I'll preface all of this by saying I'm not a horse trainer- just fortunate to have a fairly forgiving horse to work with while I improve my own riding (I'm an adult "re-rider" that got back into horses in my early 30s, dabbling in some basic dressage lessons and a lot of trail riding).
Cool! Was last Spring the first time you did obstacles with her?
We had done some work with poles in the course of dressage lessons, but nothing with pedestals, objects, etc.
How long did it take for her to get used to streamers and things being dragged behind her?
She had never seen any of those things before the clinic weekend. I think this was day 2 or 3 of the clinic. I think it's important to note though, what they stressed in the clinic (and I've heard from a lot of people here over the years too), is that it's not really about the "thing" you're asking the horse to do- the "thing" is just a way to check-in on how well the horse is listening and working with you. If you have a horse that willingly goes forward or sideways when you ask, the "thing" you add to the scenario shouldn't really matter much. Not to say they won't be curious or worried or startled the first time you try something like that, but if they have already demonstrated that they're working with you through more basic leading or ridden activities, then adding in the thing goes pretty smoothly. With the streamers for example, I think I walked it through her once from the ground while we were waiting our turn for another activity, and since she was forward-thinking and leading well she didn't even look at it. When we started riding through it, the instructor recommended taking it in steps- first time we went through, all the streamers were pulled fully back and we just walked through the opening; next circle, they let out the layer of streamers farthest from the middle; next circle, let out the next layer; last circle, we rode through the full curtain. She didn't hesitate at all even though she had never done something like that before.
My horse seems to not mind walking on and over stuff, but waving things around at her or making scary noises (like velcro jacket pockets, noisy nylon jackets, etc) are somehow terrifying to her. LOL
I think that just means breaking things down into small steps and rewarding what you want (if you want to use the positive reinforcement/treat approach- I know not everyone works with their horse that way, I personally am a fan of food rewards but that doesn't work for everyone or every horse). My horse is terrified of cows- she can see them from 1/2 mile away and plant her feet and not want to move. So, we've been working on that in baby steps from the ground. It's slow going, and someone else probably would have gotten her over it by now, but we've been improving all summer to the point that we can now ride past them on the opposite side of the road. At the beginning of teh summer I couldn't get her to approach them at all. I truly believe she was scared, so we focused on doing things that got her mentally "unstuck" and helped us make progress.
How long had you had and worked with/ridden your horse before you started obstacles? My horse's owner says that she is very brave--once she trusts her rider. Then she will go anywhere, even if it's something she hasn't seen before. I guess a lot of horses are like that.
I got her in Nov 2017. She was boarded until July 2018, and then she came home. This clinic was in March 2019 (I think? Maybe April?) Between Nov 2018 and the clinic, I barely rode her because we don't have an indoor, and winters in Vermont are challenging for riding outside. I was at a real low point last spring trying to get her going again, since my only options at the time were riding solo on the dirt roads around our house. She was very barn sour and very on-edge when I was trying to get back into riding in the spring. I didn't feel equipped to deal with that and nothing I was trying seemed to be working. The clinic helped a lot because it re-upped my confidence that I did in fact know how to handle this horse, and helped me think about what was in it for her- what could I do with her that would make her want
to work with me as a real team? Getting some basic, simple strategies for defusing nervous behavior went a long way for me.
Are you planning to try any competitions?
Unfortunately I don't have a trailer right now, so I'm a bit limited by going to competitions that are within riding distance (there is a great equestrian venue ~10 miles down the road, and we've done some distance riding there this summer), or where I can catch a ride. We also had a pretty serious trailer loading problem last summer into the spring, so I was pretty hesitant to catch a ride and then cause a scene with a horse that wouldn't load to come home. What I learned here, as well as from a trainer we worked with, is that a loading problem is related to the same leading issues and willingness to work together that I was describing above. By the end of the summer, I got her loading really well (as long as I wasn't nervous about it- that definitely made her refuse
). She is still nervous during the trailer ride, but we're working on it so we can go to more activities next year.
Sorry this turned into a novel; your questions really got me thinking about the past year with my horse. Thanks for that! I will look for your journal to follow along.