By Sarah Lyles
Obstacle challenges are becoming very popular around the country, especially with trail riders. People know trail riding, barrel racing, jumping, and dressage, but many don’t know what obstacles are.
Obstacles started off being called Trail competition. Breed shows still offer the Trail competitions, but obstacle competitions have grown tremendously over the past few years. Obstacle challenges today have similar obstacles, but people have gotten very creative with obstacles as well. Riders still do gates, bridges, pick up slickers, and back an L shape, but also do things like pool noodle tunnels, small jumps, pushing rolling barrels, walking through campsites, roping calf dummies, and skill-related things like turns on the forehand or haunches, sidepassing logs, and gait transitions.
Obstacles are designed to challenge confidence, precision, and horsemanship. Riders enjoy the competition aspect of it and the mental and physical challenge of completing an obstacle. They also enjoy the partnership they have to develop with their horse to accomplish the obstacles correctly. Obstacles help build the rider’s and the horse’s confidence. The more you expose your horse to things, the more your horse will learn to trust you when it encounters new or scary things. Some organizations offer trail challenges where, even if you don’t do well on the obstacles, you still get to enjoy a nice trail ride. Most events are so laid back and friendly that anyone can participate.
There are several types of obstacle challenges. There are Arena challenges, which typically consist of 8-10 obstacles in an arena or an open field. There are Trail challenges, which can be around someone’s farm or on an actual 5-10 mile trail ride where the rider encounters any kinds of obstacles along the trail. There are Mountain Trail challenges, which consists of obstacles the riders would come across riding along a trail in the mountains. There are Extreme Races that combine obstacles and speed. There are also Endurance rides where they incorporate obstacles in their competitions.
As these types of competitions have grown, someone interested can find one almost anywhere. Individual farms hold 4-5 events for a season. There are organizations that have local or even a statewide series. There are also regional and national organizations. There is no dress requirement and, if there are any tack requirements, they are based on safety. So obstacle challenges are open to anyone with a horse or mule that is willing to try.