KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

Building a "Confidence Course"

Some horses change colors. They progress from green, to true blue, to solid gold. Those solid gold horses are prized animals, however they didn't get that way by accident. Typically they are the result of effective training activities that both challenge the horse's mind and develop his confidence.

Here is an example of the LRTC Confidence Course in Stagecoach, NV. The obstacles are mostly made out of salvage or leftover materials from some project or another. They can be constructed safely and develop the horse's "Three Cs," Courage, Confidence and Coordination. In this feature we will describe the basic obstacles, the purpose for them and how they can most effectively be used.

Also, Confidence Course obstacles are best attempted in a logical order, starting with the more basic obstacles, then moving on to the more advanced. We want to develop the horse's skill and confidence, not play "Stump the Horse." Ergo we want to be competent in each obstacle before we move to the next more advanced obstacle.

Finally, we construct these obstacles to withstand the rigors of being walked on and stood on by horses. We literally Clydesdale-test these obstacles (with a rider on board) once they are constructed.

The horse used in this feature is Bart, a newly adopted 7 year old BLM mustang with his adopter, Glenn Gable. Bart had been in the Confidence Course only once before just to get used to the strange objects that made up the obstacles. This case study is the first time Glenn, from Illinois, actually worked with Bart. Also this is the first time Bart had been actually worked while wearing a saddle and the first few moments in the round pen before bringing Bart out to the Confidence Course got a bit "western." In spite of all these "firsts," here are the results that can be obtained through practical use of confidence-building obstacles.

The reason we chose Bart for this presentation as opposed to a "ringer" was to demonstrate how effective a practical Confidence Course can be for getting horses focused, quiet and confident... provided we work at a pace that challenges but doesn't terrify the horse.

We like to think of the Confidence Course as being like a horsey amusement park. We want to challenge the horse and encourage him to think, not terrify the horse or force him through the obstacles. The horse should soon take each obstacle quietly and confidently on a light "ask."

Note: When working around any obstacles, you need to pay careful attention to your situation, your horse, any distractions and what others nearby are doing (what impact they may have on you and what impact you may have on them). Some horses may react unpredictably and you need to be prepared to guide them through any situation... or get competent assistance if you are not sure how to do so!

  THE LABYRINTH

The labyrinth is a simple obstacle made out of six ten-foot poles. The object is for the horse and handler to quietly weave through the labyrinth without stepping over any poles. The horse should follow on a soft lead, and eventually off lead following hand and/or voice cues. The handler needs to position the horse to successfully take the turns without stepping out of bounds, and the horse needs to pay attention to his position relative to his handler and to where he is placing his feet. The object is NOT to drag the horse around by his head!
Weaving the labyrinth. Working on body position and light directional aids.
The horse should be "balanced," moving equally well in both directions, with the handler leading from the "on" and "off" sides, and eventually backing correctly through the labyrinth in both directions in response to a soft "ask."

  THE SHORT UTILITY POLE

This obstacle is simply an eight foot section of old utility pole. The handler asks the horse to walk quietly over the pole. Then the handler asks the horse to stop over the pole. The handler asks the horse to back in a straight line over the pole, and eventually to stop after having stepped one, two or three feet over the pole. Also while backing it is a good drill to ask the horse to stop while placing a left or right hind on the pole.
Stopping neatly over the short utility pole.
Again, the goal is to move the horse quietly and confidently on a light "ask."

  THE NARROW LOG TRAIL

The narrow log trail is a slightly winding path defined by logs or railroad ties on each side. It is wide enough for a handler to safely lead a horse. The object is for the horse to follow the leader, stay "in bounds," and learn to maintain a good following position. This is a mental and coordination exercise. The horse needs to be led through on a soft lead that has a lot of "float," with the handler just making necessary corrections if the horse loses focus or starts to drift out of bounds, otherwise the horse will not be likely to develop spatial awareness.
Refining body position and safe leading.
Log piles can be added to increase the challenge once the horse is leading well.
The horse can then be backed through the trail as well as be asked to come about (make a U-turn) while keeping all four feet inside the trail boundary.

  THE NARROW BRIDGE

The narrow bridge is a small 3 ft. by 8 ft. wooden platform. We typically place it at the end of the log trail or put poles on either side of it in order to focus the horse on the bridge deck, rather than on the "free space" around it. Some horses may still want to walk around the bridge at first as it makes no sense to them to walk over it.
Crossing the narrow bridge.
If a horse appears confused when seeing the narrow bridge for the first time, we may approach the bridge from the side and walk across it crosswise. Usually once the horse has stepped across the bridge's wooden deck crosswise he will consider walking across it lengthwise. If he still resists or is confused, we may stop, out in an open area send the horse between two barrels, then place the barrels on either side of the bridge for the horse to walk between. As soon as the horse understands, we'll remove the barrels and ask the horse to cross correctly in response to the handler's cues.

Eventually we will place the narrow bridge lengthwise atop the railroad ties on the narrow trail so the horse has to step higher without side-pole boundaries.

Continue to Part Two


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