If you want to compete but are not interested in riding or are looking for something different to do with your horse, then Horse Agility is the perfect discipline.
What is Horse Agility?
Horse Agility is a competitive sport where the horse and their handler, on foot, navigate a course of obstacles in an enclosed area.
Created in the UK by horsemanship trainer Vanessa Bee, author of The Horse Agility Handbook, she introduced Agility into her training after watching dog agility classes. It is now one of the fastest growing equestrian sports in the world, and in 2009 the International Horse Agility Club was born.
How to Get Started
Classes are open to both children and adults, and any equine can be used from Miniatures to Shire horses, mules and donkeys. The only requirements are that they are sound and healthy and at least two years old. All you need is a halter or head-collar and a rope measuring at least ten feet in length. In the classes you are required to wear a riding helmet (recommended to be worn at all times) and appropriate footwear.
By becoming a member of the International Horse Agility Club, you can find competitions in your country on their website, as well as compete online should you not wish to travel. Every month, you can download a set course for your level, recreating it at home, and then film you and your horse completing it before submitting online. You can also find accredited trainers in your area and attend regular training events.
Training and Obstacles
Training starts by teaching your horse to move forwards and backwards, turning right, left and halting, using only your body language and voice, as no whips or sticks are allowed.
The types of obstacles used in competitions include weave poles, jumps, water crossings, pedestal, ground ladder, curtains, trailer to walk through and so on. You can begin by training your horse using items you already have at the stables; go through a gate, weave in and out of cones, back up through narrow poles, go over a jump, side pass along a pole, the list is endless!
Levels and Scoring
There are six levels in total. Level one has five or six easy obstacles completed in a walk, with level two introducing trot. Level three has up to ten obstacles, and in levels four and five, part of the course is timed, and part or all of it judged. Level six sees the horse at liberty (horse is free with no head-collar and rope), which is the ultimate test in Agility.
Each obstacle carries a possible score of ten in two parts; successfully negotiating the obstacle is marked out of five, with the horsemanship skills also marked out of five. A mark is deducted for each refusal, considered as stepping back, turning away or not moving to the obstacle. Points gained for a win or a place goes towards national and international leagues.
The Benefits of Agility
Horse Agility is great fun and a wonderful way to build a partnership with your equine, installing confidence in you both. Your horse will become more obedient, keeping him sound in body and mind, and teach him to cope with different situations. The idea is to sensitize rather than desensitize. For a youngster, it provides an excellent grounding for any future work he may do and valuable training to a horse in ridden competitions, as he will be more adaptable to his surroundings. It can give a job to a pony too small to be ridden and a semi-retired horse something interesting to do. It is a wonderful sport that everyone can enjoy, both equine and human.
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