10 Easy Obstacle Course Ideas

Half of my obstacle course.

I love working in an obstacle course.  I don’t really look at it as a way to totally desensitize my horse, I want him to stay sensitive enough to sense danger, and I don’t want him to so blindly follow me that he’d walk right into danger that I didn’t see and that his senses were deadened to.

The reason I like an obstacle course is because it teaches you and your horse to trust each other, it gives you a chance to see how your horse will react under the pressure of the unknown, and it can teach them and give them the opportunity to practice  “spooking in place” under controlled circumstances.  I find them invaluable for training a good trail horse.

Not all obstacles in your course have to be complicated or something that has to be built.  Some of the best obstacles are things you can buy inexpensively and set around your riding area.  Most everything I list here I’ve found at Walmart, Dollar General, or a Dollar Store like Dollar Tree.  Used tires are easy to get free.  Other things I just had on hand.

As always, use common sense when choosing something to use.  Make sure it’s safe for you and your horse and that you take the time to train him from the ground before attempting to face it from the saddle.  No guarantees but you lessen your chance for accidents that way.

Barrels are usually pretty easy to find if you look for ads in the newspaper.  Most times you can find them for about $5.00 on up.  Barrels can be used for so many things that you can’t hardly get too many.  Set two of them close together to try and pass through without getting your legs bumped.  Set a series of two lines close together to make them walk through an open “tunnel” of barrels.  Set a line of plastic barrels up as a baracade that your horse has to mow through.  You can put one across the arena or field from the other to use for a “flags” pattern where the rider has to pick up a flag from one and deposit onto the second one.  Or you can use them to hold other obstacle items such as a cap gun,
water bucket, slicker, or tarp, etc.

Cap Gun
I bought a child’s western 6 shooter cap gun in the toy department.  It makes an excellent obstacle because horses who are not used to gun fire will react to it.  It’s obviously safer and cheaper than trying to shoot blanks out of a 22 pistol or something.  I did find out the hard way that the old fashioned cap guns that shoot the paper rolls of caps do not work as well as the newer ones that shoot the little round red plastic discs.  The old paper rolls misfire a lot and are not nearly as loud as the newer ones.  Don’t waste your time or money buying the old fashioned ones….

Bag of Cans
I took a feed bag, (the plastic woven type, not the paper type) and filled it with several empty soda cans.  I closed the open end with a knot, then attached an old lead rope to it.  To make it easy to pick up, I put a coat hook on a fence post to hang the lead rope from. This is one obstacle that you definitely want to work your horse from the ground with at first.  I’ve seen a couple of horses that didn’t react much to it, and I’ve seen a horse that the owner thought was a dead broke spook-at-nothing horse who gave her rider a rodeo ride because of it.

Ashley and Warlock dragging a bag of cans.

Tires are easy and free to get. At least out here in the country they are.  Usually tire shops have to pay someone to get rid of their used tires, so they normally welcome anyone to take them off their hands for them.  You can also use tires for several different obstacles.  I’ve seen several people who line up a lot of tires in a big square and make their horse pick their way through them all.  I personally don’t like that as an obstacle because I believe it’s too much of a dangerous risk if the horse trips himself up in them and falls – especially if you happen to be on him.  I prefer to get one large tractor tire that they have to step into or through. The tall and skinny ones from older A or B series John Deere’s ,or older Internationals work best. You can also use several if you want to have one normal sized one
for them to step through with several stacked up on each side to be more interesting or “decorative”.  Lastly, you can take slightly larger than normal sized tires, bury them halfway into the ground, about 2 feet about to be another (more permanent) obstacle to walk through.

Large Tractor Tires.  I use several in different ways in my course.

Trash Bags
There are several ways you can use trash bags in an obstacle course.  They’re not always easy to use all the time, but at some times, they can be wonderful.  For windy days, you can take empty shopping bags or small can trash bags and tie them to several fence posts in a row that your horse has to calmly walk past while they are flapping in the wind.  In the fall, you can fill regular black yard bags, or those orange pumpkin bags they put out for Halloween, with your fallen leaves.  If you only have a couple bags, make them into an obstacle to walk through.  If you have a lot of them, you can line them up as a maze to walk through.  Lastly, you can take a trash bag filled with various things that you have to pick up from the top of one barrel, walk over to a large trash can, open the can and place the trash bag in the trash can – all while mounted.

Again, buckets are another thing that you can use for several different obstacle “games”.  One, is to place a bucket on each of two barrels across the arena or field from each other. Fill halfway with sand.  Tie a hankerchief to a large dowel rod or hand-tool handle that has been slightly pointed, but rounded at one end.  Put it in one of the buckets.  The object is to take the flag from one bucket, ride around to the other bucket and place the flag in that bucket.  In horse shows, this is called the flag race and is done with the horse going at a dead run.  For an obstacle course, you can have it done as fast or slow as you want it to be.  Secondly, you can do a very similar thing, but instead of filling both buckets with sand, fill one bucket with water and leave the other bucket empty.  The object is to have the rider pick up the bucket full of water, ride over to the empty bucket and pour the water into that
bucket while still mounted.

This is an obstacle for much more advanced horses and riders.  Attach balloons to trees in your field, or to fence posts if you have wooden posts.  Give the rider a stick made out of a thick dowel rod or a hand-tool handle that has a tack attached to the end of it.  The object is to ride to each balloon and pop it while still keeping your horse under control.  Another balloon obstacle that isn’t quite so dangerous, but still could be a little bit, is to buy 6 to 12 helium balloons and divide them into two bunches.  Either put them on long ribbons and attach them to a little weight at the end, setting them about 3 feet apart, or tie them to another obstacle (like a bridge or Pool Noodle walk through) to make that obstacle more interesting and difficult if your horse has become too bored with it.
Stuffed Animals or Pool Blow-up Animal Toys, if arranged on the ground together, or near an obstacle, you might be surprised to find that your otherwise unflappable horse won’t walk past them.  I’ve seen more than one horse upset at the idea of an army of stuffed animals ready to attack him…

Great for both of you in the heat of the summer, setting up a sprinkler can be a refreshing obstacle that the kids especially will love.  The horse, on the other hand, might not be so impressed.  Set one up near the edge of the riding area (nearest to the water hydrant) and just simply make your horse walk through it.  Might not be quite as easy as you’d think.

Hula Hoop
Can be laid on the ground to step into, or hung on a fence post to pick up and put over your horse’s head or hindquarters, or can be swung on your arm from the side.  When first working your horse with any of these ideas, work from the ground first and move to working from the saddle once your horse is comfortable with it from the ground.

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