This year, Apollo and I have been working on some horse agility training. Horse agility is similar to dog agility. The horse and trainer must navigate a series of obstacles with teamwork and precision.
One fun obstacle that is often used for horse agility or horse obstacle courses is a pool noodle obstacle, sometimes called the “noodle walk.” Two or more foam pool noodles are attached to jump standards, fences, or other types of sturdy, upright objects. The horse must push through the noodles and then pass through them as they brush against his body.
This type of obstacle is not an easy task for many horses!
As you will see from the video below, as Apollo walks through the noodles, they brush at different times against his chest, legs, and belly. Teaching this obstacle is not only a fun challenge, it also has important safety implications. Many horses, if they feel something strange touching or brushing against their side, react by jumping away from the threat and running away.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have been using clicker training to work on some of the component pieces for this behavior. We started without the noodle and then with me holding one noodle and practiced some patterns that involved targeting, backing, and head lowering. When I first attached the noodle to a barrel, I just used one noodle, and I also cut the noodle in half so that it was skinnier and offered less resistance when Apollo pushed it. Later, we’ll add more and more noodles to the puzzle.
My goal for this obstacle is for Apollo not just to do the behavior, but to be calm, confident, and happy while he is doing it. I think we have achieved this goal! I’ll write more later about the training process I used to teach Apollo the pool noodle obstacle.