The Obstacle Game

By Patty Wilber

The blog is late!

Here is my excuse: The horses ate my homework.

OR: It was finals week for my lab classes at CNM so I worked late on grades.  No blog on the brain.

THEN: I came home to a grilled salmon dinner (with wine)  (at 10 pm) prepared by my spousal unit.  Definitely no blog on the brain! (The aroma of a fine meal out competed the Smell of Horse!)

This morning in a (hot) flash I remembered:  THE BLOG!


Marcia and me (last year but hey)

compared schedules back in early October and the first weekend we could come up with for a horsie get away was Dec. 1 and 2.  Marcia was registered for an American Competitive Trail Horse Association event, so I figured I’d give it a try.

I registered Squirt for the Scout division (so I wouldn’t have to pony (get it? pony?) up membership fees).

We did the trailer transfer at Marcia’s

Bad dog! (Not that Squirt gave a hoot!)



Two minutes later.

and headed to the desert outside of Las Cruces to rough  it (NOT!) in Marcia’s camper.  I think I need a camper like that.

We arrived in the dark and Squirt got to high-tie.


The high tie arm is permanently attached to the trailer and is flexible. The lead rope reaches to the ground and has a swivel and a quick release. The horse can eat, drink (if they don't use their water bucket for poop target practice) and even lie down.

Had she high-tied before? Uh, no.  But this is I-Can-Handle-Anything Squirt, and she has had plenty of practice tying to the tie-rack, trees and the trailer.  She was a little antsy because she did not have a good view of the camp, but did fine.  I did have a back up plan of renting a stall.

Junior used a portable corral.

ACTHA rides are 6-10 miles with six “challenges” that are scored 1-10 for the horse and 1-10 for the rider.  Horses of any age can be ridden in a snaffle bit, but if  riding in a shank bit, it has to be one-handed (i.e. neck reining).


Snaffle bit.

Squirt used a shank bit very much like this one.

Until I learned a snaffle bit rein use technique from Terry Berg of Santa Fe Reiners, it took me a fairly long time to  transition from direct reining to neck reining.  But this is Squirt, so even though she just turned three in October and has only  had five months of light riding, I rode her one handed.  (Plus her owner wanted her to neck rein so this was the perfect venue to work on it.)

Day 1.

In the mesquite and yucca-thick desert (which used to be grassland prior to poor land use practices that began with the  Spanish)  near Las Cruces, NM there is a “cross country course” set up for really challenging jumping at Isaak’s Ranch.  This was where we were.   (We did not use those for our obstacles but they were fun to see!)

Junior and Marcia posing in the mesquite (my camera died before I could get the yucca shot!)

Water:  Squirt has crossed water but it has been a while.  Marcia and Junior went first.  They drew Squirt across, which was great except that we did have to halt mid-crossing and count to five.  I had to pull pretty hard to stop.

Logs: We had to walk over a network of poles.  Ms. Nothing Bothers Me (except being too far from Junior) doesn’t care if she whacks a log or two.  So she did.  Not badly though.

Back around a bush: The first half was pretty rough but the second half smoothed out. Squirt:  Why are we doing this again?

Close encounters: A man with an umbrella and a dog appeared out of the brush.  Squirt:  Interesting.  Where’s Junior?

Steep hill with sharp turn. She paused in the middle and turned a little too sharp.  Because she was thinking about her new best friend!

Jump:  No hesitation, just: Clonk!

After we finished, I wanted to get a picture of the water obstacle. It was warm and she was sweaty.  You know where this is heading.  My photographer friend who will remain unnamed, but let’s just say she was riding Junior, told me to stand still in the water. Uh huh.

Squirt laid down!

My Ph F was laughing so hard she missed the shot.  (After a moment of hesitation I decided to stay on and have Squirt get back up, which she did.)

And right after this....we were lying in the drink!

Day 2:

Water, again: This time with a 360 turn on the forehand (move the butt).  Nicely done!

Logs again: Different pattern.  Squirt looked and walked and still hit one!

Trot around the pumpkins. Pumpkins?  Apparently they were left over decorations from a jumping competition, so we just borrowed them.  Squirt serpentined them very nicely and then hesitated on the half turn to wave at the judge. I thought that was supposed to be the easy part!

Gate: Squirt opened and shut her first rope gate the fourth time she had ever been ridden. Gates are not a problem.  UNLESS Junior is in the WRONG location. What actually constitutes “wrong” is known only to Squirt.  She did not share.  So she wiggled a little on the set up so I had to re-align her to open the gate.  In the Scout division riders walk through and then  must drop the rope before closing the gate.  We did so, but then retrieved it and shut it just on principle (Or maybe there was an ego issue for the rider involved.)

Close encounters (with a large green stuffed Toad): Squirt was required to stand still in a circle while the large toad was towed across her path.  She looked at the toad.  Ears up. Immediately decided that toad was a non-issue and started looking for You Know Who, who was apparently not QUITE in the right spot.  She did a little tap dance but did stay in the required circle.  Not the height of beauty, but passable!

Don’t feed the bears: A lariat was tied to a big blue Walmart bag that was filled with faux food.  The rope was tossed over a cross beam and we were required to get the rope, back the horse and pull the bag up in the air, then lower the bag and replace the rope.  Squirt LOOOKED at the bag, sighed and then proceed to complete this challenge like she was born to it, soft and exactly as I asked.  (We earned a 10 10+ on that one!)

It was a nice way to finish the ride!

I think we have evidence that her training has been a success (remember she packed elk in October, too!).  So, she is heading back to her real home early next week!

Of course she is welcome back here any time!




About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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6 Responses to The Obstacle Game

  1. Yay!

  2. BlogPatty says:

    Thanks Carolyn!

  3. Kathy Davies says:

    So bummed Marcia didn’t get a photo of you guys lying down in the water!! 🙂 Hilarious!

  4. BlogPatty says:

    Me too even if it would have been a little embarrassing!!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Squirt has the disposition I like to see in a horse–calm and cooperative. May she drop foals with the same, when she’s bred (if she’s bred.)

  6. BlogPatty says:

    She is a gem–easiest horse I’ve ridden al year. Have two more that look to be similar and one a little more challenging but charismatic. It will be fun to see how they turn out….

    Oh and I just read Oath of Fealty–really liked it over all and it was fun to read horse scenes that felt just right!!

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