Obstacle Tips by Jeff Wilson Cowboy Dressage

The Wildlife Box
As seen in the June Issue of the ACTHA Monthly Magazine

Rebecca Stair Kyle and her Spanish Mustang, Chisto Photo by Aponi
Rebecca Stair Kyle and her Spanish Mustang, Chisto
Photo by Aponi

Create a 12 foot square box using logs or poles. In the center of the box, place flowers and simulated wildlife.

Judging Criteria: The horse and rider team should demonstrate their ability to navigate a small area in unfamiliar surroundings. Horses will be penalized for stepping on the rails, the simulated wildlife, or stepping outside the box. Horses will be judged on performing a smooth, supple arc around the centerpiece with the rider’s aids remaining soft and subtle. Riders should stay centered, balanced, and looking where they are going.

Tips: This obstacle reminds me of the game “Operation” where players operate with tweezers on a little, red nosed character named Cavity Sam. If you touch Sam’s sides during the operation, his nose lights up, a buzzer goes off, and you are out for that turn! The game tests your fine motor skills.

The Wildlife Box obstacle tests your level of FINESSE. It may look easy, but you will need three important operational tools sharpened and honed to succeed as you travel into the box and pass by the wildlife in a confident way. First, you will need to pull up and utilize a refined degree of forward. Keep in mind that a horse can be very claustrophobic, and an obstacle like this can pull out those fears. In other words, he won’t want to enter the box.

Forward is a decision made by your horse, requiring him to listen to your leg and move forward when you ask. Having a relaxed seat and leg when he complies separates the surgeons from the hacks. Patience going in is the key. Sometimes it feels like poking a cat out from under the porch.

The next operational tool you’ll need in this procedure is your ability to focus on steering the shoulders of the horse, and not the neck and head. Here’s the “bull in the china shop” routine for many. If you can’t steer the shoulders of your horse, he’ll be over the sides of the ground rails to get away from the wildlife. Again, patience is the key (even the chickens under the porch know that). Focus on keeping the shoulders soft and between the reins.

If you can’t steady the hind quarters, you might get the buzzer! Our third surgical piece in our tool kit is to keep a soft, steadying leg to help the horse stay forward as well as travel quietly around the square. Controlling the hindquarters is really about controlling movement.

Little minor challenges here will show you areas that you need to work on with your horse. Evasions occur when the rider and steed can’t decide whose controlling the movement. There is never a mistake too far gone when riding forward. Remember, ride through this obstacle with a very relaxed seat (there’s no bee in the outhouse), with steadying legs and soft reins, and you’ll do very well. If you have trouble, you’ll know your homework. Unfortunately, if our foresight was as good as our hindsight, we would be better by a far sight. Have fun with your “operation!”


Jeff Wilson of Jeff Wilson Cowboy Dressage
Jeff Wilson of Jeff Wilson Cowboy Dressage

Jeff Wilson hosts and teaches Cowboy Dressage clinics in the Northeast with great success. He has worked professionally for over 30 years with problem horses, training horses of all breeds as well as specializing in starting horses. For several years now Jeff has turned most of his training program into liberty work, trick training, as well as teaching classical dressage movements in a fun and easy to understand way.

To our great benefit in the competitive trail sport, Jeff is also an ACTHA Ride Host. Look forward to Jeff’s tips to help the horse and rider best perform official ACTHA obstacles in each issue of the ACTHA Monthly Magazine!  

Learn more about Jeff Wilson Cowboy Dressage >

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