When Vanessa Bee, a positive horsemanship trainer, set up the first horse agility club a year ago, no one could have predicted the uptake of equestrianism’s newest discipline.
The sport — which loosely resembles dog agility for horses, either led or loose at top level — has grown from zero to 425 active members in 13 months, with clubs in 10 countries.
“It’s touched a chord,” said Vanessa, from Devon. “There’s a real interest in doing something different with a horse. It is set up as a competitive sport, with qualified instructors, rules and regulations.”
Chloe Elliston, a natural horsemanship instructor based in Suffolk, said that many of her pupils are taking up the sport.
“There are so few competitive activities if you don’t want to ride,” said Chloe, a horse agility judge. “The only alternative has been showing.”
Cambridge-based Brenda Martin competes with her Morgan mare, Highland Park. The pair finished fourth in the National League last year.
“Agility training gives me the tools to resolve any hairy handling moments,” said Brenda. “The competition and rosettes are a bonus.”
Agility horses can be any size, shape and age (above two years old), and it is this versatility that gives the sport its appeal.
“We’ve seen agility horses from 30inches to 18hh,” said Vanessa.
Besides non-riding handlers, young horses can benefit from the exposure to competition.
“It gives a young horse good foundations,” said Chloe.
“He needs complete trust in you to walk through a fly-strip curtain. I have one client who competes in dressage, but does agility with her two-year-old so he isn’t fazed by anything.”
Examples of obstacles include tunnels, see-saws and jumping through a hoop.
Judges award two marks at each obstacle: for effective negotiation and good horsemanship.
For information, visit www.thehorseagilityclub.com