A tire, really? I couldn’t believe Cowboy was refusing to step into it. He does everything for me. We’ve chased seagulls on the beach and slid down sand dunes. We’ve gone boonie-crashing on rugged trails. We’ve even mastered jumping courses.
But now it seemed the one thing my good gelding did not want to do for me is…step inside a tire on the ground.
Cowboy, an 11-year-old, 15.2-hand Appaloosa, is owned by my riding instructor, Christy Wood of Three Rivers, California. She acquired him in 2010, and I’ve been riding him ever since. One of my goals has been to compete in trail challenges, which involve out-of-the-ordinary obstacle courses set inside an arena. Some of the obstacles, such as pole jog-overs and rope gates, are similar to what you’d find in a typical trail class. Others, such as step-downs and dirt or sand mounds, are more like what you’d find on a real trail.
As his training advanced, Cowboy did well with almost all of the obstacles, including mounds, bridges, gates, curtains, and tarps. But when I tried to add tires to his repertoire, he put his hoof down. Every time I pointed him toward one, he’d lower his nose obligingly into the center of it, then take a big step—to the side—to avoid it.
“No, it’s not a black hole,” I assured him. “Or a bottomless pit. It’s just a tire. You can do this.” But he wouldn’t, and even following in the hoofprints of a sensible, tire-broke horse could not convince Cowboy that stepping into a tire was an OK thing to do.
Then Christy acquired some giant tractor tires. The space inside them seemed huge, so I hoped Cowboy would feel better about stepping into one. When I asked him to do it, he sniffed and snorted as before, but then did attempt one step—directly onto the rubber sidewall. Fail! The tire bounced away, and as his hoof slipped off Cowboy spooked backward.
I dismounted and stepped onto the tire myself, bouncing up and down. “See?” I told him. “Nothing to fear.” Then I grabbed some grain and sprinkled it in the tire’s center. We still didn’t achieve our goal that day, but he did make some friendly associations with that otherwise untrustworthy tire.
The next day, after about 10 minutes of patient work, I coaxed him to place his foot inside the tractor tire and leave it for a moment before having him take it back out. After this breakthrough, it was just moments before he was walking calmly over and through the tire.
Success! I took him back to the smaller tire that’d given us so much trouble. Cowboy walked right through it! We even graduated to fancy maneuvers, such as putting his front feet inside and pivoting on his forehand, then putting his back feet in and pivoting on his hindquarters.
There’s more. About a month later, Christy took several of the tractor tires and created a stair-step pyramid, filling the insides of the tires with firmly compacted dirt. The idea was to come at it from the side, stepping up first onto a line of single tires, then up onto a second tire placed on top of the bottom layer, then back down the other side.
Would Cowboy do it?
Yes—up and over with ease. And, about a month later, we competed in a trail challenge in Sanger, California, where we won the 18-and-under age division and were the overall trail champions.
Way to go, Cowboy!
Jamie Thompson lives in Visalia, California, where she attends the local community college and competes on its equestrian team. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, creating arts and crafts, and riding at Wood ‘N’ Horse Training Stables (wdnhorse.com).