A five-year-old boy has become the youngest ever International Horse Agility Club champion.
Freddie McManus took up the sport during lockdown last spring, and finished the year as the highest placed junior in the world league, handling 17-year-old part-Shetland Flick.
Horse agility involves navigating 10 obstacles of varying complexity, which can be set up at home in a field or arena. Competitors film their rounds and the videos are sent to a judge for marking, with points being awarded out of 10 — five for how well the obstacle is completed and five for horsemanship.
Freddie’s mother Emily, a British Horse Society and horse agility instructor, initially recruited Freddie to film her rounds with her two-year-old Spanish spotted cross Leo. But he soon borrowed Flick from the riding school where Emily works to have a go himself.
“Freddie just competes at walk because he’s a bit too young to be doing it at walk, trot and canter at the moment, but there are different levels you can work through,” Emily told H&H. “At the higher levels you can compete at liberty or even a combination of mounted and unmounted, with or without tack.”
She added that the sport had grown increasingly popular while lockdowns were restricting people’s opportunities to go out and compete.
“It’s a sport that’s good for young horses, old horses who are retired or horses that can’t be ridden because either they or the rider aren’t sound. There’s something for everyone,” she said.
“You can also do it from anywhere — there are competitors in Canada who are scraping back 2ft of snow to build their courses.”
The obstacles Freddie and Flick had to tackle include stopping with the pony’s front feet in a hula hoop, going over tarpaulins or pieces of carpet and through a curtain but there are around 30 different obstacles that can appear in the course plans.
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“It’s all about trying to get a good relationship with your horse,” Emily said. “My old horse, who I lost a few years ago, went all the way up to the highest level. Because you have introduced them to so many things, when you go out and compete at dressage and there are white boards and flowers and banners, they cope better as the horse has a connection with you and trusts you.
“I used to compete at fancy dress at the breed show dressed as a pirate with a 4ft flag and my horse never even batted an eyelid.”
Sample courses for people wanting to give horse agility a try are available from the club’s website at: www.thehorseagilityclub.com.
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