Cross Training Events to Build Confidence
by Theresa Rice
With this month’s issue focusing on equine events, I was thinking about how fortunate we are to live in an area where opportunities to play with our horses abound. These include trail riding, schooling and breed shows and a variety of horsemanship clinics. With such variety can come the challenge of determining where best to spend your time and money; there never quite seems to be enough of either.
A trainer where I board has been encouraging me to try trail competitions with my half Arabian, pretty much since the day I brought him to the barn. My horse is trained as a reiner and we typically spend our budget on lessons for that activity. However, the Oregon Horse Center introduced a schooling trail show to the season this year and I decided to give it a try. The course consists of various obstacles you might find out on the trail, such as downed tree limbs, hills and rocky inclines and water crossings. It also introduced some purely man-made obstacles that encourage horse and rider to work in harmony in order to navigate successfully. Some of the more intense, and unnatural, obstacles are a teeter-totter bridge, a circular platform on which the horse has to do a 180 degree turn and a box with a piece of plywood with holes in it that floats on top of the water. When the horse steps on the plywood, water is forced through the holes.
Participants had the opportunity to work with their horses on the obstacles (the show pattern yet unknown) the night before the show with a clinician on site to assist on the more troublesome spots. The variety of horse/rider teams was great. There were green horses that were just being introduced to these activities, all the way up to national trail competitors looking to further their skills in the discipline. To keep the schooling show within a manageable timeframe, the facility limited the number of entrants to just 50. Even so, there were around 250 goes course attempts as people entered multiple classes to get greater experience working through the obstacles. As participants made their way through the course, the judges for each area provided on-the-spot feedback to help riders better guide their horses and navigate the obstacles correctly to earn a better score. The mood of the entire event was casual and supportive so I had almost no show induced butterflies.
That said, my horse can be very opinionated when it comes to trail. My friends and I joke around that he thinks it’s beneath him and so refuses to participate. His refusal doesn’t seem to be fear based, but just a lack of interest in the activity. For this reason, I have avoided trail competition. The schooling trail show gave me a big boost in confidence, however, helping us both to gain new skills and experience outside of a reining pattern. Practicing on the obstacles the night before the show also gave us time to deal with temper tantrums so when we went through the course during the classes on Saturday my horse could be in a more mature and respectable frame of mind.
After having such a great experience at this show, I looked into other, similar opportunities at the Oregon Horse Center. Because of the success of the schooling trail show, they added a second date in March and may add others later on in the year. They also offer more intense trail clinics in April and also in October. These events are scheduled over several days, with multiple clinicians offering assistance in various areas of the trail course and fit to various levels of ability.
I definitely will be investing more time and money into this training track. Even though reining is really where my gelding shines, the trail course gave us the chance to work through challenges together and for me to gain new levels of confidence. You can teach an “old dog” new tricks.