Do you ever drive into your arena and immediately draw a blank on what exactly you should be DOING in there? I do!
This is where obstacles come in handy. If I have some cones and barrels then at least I can look around and come up with ideas of things to keep me busy in there!
Most of my driving is done on trails and roads, but sometimes I crave the simplicity of just staying home and working on transitions and responsiveness. So I have a simple area mowed and that is my arena. No footing or walls or even a fence. It’s just basic and simple. But obstacles can be built in any type of arena. You can even have ones that easily break down so they don’t have to stay up all the time.
This is going to be a short list, starting with simple obstacles and ending with more complicated ones… just to give you an idea of what you can do in your arena!
I buy my cones, two at a time, from my local hardware stores. I have several difference sizes, but I do make sure they are the heavy duty rubbery cones. We have high winds where I live and the little plastic lightweight cones just blow away! (Also when we are playing online, in a halter and lead rope, sometimes the ponies like to pick up the cones and carry them around. This just doesn’t work with the lightweight plastic cones!)
I set my cones up in ways that I can make patterns:
- Figure of Eights
- A weave
- A question box
- gates we can drive through (red on the right!)
What is a question box you may be asking… It is, simply, four cones one at each corner of the “box”, big enough that we can drive our cart into the box and stop. The question box becomes the place where we either stop or change something. Changing something can be as simple as a whoa, or going from a walk to a trot or a trot to a canter, OR changing direction. I will make a video of this soon to share here!
I use the barrels as gates to drive between them. I number them or letter them and set them up in a pattern that we have to negotiate. We can do this slowly or at speed. Sometimes we practice backing through the barrels.
I get my barrels at the car wash in town. They are usually between $5-8 a piece. I’ve seen them for sale for as high as $50 a piece but because I have a “guy” I won’t pay that much 😉
You can also set barrels up in a traditional barrel pattern and run the barrels in your cart! This leads me to my next easy obstacle…
I use the old tires off of our vehicles, stacked up on top of each other, set up in a traditional barrel pattern and we run that in our cart. Mostly we do the pattern at a walk or trot for now because we are working on lightness and responsiveness and changes of direction help with that, but ONLY if you go slow.
You can also set tires up as a weave or a figure of eight.
If you have access to BIG tractor tires you can sink them in the ground and make an obstacle you can drive through. My favorite natural horsemanship instructors had big tires cut in half and they used them to go in between. It’s nice if they are cut in half because if you hit them, they will move out of the way.
Tarps are great obstacles, but you do need to be careful with them. It’s not a fun cart ride if your pony or horse (or donkey or mule!) hasn’t been properly introduced to the tarp and the tarp gets caught on your wheel and you end up dragging it behind you! So taking the time to introduce this obstacle without the cart is imperative.
Once it has been introduced you can drive over it, drag it behind you, lift it in the air and pull it behind you like a flag… There are lots of things you can do with a tarp!
An Old Mattress
I have an old foam crib mattress for my obstacle course. It’s narrow enough that my bike can straddle it as the pony goes over it.
When using an old mattress make sure it’s a foam one and not one that has the old springs in it. The springs can poke through the mattress cover and get hung up on the horse’s shoes which can result in an accident!
I liked the crib mattress because it’s already water proof so leaving it outside isn’t really a problem. Of course the outside will break down over time so it’s up to you to watch for deterioration and toss it when it’s no longer safe.
The Car Wash
This one can be very big and permanent or it can be smaller and something you can take down. Depending on how you build it!
The big ones have huge posts sunk into the ground with a top going from one post to the other across the top. Then you an hang streamers down from the top to drive under. Just be sure you put the posts far enough apart that you can drive any of your vehicles through them 🙂
You can have streamers hanging down and pool noodles sticking into the middle of the obstacle as well. I’ve seen people hang balloons down from the top of this one, or those heavy strips of flexible plastic, jolly balls, and even solid pieces of fabric!
**I don’t recommend the solid fabric for driving under. It’s too easy to get hung up somewhere on your vehicle or yourself which could result in a big problem! But for playing on the ground, the solid fabric is excellent for building confidence!
The Water Obstacle
This one can be a big complex water obstacle with sand and a nice place to drive down into it and back out of it, or a simple water box that the horse will go through but the cart will straddle. This is also one I recommend the horse be introduced to BEFORE you try to drive through it! But water obstacles are so much fun to play in, especially when it’s hot out!
A bridge can be as simple as you can imagine or as big and complex as you can imagine! I’ve seen big wooden bridges that you have to drive UP then across, then DOWN, as though you are actually crossing water, bridges made out of big pieces of loud metal, smaller bridges that only the horse can cross, the vehicle straddles it and plain old pieces of plywood laying on the ground that they walk across. It’s up to you how complex you want to make it!
The metal bridges and ones that are off the ground are excellent because not only do they have to get used to how their feet sound on them and how they feel, but they also have to deal with the noise of the vehicle going across it behind them, as well!
To find some more inspiration for obstacles you can make for your arena, take a look at Barry Hook’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/barryhook2