Equestrians from the county and beyond galloped into Horse Haven’s rings, dotted with obstacles, for the horse rescue organization’s Obstacle Challenge event Sunday.
The day allowed riders and their horses to build personal bonds and gain new skills.
“Obstacles and doing obstacles with a horse requires a strong line of communication between you and your horse, and that requires a lot of practice and spending time so the horse understands what you’re asking,” Jocelyn Smith, Horse Haven equine manager, said. “One of the things that we find a lot with horses is that if they get bored, they get in trouble. This is something that you practice, and this is what keeps them thinking.”
Smith estimated more than 65 participants appeared for the challenge. Many came from outside county lines.
“We have a lot of people,” she said. “We have people from Monroe County, we have people from Blount County, we have people from Knox County. We’ve got seven counties that have come in for it, and that’s nice.”
Youth to advanced riders were able to take their horses through a maze of obstacles that required both the rider and horse to figure out how to navigate.
“What happens is, they get through them, you have to think, they have to think, so it’s about the partnership,” Smith said. “That’s what we want them to do. We want them to think about the partnership.”
Smith believes the opportunity to practice new skills was intentionally laid-back so riders could learn without feeling defeated.
“We want them to come and not have an enormous amount of pressure,” she said. “This is come and have fun. If you make a mistake, you make a mistake. What we’re going to do is say, ‘You know, just try it again or try it this way,’ and what the judges are going to do is they’re going to give a little bit of feedback, a chance to say, ‘Maybe this would work, maybe this would work.’ We want them to really work on the communication.”
The obstacle course also allows more equestrians to familiarize themselves with Horse Haven.
“It builds community,” Kelly Crenshaw, volunteer coordinator, said. “It lets people come and get familiar with us because we also offer a lot of education for people, but if you can build a community, it seems to make it easier for people to ask for help if they need it. You don’t feel so alone if you start having trouble. We have quite a few programs, but just building the horse community.”
Jessica Raichl had not ridden a horse in 20 years. After coaxing from her daughter and mother, she decided to partake in the challenge.
“It supports Horse Haven, No. 1,” Raichl said. “Two, life’s about challenges. My daughter’s here, and this is her first time, too. I’m actually very stage fright, but between (my mom) and my daughter, I’m like, ‘OK’.”
Smith believes the challenge is a driving factor in the obstacle courses.
“What we want them to do is we want them to challenge themselves,” she said. “Getting a horse on a teeter totter is insane. … Some of the horses have done it for so long, it’s a second thought. Some of them have never seen that.”
The organization will host a Horse Haven Holiday 9-11 a.m. Dec. 1, which features a breakfast with Santa and organization mascot Twinkie. A horse and carriage driving clinic will also be offered in January.