Obstacle Course + Grooming Tools

This is a nice activity I did with my students this week:

Arena setup:

  • 2 barrels
  • 1 bucket with grooming tools on the first barrel
  • 1 bucket empty on the second barrel
  • 1 ground pole (or more if desired)
  • 4 weaving cones


  1. Woah at the barrel. Get a grooming tool.
    • Have rider take a grooming tool out of the bucket. Explain to them what the tool is called and what it is used for, and show them how to use it on the horse’s neck and shoulder. Give them a minute to groom the horse with this tool themselves. If rider has a weak side, encourage them to take turns using the grooming tool with both hands.
  2. Walk on, woah at the second barrel, put grooming tool in bucket.
    • Have the rider place or toss the grooming tool into the bucket. Have the sidewalker hold the bucket closer, if needed. Review what the tool is called.
  3. 2 point over pole.
  4. Weave cones.
  5. Trot the long wall. Or 2 point trotting with some riders.

Skills incorporated:

  • whoa (by barrels)
  • holding reins in one hand while holding something in the other (the grooming tool)
  • ability to identify grooming tools
  • ability to use grooming tools (fine motor skills)
  • halt to walk transition (after each barrel)
  • 2 point – lower body strength, balance
  • direct rein steering
  • trotting, 2 point trotting
  • memory through 5 step pattern
  • focus, task completion
  • independent riding (take away leader and sidewalker support)

Example of Progression

  • Whoa – remove verbal prompts for how
    • at each barrel go from instructing “whoa by the barrel, say whoa and bring both hands back to your hip pockets”, to “whoa by the barrel, use your hands and voice”, to “here comes the barrel, what should you do?”, to saying nothing
  • Independent riding – remove leader and sidewalker support
    • first do pattern with leader and sidewalkers, then with leader giving a 3 ft lead rope slack, then with leader unclipped, then with leader and sidewalkers dispersed around arena
  • Pattern memory – remove verbal prompts for remembering the pattern
    • after each obstacle, go from telling them what’s next, to asking “what’s next?”, to waiting to see if they will continue without prompting and helping if needed, to saying nothing at all
  • Trotting – add longer and more difficult trotting
    • first trot half the wall, then trot the full wall, then half the arena
    • first trot the wall, then trot the cones and the wall, then trot the pole and the cones and the wall



Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

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