times. I was mortified.
    Thank you for all the fun April, Carlo and I have had in the last 6 years.

  4. Nancy Ingalls

    I want to add that is may not be about the “physical obstacles” however the connection and increased confidence I have experienced on this incredible journey with Woody could be considered a metaphor for all of life’s little “obstacles”. So grateful to Vanessa and the International Horse Agility Club!