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Do you find your mind wandering while you’re in the saddle, focusing less on what’s currently happening and more on what’s previously happened? We’ve all been there. But the more you find yourself distracted in the saddle, the more often your horse can take control of the ride and go in the direction he chooses to.

To be the best rider you can be, you need to always be present in the saddle. To help get your attention back on your horse and the task at hand, I’ll show you an obstacle course you can easily set up at home in your arena or pasture.

Use Obstacles for Practice

A great way to bring your attention back to your horse is by setting up some obstacles in your arena to ride over. You can use practical items laying around your barn like hay bales, cones, buckets, and colored rings. Or you can include obstacles that you’re more likely to find in a competitive trail class like poles, standards, bridges, and gates.

Place the items you have around the arena, setting them about 30 to 40 feet apart. They need to be far enough apart so that you have time focus, process what you’re doing, and then properly cue your horse to get through them. 

As you go over your pole obstacle, keep your eyes up and look in the direction you want to go.
Jillian Sinclair

This example course is a great way to test your skills and see how you do. You’ll set up a couple of trail poles on the right side of the arena, a cone after that, and then another trail pole that is parallel with the arena fence. On the left side of the arena, you’ll have some hay bales (or water buckets) to weave through, and a cone farther down the arena.

Since you’re working with obstacles you have around the barn, feel free to modify the course to fit the items you have readily available. If you find this course too easy to start, up the difficulty by include extra obstacles, or shorten the distance of your current obstacles so you must think a little quicker between them.

Circling the cone at a trot is a great way to help you evaluate your ability to guide your horse properly.
Jillian Sinclair

Step 1: Find Your Poles
Start at the entrance of your arena and ride toward your trail poles, which will be on the right side of your arena. As you cue your horse forward, keep your eyes focused on where you’re going, and approximately three horse lengths in front of your horse’s head. As you approach the pole, keep your eyes up. You don’t want to look down at the pole as you go over it as it’ll throw your horse off balance.

Step 2: Circle Cone #1
Once you’re over the pole obstacle, keep your eyes up and focus on the cone that’s ahead of you. Approach the right-hand side of the cone, and when your horse’s shoulder is level with the cone, steer him in a circle to the right. Once you complete a full circle, go on to the next maneuver.

Step 3: Find Your Marker
Head straight toward the pole that’s parallel with the arena. Ride on the left side of it and try to stop before your horse’s nose reaches the end of the pole. Test your ability to see where obstacles are without turning your head and looking for them. Once your horse’s nose reaches the end, cue him to the left to continue your course.

Step 4: Circle Cone #2
By now you should be heading back toward the entrance of your arena and toward the next cone. You’ll once again approach the cone on the right-hand side and make a circle to the right around it.

Step 5: Weave Through Hay Bales
Ride straight to the hay bales or buckets that are set up in so you can serpentine through them. Approach the bale on your right-hand side first and then begin to weave through the bales. Start by having your hay bales about 30 feet apart. As you get more comfortable, make them a little tighter, forcing you to steer a little quicker.

This is a quick and easy course you can set up in your arena that helps you focus on your horse and what you’re doing in the arena.

Challenge Yourself

Once you’ve accomplished this course at the walk, try your skills at the trot, and maybe even the lope. You can also mix it up by adding speed transitions in between your obstacles. Having to think about the obstacles and transitions that are quickly approaching will leave you keeping your focus on what your horse is doing currently rather than looking in the rearview mirror at what has happened in the past. 

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