Overlooked Trail Obstacles: Carried Objects

Overlooked Obstacles: Carried Objects

Use these tips from AQHA Professional Horsemen Cynthia Cantleberry and Brent Maxwell to prepare for this obstacle in trail classes.

A rider on a horse in a trail course carries a black plastic trash bag  filled with cans.

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A sack might seem an unlikely obstacle for trail classes.

But a sack is just one of the obstacles that trained trail horses are expected to encounter with aplomb, according to the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Cynthia Cantleberry  of Paso Robles, California, has been competing in trail since the 1970s, and she has carried countless sacks, slickers, ropes and more horseback.

She has one big piece of advice: If a horse has never been exposed to a specific type of obstacle, grabbing it and frightening the horse is the worst possible way to get started.

“Don’t just reach down and grab it,” Cynthia says. “If you’ve got a young horse and you think he’s going to be spooky, and if you pick up the objects,and it’s scary for him, let go of them. Don’t try to ride the horse through it.”

Instead, Cynthia suggests starting slowly, like starting with a feed sack and putting some feed inside so the horse can smell the grain. Take your time.

“Maybe just put one or two items in there, and very quietly pick  up the bag,” she says. “Don’t rattle the bag. Pick it up, put it in front of the saddle, and when the horse is really good with that, maybe the next day add some objects to give it more weight.”

The key is a trusting relationship and a relaxed horse, says AQHA Professional Horseman Brent Maxwell of West Mansfield, Ohio.

At the 2019 AQHA World Championship Show, Brent made the senior trail finals on Katie Grossnickle’s horse Always Lopin Sober. When he looked at the pattern, he realized it called for carrying a sack of cans. He had just a few days to prepare the horse.

“I went back to the stalls and came out with a feed sack and rode him while carrying the  empty sack for a while,” Brent says. “I sacked him out on both sides before I put any weight in the sack, just to build his confidence. I made sure he was confident with an empty sack before I added anything else.”

Brent and Always Lopin Sober were fifth in the finals, thanks in part to their long relationship.

“When I have a horse that is jittery or doesn’t like sudden noises, I have a set of sleigh bells that we longe with and ride with, and the horses get used to the noises,” Brent says. “We hang the bells in the stalls, and the horses play with them. All horses don’t get the sleigh bells – just the ones that overreact to noises.”

Once a horse is used to noises, Brent says, the noise from the carried object is no different.

In the class, Cynthia advises, ride up to whatever object needs to be carried and position it so that it’s by your leg.

“I put the horse’s body and rear end toward it and their head away from it,” she says. “I pick it up, put it across the saddle and the horse isn’t going to become afraid of anything.”

AQHA Rule SHW467.3 says one optional obstacle in trail is carrying an object from one part of the arena to another, although only objects that might reasonably be carried on a trail ride.

So is a sack a reasonable object to carry on a trail ride?

“I have a friend who has been winning in the trail ring and also takes horses into the high country on trail rides,” Cynthia says. “She says whatever you take up, you have to bring back, so food goes up, and garbage comes back down. You have to get these horses broke, because that’s part of being a trail horse.”

Quarter Horses are gentle and willing, she points out, and most of them have had early handling that makes them predisposed to learn new things. Time is all it takes.

Sacks and other obstacles highlighted in this series are all strong possibilities for the courses designed for AQHA’s upcoming world shows, says Patti Carter, AQHA senior director of judges, who points out that although the sack of cans at the 2019 Lucas Oil World was a black garbage bag, the sack can be made of any material, whether it’s burlap, plastic or paper. Ideally, horses would be prepared for any of those materials.

“At world championship shows, we want to be sure we’re challenging our exhibitors as much as possible,” Patti says. “Our courses should help our judges crown the best of the best as world champions. These sorts of obstacles are intrinsic to the history of the class, and they’re indicative of the relationship between the horse and rider.

“I appreciate these AQHA Professional Horsemen sharing these tips to help exhibitors prepare and their horses to become more confident with this obstacle.”