For those of you who like to incorporate obstacle work into your rides, you might find your creativity stymied by space. Maybe you have your own backyard-horse property that would fit on a postage stamp. Maybe you have to always share an arena with other boarders. Whatever the case, you just don’t have the luxury of a sizable area in which to work and lay out a bunch of obstacles. Even so, there are ways to practice a variety of skills with your horse over obstacles in a small space via layering. I refer to layering as adding one obstacle on top of or very close to the other to encompass a variety of “on the spot” movements or activities. Keep in mind that if your horse is not accustomed to working individually with all elements of the obstacle, first practice with each obstacle separately so you don’t overface your horse.
For example, over the Memorial Day weekend, I set up a 6 foot by 8 foot tarp and placed two PVC pipe poles across two tarp ends (with the edges of the poles inside four cones laid down on their sides to prevent the poles from rolling off). A few feet away from the tarp, I hooked a plastic flower basket filled with faux flowers to a fence. You could also hook the basket to the top of a tall cone, plastic barrel or jump standard.
With this little set up, I can practice doing ten different activities with my horse:
1) walk across the tarp width-wise between the poles
2) walk across the first pole, the tarp and the next pole by traversing the tarp length-wise
3) stop my horse on the tarp (four feet on the tarp or two feet on the tarp)
4) stop on the tarp and proceed forward
5) stop on the tarp and back off the tarp
6) stop in the middle and sidepass towards one pole on one side and then the other
7) traverse tarp length-wise while stopping your horse over the middle of the first pole (or the second)
8) sidling over to the flower basket, pick it up and proceed to ride (one-handed) over the tarp while holding the basket
9) do items #1 through #6 one-handed while holding the basket
10) sidle back over to the fence, barrel or jump standard and hang up basket
Precisely because of working in a small space, you get a good sense of how much influence (or not!) you have over your horse with your aids. These types of activities will readily show you which movements you and your horse struggle to execute as well as where you both shine.
Do you have a way that you like to use obstacles in a small space?