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Obstacle Training

To help your horse learn to cross trail obstacles, first teach him to ground-drive over obstacles, such as ground poles, in an enclosed training area. Photo by Hannah Sheppard.

Question: I own a 6-year-old Quarter Horse gelding. Whenever we approach a log or a ditch on the trail, he'll balk, jig, and sometimes even jump over the obstacle, while I hang on for dear life. What can I do to correct this?
-Nancy Meadows, Little Rock, Arkansas

You need to desensitize your gelding to logs and ditches. But first, you need to build a solid training foundation. Your gelding would benefit from ground driving to learn to respect you, and to learn to respond to voice and pressure cues. Once he's accepted you as his leader, he'll trust you, and will be more likely to follow your cues under saddle, which will transfer to the trail. Here's how to accomplish these goals.

Ground-Driving How-To

You'll need:
A flat nylon or leather halter with side buckles; two 25-foot lines (called
long lines); a surcingle (a training aid consisting of a girth strap with attached D-rings through which lines may be run) or a saddle; a secure work area, such as a round pen or training arena.

Step 1: Tack up. Outfit your gelding in a halter and surcingle or saddle. Attach one long line to the right halter buckle and the other to the left halter buckle.

Step 2: Position the lines. If you're using a surcingle, run one line through a left D-ring, and the other through the right D-ring. If you're using a saddle, run a line through each stirrup, then tie the stirrups together with twine under your gelding's girth, so they don't bounce distractingly during your training session.

Step 3: Get in driving position. Lead your gelding to your work area. Hold the left long line in your left hand and the right long line in your right hand. Stand far enough behind your gelding so that you're out of kicking range. Position each long line so that it's three to four inches above each hock.

Step 4: Cue the walk. Give one high-pitched cluck for forward motion at a walk. If your gelding balks, tap him lightly with a long line above one hock, and cluck again. Cluck and tap at exactly the same time so that he'll learn that the cluck means to move forward.

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