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By training horses to overcome obstacles, the course makes trail riding safer. Photo Courtesy of Equestrian Skills Course.
By training horses to overcome obstacles, the course makes trail riding safer. Photo Courtesy of Equestrian Skills Course.

by Pam Zubeck

It’s as much about safety as courtesy when it comes to knowing how to control your horse on the trail, says Debbie Bibb with Friends of Equestrian Skills Course.

Bibb is one of about 20 regular volunteers who have been building an equestrian trail obstacle course on 15 acres near Norris Penrose Event Center, 1045 Lower Gold Camp Road.

The nonprofit was formed after El Paso County officials approved a new master plan for Bear Creek Regional Park in 2014 and 2015 that included space for the skills course, though county officials warned they couldn’t fund the course itself.

“They said, ‘We can set aside the land for it and provide some materials here and there,’ but for the most part all the money has come from what our group has raised,” she says.

Bibb says the group obtained its IRS nonprofit status in February 2016, and has been adding to the skills course ever since.

So far, the all-volunteer group has built a step area, which cost about $15,000 to $20,000, a pond area costing $5,000 and a flats area that required a $12,000 investment.

“Our goal is to try to get a lot of different things that are similar to what you’ll see on a trail ride,” she says.

Moreover, the course includes not just one version of an obstacle, but rather three levels of difficulty — beginner, intermediate and advanced.

The course has about a dozen bridges of different types — wide, narrow, boardwalks, and the like — and the pond feature contains 10 to 12 obstacles.

Bibb grew up around horses at her Iowa home and after working as a technical writer, returned to her roots, opening a horse training business. The idea was to train people and horses to navigate trails safely and interact with other trail users, including hikers, dogs and cyclists.

“It’s very expensive to have an obstacle course,” she says. “I thought, ‘There’s places that have mountain bike areas, so we thought why not have a horse area?”

Anyone who spends time on horseback on a trail would benefit from using the course, for which there is no charge, Bibb says.

“Better-trained horses and riders make for better company on the trail,” she says. “One of the worst things that could happen is to have a nervous horse and then have bikers or hikers.”

“With our obstacles, we’re not only teaching horses and riders how to get up and over things, we’re teaching horses where to put their feet,” she adds. “Instead of going around a mud puddle, they can get their horse to go through the puddle and not widen the trail. We’re able to keep horses on the trail helping to protect the environment that way.”

The Friends of Equestrian Skills Course hopes to raise $20,000 through Give! “That will allow us to begin and complete work on our switchback area near the flats area,” she says.

The group hosts work days, usually the second Saturday of every month, the next one being Dec. 14.

This article originally appeared on The Colorado Springs Independent and is published here with permission.

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