Just about any trail course or ranch trail course will include a bridge obstacle. You’ll be riding your horse across it, and to gain points for the maneuver, you’ll want to show your horse doing his best as he’s going over it. To explain how to tackle the bridge correctly, trainer Amy Andresen of Cedar Hill, Texas, shares her tips.
Why the Bridge Obstacle is Tricky
A lot of horses don’t like to go over the bridge obstacle—they’d rather go around it because it’s small and narrow.
Some versions are taller than others, which means the horse has to make a bigger step up than for bridges that are flat and close to the ground. Each bridge makes a different sound when the horse walks over it. All of these challenges mean your horse might not want to go over a bridge without clear direction from you.
Teaching the Bridge Obstacle
If you’re not sure your horse knows how to cross a bridge, you’re better off starting on foot, says Amy. Holding your reins or a lead rope, lead your horse up to the bridge and then step on it yourself.
“Tap on the bridge with your feet so your horse can hear the sound and see you get taller,” Amy says. “When you step up onto the bridge, you’re introducing the horse to all the changes that are going to happen when he gets up there himself. Just encourage him to get on it one step at a time.”
Ask for one step, then say “whoa” and “good boy” as you encourage forward motion and reward every step. Lead your horse across in every direction until he’s comfortable following you onto and off of the bridge without hesitation.
How to Ride the Bridge Obstacle
Start out on a straight line and head your horse toward the center of the obstacle, keeping him on that straight line to set him up.
“If your horse tries to go around the bridge, I would stop, even before he tries to go around,” Amy says. “Get good control again before he goes around.”
Make sure you’re asking the horse to move forward with both legs; keep his head and neck between your reins. Your horse should look at the bridge as he gets ready to cross it. As he’s preparing to step onto the bridge, you may need to give another “go-forward” cue with both legs.
“After you’ve got that first step on, they’re usually committed to going over,” Amy says. “But if not, and he stops, you don’t want him jumping off. So through the whole bridge obstacle, you want to be there for him, keeping your legs on, maybe clicking with your mouth a little, keeping your hands down. Everything you’re doing is saying ‘This is OK. Go forward.’”
After you’ve walked over the bridge, look ahead to your next maneuver.
In practice, try the bridge from every direction, and put it in different locations. Amy says they repaint the bridge at her barn every other month to give the horses a challenge.
“Change it up when you’re schooling, otherwise the horse will get used to it,” she adds.
Troubleshooting the Bridge
If you’re headed toward the bridge and your horse ducks out and tries to go around it, Amy recommends guiding your horse in a circle in that direction. For instance, if he ducks to the right, circle using your right rein and go right back to your straight line toward the bridge so that you hit the center.
Also, if your horse ducked right beforehand, press on your horse with your right leg as you point him toward the bridge to remind him in which direction he needs to go. You can add your left rein to keep him on a straight line while encouraging him to go forward and stay straight. Do not let your horse veer off course.
Sometimes a horse will get on the bridge and then try to jump off to one side or the other. In that case, Amy advises keeping your horse’s forward momentum going with both legs maintaining light contact.
“If you feel him trying to jump off to the side, press with both legs and correct with your reins, pulling him back on the bridge and reminding him not to jump off,” Amy says. “Pull and release with your rein, then keep him going forward.”
Judges in a trail class like to see a horse interested in the bridge, not just plodding over it like they’ve done it a million times.
Amy suggests asking your horse to slow down just slightly before you step on the bridge by checking the stride with your reins and then loosening them to allow your horse to look down at the bridge for a moment before you urge him on with your legs. But make sure your reins aren’t too long, which could become a safety hazard.
You may also need to cue with your legs to encourage him to pick up each foot cleanly as you go across.
If you’re competing in trail or ranch trail at a show, you’ll want to brush up on the rules of the class. Check with the rule book from your chosen association, whether it’s the American Quarter Horse Association, American Paint Horse Association, United States Equestrian Federation, or one of several ranch horse associations. You can often find the latest version of the rulebook online.
This article about navigating the bridge obstacle appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!