“It’s a sport that’s good for young horses, old horses who are retired or horses that can’t be ridden because
You may be familiar with dog agility, where dashing dogs and their enthusiastic owners tackle a range of obstacles. Did you know, though, that horse agility is a thing, too?
What is horse agility?
Horse agility is a form of groundwork that you can do with your horse at home, as well as an international competitive sport that focusses on clear communication and positive horsemanship. It helps you build a stronger relationship with your horse, giving handlers the opportunity to refine their communication, especially when working their horse at liberty. And as it’s in-hand it’s also suitable for horses (and donkeys) who can’t be ridden, young, unbroken horses or for retired or older horses to keep them engaged and interested.
The Horse Agility Club
Founder of The International Horse Agility Club Vanessa Bee is responsible for launching the discipline as a competitive sport and popularising it across the world. She set up the club in 2009, and now there are events and fun taster sessions across the UK as well as monthly online competitions.
“The beauty of it as a sport for me is that it’s so inclusive,” says Vanessa. “From the beginning, I wanted to create a non-elitist equestrian sport with cheap or free obstacles. You don’t need to be turned out to show standard — this is about good horsemanship, not looking good. We want everyone to have a chance to compete whatever their physical or mental abilities. The online competitions allows us to involve people who don’t have their own transport. In fact, all you need to take up horse agility is a headcollar and a long rope.”
Everyone competes over the same course each month and sends in a video entry, but you can choose your own training approach. The aim is to guide your horse gently and kindly, with as little pressure as possible.
Horse Agility Handbook, by Vanessa Bee
Written by the founder of The International Horse Agility Club, this book has all you need to get started in the sport, including lessons in handling and body language, and directions for obstacle and course construction.
Horse agility equipment
The only essentials you need to get started are a headcollar/halter and long rope (at least 10ft). Bridles aren’t allowed as the aim is for your horse to respond to body and verbal cues. Whips are also not allowed.
If you’d like to try at some of the obstacles at home, however, you’ll need some basic arena equipment, such as trotting poles and cones. Some of the more specialised equipment, such as the curtain, you can try making at home.
Marker cones at amazon.co.uk
Marker cones can be used to mark lanes and obstacles, or can be written on to assign obstacle numbers.
Barrier tape at amazon.co.uk
This can be used to create distraction areas or create corridors.
Bunting at amazon.co.uk
This outdoor bunting can be added to your distraction areas – it will flap in the wind.
10ft rope at amazon.co.uk
A leadrope for agility should be at least 10ft long to allow your horse to move freely.
Large cones at amazon.co.uk
These larger cones are good for weaving and bending obstacles.
Horse agility obstacles
There are lots of horse agility obstacles to try and they range in difficulty – the harder ones are introduced as you progress through the levels – they include…
- Passing through a curtain
- Weaving poles/cones
- Crossing a tarpaulin
- Roll ball
- Passing through a trailer
- Carry a light load
- Pick up feet
- Step onto a podium
- Stand still in circle
- Pass through a narrow gap
- Back up between two poles
- Back up over poles
- Walk through labyrinth/S-bend
- Climb through branches/poles
- Crossing a bridge
- Passing through a gateway
- Crossing over an A-frame
“An easy obstacle to try for a beginner is the S bend,” says Vanessa. “This is a labyrinth made of poles in which the horse has walk through corridor in the shape of an S without stepping out or touching the poles. This really teaches people to slow down and steer each foot of the horse individually. Other beginners’ obstacles include walking through a curtain, through a narrow gap or over a tarpaulin. As you progress, the obstacles get harder. One of the most difficult is the pole back up. The horse must back up over a pole without touching it. It sounds easy, but it’s not — you have to learn to establish a rhythm and encourage the horse to lift his feet over the pole. The obstacle where the horse steps into a hula hoop can be equally frustrating. People always think the big obstacles like seesaws or hoop jumping are tricky but these are easy once you have the trust of the horse.”
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Credit: Emily McManus
Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
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