As the weather breaks and we finally see the snow melt from the shaded corners of the pasture, the trails begin to beckon. No doubt those of us who faithfully schooled through the winter are ready to get out of the indoor and into the great wide open. But trails mean you’ll meet obstacles, some of which might give your horse offence (it is spring, after all). Whether it’s the echo of hooves on wooden planks or the horse’s ability to sense he is somehow suspended in midair, bridges are common sources of trouble for many a rider (whatever the season). But with a little groundwork ahead of time, you can ensure your horse is well-prepared to cross every bridge you come to. Follow these basic steps from Vanessa Bee, founder of the International Horse Agility Club and author of Over, Under, Through: Obstacle Training for Horses.
Bridges come in all shapes and sizes, from plank bridges across rivers to wide bridges over highways with fast vehicles whizzing along them.
At some point on your rides out you may need to go across a bridge if you want to continue on the trail; otherwise you might need to make a big detour or just turn around and head home.
Always ensure a bridge has been designed with horses in mind; a small bridge built to carry people may be too weak, or even too slippery, for a horse, and on some bridges it is safer to dismount and lead your horse over.
With proper preparation, going over a bridge is just another stride down the trail.
Step 1 Make sure the horse can walk over a tarpaulin first.
Step 2 Then offer the flat bridge.
If walking along it is too much, try going from side to side. The horse may step right over, but as he gains confidence you will see that he starts to drop the odd foot onto the surface as he steps across. Don’t try and stop him exploring; let him look, smell, and paw the surface if he needs to.
Step 3 Now put a small pivot in the middle to create a teeter-totter effect.
It doesn’t have to be big to start with: you could just use a small pebble or a broom handle to get a tiny movement to begin. Keep out of the way when the teeter-totter drops down, as your horse may take fright and jump off.
Step 4 Test your horse in-hand over a raised bridge or similar obstacle before trying to ride over one.
Once your horse has been allowed to explore how it smells and sounds, and if you have completed the prior steps, he should be very comfortable as he crosses it.
This excerpt from Over, Under, Through: Obstacle Training for Horses by Vanessa Bee is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).