Horse Refuses to Go Over Obstacles but Isn’t Scared of Them

Question: My 7-year-old horse does not want to go over the bridge or through the water box in her western trail class. She is not scared. She just refuses to go over them. When I finally get her to go over them, then she is OK. But, when I go back an hour later, we go through the same thing, where she refuses to go near them. How can I make her go over them every time? – hexen1

Answer: The surefire way to get a horse hooked on an obstacle is to make the obstacle look like the best part of his day. The easiest way to do that is to work his feet away from the obstacle and let him rest on or next to the obstacle.

If I were you, I’d put together a water box obstacle so that you can train your horse at home. Lope your horse in a circle around the obstacle. Every other circle, turn her in toward the water box and go off in the opposite direction. Continue hustling her around the obstacle for a few minutes, and then bring her down to a walk and ask her to step into the water box. Stop her in it and let her rest and catch her air. Put her on a loose rein and rub on her. It’s the same philosophy we use when teaching a horse to crave the trailer—outside the trailer is hard work and inside the trailer is rest and relaxation. In this situation, being out of the water box means hustling her feet and sweating and in the water box means catching her breath and resting. It won’t take long before your horse realizes the water box is the best part of the day, and she’ll practically drag you to it.

It’s possible that your horse may get smart and step through the water box every time at home but realize that when you take her to a show you won’t correct her and hustle her feet during a class. If that’s the case, I’d arrive at the showgrounds early in the morning before classes start for the day, and if possible, practice taking her over the obstacle. If she balked at going through the box, I’d use the same technique described above to get her craving the obstacle.

If it’s not possible to practice riding through the obstacle before the show, then I’d speak to the show’s officials and ask them if after all of the classes were over if you could school your mare over the water box obstacle or if you could use your turn in the class as a schooling session.