a man training his horse
a man training his horse
Creative Ways to Keep Your Horse Active at Home
Reuse barn items to make an equine obstacle course and demonstrate your new skills at home with virtual horseshows
By Katie Navarra
Photos by Mark Samu
Scott Keyes has tried countless horseback activities. He’s trail ridden, entered gymkhanas—day-long events with timed races and other horseback games—and participated in ranch horse competitions. He’s also roped, team penned, and sorted cattle near his Greenwich, New York home. To take part in many of these activities, most people typically have to wait for an event to be hosted, and they have to pay entry fees. Instead, Scott creates challenges on his own property, often reusing items from around his barn.
“The cool thing about obstacles is that you don’t need a lot of stuff to practice,” Scott says. “You can set up your course or practice obstacles in your backyard. It’s helped me develop solid, all-around horses and gives my horses an extra spring in their step.”
Horse Training with homemade obstacles
Safety, for both horse and rider, and patience are priorities for these at-home equine activities. The goal with all of them is to encourage the horse’s confidence, not to scare them. With this in mind and with a little creativity, there are endless options for making obstacles that develop your horsemanship skills and deepen your bond with your horse.
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/ Use What You Have:
Repurpose Farm Supplies to Make Obstacles /
Certified Horsemanship Association Instructor Schellie Blochberger’s barn sits on wooded land in Russellville, Missouri. She uses her natural surroundings for obstacles.

“When my husband cuts down a tree, it makes a good log to cross over,” she says. “Smaller trees make good ground poles.”

Worn-out or unused items can easily be repurposed, too.

/ Use What You Have:
Repurpose Farm Supplies to Make Obstacles /
Certified Horsemanship Association Instructor Schellie Blochberger’s barn sits on wooded land in Russellville, Missouri. She uses her natural surroundings for obstacles.

“When my husband cuts down a tree, it makes a good log to cross over,” she says. “Smaller trees make good ground poles.”

Worn-out or unused items can easily be repurposed, too.

Tarps:
Place an old tarp on the ground and ask the horse to walk over it. The same tarp can be used to create a drag by tying baling twine or rope to one corner.

“We had an old tarp that was somewhat shredded, so we cut slits in it and hung it between two trees,” Schellie says. “It makes a ‘Cowboy Curtain’ that horses have to pass through.”

Walking a horse through tarps
Training a horse with Worn Tires
Worn tires:
Cut off the sidewalls so the tires lay safely flat. You can add them to an obstacle course and ask your horse to walk through them. “Leading the horse through is a good way to start for horses that have never done something like this before. It can be a good refresher too,” Schellie says.

You can then up the challenge by guiding a specific foot into a particular tire, rather than letting the horse choose their step.

/ Don’t Have the Right Equipment?
Tap Your Online Community to Affordably Source it /
Scott wanted to conquer water obstacles with his horse, but he doesn’t have a stream on his property and didn’t want to spend money building a water crossing. He turned to Facebook and posted from his profile that he was in search of a used cattle foot bath. A friend who works for an animal nutrition company saw the post, shared it, and a nearby farmer reached out to him letting him know he had one available.

“The grids on the bottom are great for dairy cow traction, but I think they are dangerous for horses, so I put a piece of a rubber stall mat in the bottom,” Scott says.

Used plastic barrels, which are easy to find on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, can be used for more than running a barrel pattern. Scott has used them as jumps, sidepasses, and as roping dummies. “If you have a few, you can set them up as a back-through obstacle too,” he says.

Scott recommends also checking with local dairies to find barrels. “Dairies use a lot of 55-gallon drums. My family [member] who runs a dairy says that they are required to dispose of them.”

Tarps:
Place an old tarp on the ground and ask the horse to walk over it. The same tarp can be used to create a drag by tying baling twine or rope to one corner.

“We had an old tarp that was somewhat shredded, so we cut slits in it and hung it between two trees,” Schellie says. “It makes a ‘Cowboy Curtain’ that horses have to pass through.”

Walking a horse through tarps
Worn tires:
Cut off the sidewalls so the tires lay safely flat. You can add them to an obstacle course and ask your horse to walk through them. “Leading the horse through is a good way to start for horses that have never done something like this before. It can be a good refresher too,” Schellie says.

You can then up the challenge by guiding a specific foot into a particular tire, rather than letting the horse choose their step.

Training a horse with Worn Tires
/ Don’t Have the Right Equipment?
Tap Your Online Community to Affordably Source it /
Scott wanted to conquer water obstacles with his horse, but he doesn’t have a stream on his property and didn’t want to spend money building a water crossing. He turned to Facebook and posted from his profile that he was in search of a used cattle foot bath. A friend who works for an animal nutrition company saw the post, shared it, and a nearby farmer reached out to him letting him know he had one available.

“The grids on the bottom are great for dairy cow traction, but I think they are dangerous for horses, so I put a piece of a rubber stall mat in the bottom,” Scott says.

Used plastic barrels, which are easy to find on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, can be used for more than running a barrel pattern. Scott has used them as jumps, sidepasses, and as roping dummies. “If you have a few, you can set them up as a back-through obstacle too,” he says.

Scott recommends also checking with local dairies to find barrels. “Dairies use a lot of 55-gallon drums. My family [member] who runs a dairy says that they are required to dispose of them.”

/ Participate in Virtual Horsing Events /
After you and your horse have trained up, put your skills on display. Obstacle course competitions are popular. Like many events this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited in-person gatherings. Virtual horseshows aren’t new, but they are more widespread this year as people look for ways to stay active and bond with their horses at home.
using an iphone to film horse training
Filming:
Quality video is paramount so the judge can clearly and easily see your performance. You can either prop up your smartphone on a stand or enlist the help of a family member to film so they can pan and zoom in. Filming horizontally works best.
“If you mess up, you can start the video over,” says Jessica Hein, a rider from Justin, Texas. “I film my patterns two to three times and choose the one I feel is best for submission.”
Over the last six years, Jessica has competed and won awards in virtual horseshows through North American Western Dressage in a variety of classes, including groundwork, ranch, trail, and dressage.
Take Your Time:
“Showing at home means low stress,” Jessica says. “If you’re not feeling like a team on a particular day, no worries, try it again later. It’s a great way to test your partnership and improve your skills.”
If you want to learn more about virtual equine competitions, check out these helpful resources for event information:

Are you finding creative ways to keep your horses active this summer? We want to hear about them! Send us an email at OutHere@TractorSupply.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming issue.
About the Writer
Katie Navarra is an award-winning writer who has covered horses, farming, and
other topics for magazines, newspapers, and other publications for nearly 20 years.

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