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Training Obstacles for Stockman’s Challenge

with Lynda & Wayne Field

In previous articles, we have discussed the foundation exercises and how they assist the horse and rider when faced with obstacles like gates. This time, we will increase the intensity to focus on the more ambitious obstacles often seen in stockman’s challenges, including mats, pallets, bridges, and the water box/pit.

Lynda explains, “You should only move onto this once you have mastered the foundational exercises discussed in Foundations of Stockman’s Challenge, as you must ensure you have full control of the horse’s whole body to guide them up to and across all obstacles.”


When introducing the horse to walking over an object, starting with a rubber mat is best, as this doesn’t make as much sound as a blue tarpaulin, and it isn’t as difficult as an object that they have to step up onto.

1. Set your mat up prior to your ride, bring your horse into the arena and let the horse see it. Walk them in a circle around the mat a few times slowly inching closer to the mat, but remember this must be done on both reins.

2. Once the horse is comfortable walking around the mat and having it within their space, approach the mat head-on. Walk up toward the long side, giving the horse the shortest distance to walk over. Remember, this can be scary to some horses, so keep it simple; don’t over-face them and stay calm and slow in your movements, reactions and requests.

As a rider, your focus here is to keep the horse looking towards the obstacle; if the horse shies or runs backwards, don’t turn them away as it is encouraging the horse that there is something to be concerned about. Just calmly ask the horse to stay looking at the obstacle; don’t stress if you are 10 metres away from it; as long as the horse is looking towards the mat, it doesn’t matter.

3. Give your horse time to process the obstacle; let them stand. Ask for one step at a time by gently squeezing the horse with both legs. Remember, it is vital you release the pressure when they make that forward step. This is a patience game; just sit, wait and ask for one step at a time. The slower you go now, the quicker you will go later. Horses are inquisitive; their curiosity will get the better of them, and eventually, they will want to investigate the mat further. When this happens, allow them to stretch their neck down to look at it and sniff it, at which point you must soften your contact.

If your horse was exceptionally reactive to the sight of the mat, you might decide that on day one of introducing this obstacle, your goal is to just stand near it. Be realistic in your expectations; do not force a problem. It will only set you back further in the long run.

4. Once the horse is comfortable being alongside the mat, ask the horse to place one foot on it, then ask for them to stand in this position while you reward them. From there, ask for another step and slowly creep your way across the mat, simply focusing on one step at a time.

Note: Some horses may jump the mat initially. Don’t let this concern you; this is a normal reaction, and they will give this up as the exercise is repeated and they gain more confidence.

5. Now you have mastered walking across the shortest distance, calmly from both directions, ask your horse to walk the whole length of the mat. Ensure you give the horse plenty of space to enter the mat straight and centre. Your aim here is initially to just walk along the mat.

6. From there, you can start to focus on staying straight. Entering the centre of the mat and exiting out the centre of the mat. If you have trouble keeping your horse straight over the mat, don’t attempt walking across the pallet/bridge. Master the matt first and if you still have trouble, you may need to return to the two rail exercises discussed in part one.

Tip: Putting two rails on either side of the mat can also provide a guide to straightness.



Not straight

Not straight


Introducing your horse to a pallet or bridge is done in the same process as introducing your horse to a matt. Don’t anticipate a problem, walk them up, see what the horse’s reaction will be, then react according to your horse’s reaction.

1. Take your time; if your horse needs to be walked around the obstacle first, then do so. Make your first goal getting your horse up to the obstacle in a relaxed fashion.

2. Once standing at the base of the pallet ask for them to just put one foot up on the pallet. Remember, pressure, release and reward the try. If they happen to jump the pallet, which is a normal reaction, reward that try too.

3. It is common as a rider to panic about falling off the obstacle when it is off the ground. Don’t let this override you, just focus on one step at a time and straightness. If your horse can’t walk over the mat in a straight line don’t attempt the pallet/bridge. Go back a few steps and master the foundational exercise before moving forward.

NOTE: As a rider, you need to know when to backtrack a few steps when things are not going right. Your horse must understand pressure and release, and sometimes, there is a point where you might need to go back to basics for a while so your horse understands what you are asking them to do, which in return does not create a fight. Try and keep things as simple as possible. Only progress forward to the next step when your horse is telling you it’s ready.


The idea behind training for a water box is to start by getting your horse comfortable stepping into and out of something. We want them comfortable walking through with the dry water box from all angles before water is added.

1. Again, like the previous obstacles, let your horse investigate the obstacle, don’t force them over it. The horse needs to be comfortable with what they are doing. Start by getting your horse to walk through an empty water box.

2. Ask for one step at a time and remember to reward the tries.


1. Now is the time to put water inside your water box/pit. Usually the biggest problem with an obstacle with water is the approach. Once they get one foot in the water the horses are usually fine with it. Therefore it is important to remember your box mentality and to keep them between your legs and hands. Focus on the pressure, release reward system and take your time.

2. Once you get to the stage, your horse is happy to stand at the base of the box/pit; ask them to place one foot in. Take note: some horses will react and step backwards when they first step in the box as the water will splash and move. It’s okay if they do so, but you must not let them turn away. If they do this, ease them back to where they came out of the water box and put them back in your ‘box’ by keeping them between your legs and hands. Once they are back at the base of the obstacle, remove your pressure and allow them a long rein so they can investigate it. You have to allow them to process what you’re asking before asking them for another forward step.

3. Once your horse has one foot in the water, don’t keep forcing them to go forward. We want them to stand calmly without creating too much splash and drama. Reward them, then ask for another step. Whatever you do though, do not back them out of the obstacle, keep them forward.

4. Once you have two feet in the water box, keep encouraging them to walk straight through. Don’t expect them to stand in the obstacle with all four feet as they could panic. At this point in time also don’t be concerned if they exit out to the side as you can fix this later.

The initial goal it just to get them comfortable with the obstacle and have them walk through it. You can finesse the finer details later.

Stockman’s Challenge is continuously evolving and no comeptition is the same. Mastering the fundementals will ensure you can approach any obstacle with ease. Remember to sit centre in the saddle and on the centre of your seat bones, keep your legs resting against their side to encourage the horse forward. Give them contact but don’t bunch them up. If they wish to stretch down to investigate the obstacle, allow them. As a rider, make sure you don’t pre-empt a problem or get yourself nervous about an obstacle as it will go through to the horse; it is our job to give the horse confidence. We are there to help them through this. By training and exposing your horse to obstacles at home you will build a greater connection with one another and learn more about your horse. Happy Training!

Wayne and Lynda Field, from Glencoe in the Lower South East of South Australia, specialise in Stockman’s Challenges and have won numerous challenges over the years. With a background in showing, polocrosse, clerking at trotting meets and starting young horses, the couple takes Challenges seriously, with dedicated training and education at the forefront of their success. Horse Deals is fortunate to share some of their challenge wisdom with our readers this month.

Article: Safari Smith - Horse Deals

More articles on Stockman's Challenges with Wayne & Lynda:
Foundations of Stockman’s Challenge: Essential Groundwork Techniques
Step-by-Step Gate Training for Stockman's Challenges

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