What originally began as a fun, backyard activity to train, desensitize, and bond with horses has become a full-fledged competitive event with its own association and global following. Vanessa Bee, who says that she was “shocked that no association or organized club existed,” founded the U.K.-based International Horse Agility Club in 2009. The IHAC (thehorseagilityclub.com) has certified affiliates and trainers throughout the world.
The concept is simple: In competition similar to dog-agility events, you guide your horse through a series of obstacles with as much speed, precision, and willingness as possible.
Several competitive platforms make it accessible to anyone with interest. The clubs accommodate a variety of training levels, so participants can progress from slow, on-lead events to fast-paced, hands-free courses. The ultimate goal is to improve the line of communication with your horse.
COMPETITIONS: Every competitor begins at the starter level and progresses as points are accumulated. “Liberty (loose work) is divided into three levels,” says Bee. “They’re divided from easiest to most challenging so that beginners feel encouraged to join.” There are three additional competitive platforms: video competition; real-time events that are run by IHAC-accredited trainers and judges; and junior league (for members ages 17 or younger). Online Horse Agility (OLHA) events allow you to compete internationally without leaving your backyard. Each month, obstacle courses are uploaded to the site that you can re-create at home. Have a friend video your run, and submit it for online entry.
PARTICIPANTS: “The majority of the club members are women, but we’ve started to attract more competitive men,” says Bee. “Our youngest member is 4 years old, and our oldest is in her 70s.” There’s no riding involved, which opens the event to those who’re no longer able to ride for health-related or other reasons; to young and older competitors; and to non-riding friends and family.
HORSES: All horses and ponies can participate. “There’s no typical age, breed, or size,” explains Bee. “We have minis to heavy horses (Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Quarter Horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules). We even have mechanically lame horses that compete with veterinarian permission.”
GET STARTED: All you need to get started are a long (10 to 15 feet) lead line (that’ll allow your horse to move freely) and a well-fitted halter. The first and most important step is to teach your horse simple body cues and commands, such as forward, back, side to side, and stop.
BENEFITS: If your horse is bored or you’re looking for a way to develop a stronger relationship with him, horse agility provides a constant challenge. It’ll test the line of communication and teamwork between you and your horse. It’s also a fun, competitive forum to improve groundwork and horsemanship.
GOOD TO TRY IF: You’re unable to ride due to injury or other factors. The horse does the majority of the work, so you can act as a guide. It may also be an easy segue for non-riders into the horse community.