Games are not just for youth camp. In a recent lesson with Barbara and Regina, I set up three barrels, made a loop out of a lead rope in the middle of the triangle, tossed in a few carrot sticks, and then explained the rules.
We started off simple: Go to the first barrel, pick up a carrot stick, go around the second barrel, and then put the carrot stick inside the third barrel. Then go around the spool and halt with some part of the horse inside the loop in the center of the triangle.
After that, before they took their turn on the pattern, Regina and Barbara would decide what they were going to do differently. I had them declare their intentions aloud and take a moment to visualize exactly how they wanted the pattern to go.
They came up with several ways to advance the pattern. They added transitions between gaits, halts at the barrels, circles around the barrels, stopping with the hind feet in the loop instead of the front feet. The consistency of the basic pattern built confidence in both horses and riders, and the variety of changing one thing each time kept the game engaging and progressive. The horses began to tune in to their riders and ask questions.
In just this “simple” game, the riders practiced walking, trotting, gaiting, stopping, backing, balancing, carrying things, turning, picking things up, putting things down, managing horses with other horses (and people) in the arena, maintaining focus and leadership while people and horses were doing things outside of the arena….
Sometimes we get to working so hard on improving our skills that we forget to relax with and for our horses. I helped Barbara and Regina improve their skills of focus, communication, feel, and timing throughout the lesson — and we did it in a way that was fun for their horses.