Contact information:

Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

August 23, 2011

Phebes is getting a new job.

I've been thinking about it for awhile, and with the uncertainty of Journey's status currently, especially the mystery lameness (which may be related to her back soreness issue) my thoughts have been running towards the question of what can I do with these mares if I can't participate in AERC sanctioned rides.  Though I really enjoy the sport, and hope to continue doing the rides with Journey, if all else fails, I'm looking towards ACTHA.    Many people would think that ACTHA is a dummied down sport at first glance. You only go five or six miles. Having downloaded the skills list, I'd have to say that you need a very well-schooled horse to excel at these rides.  Any horse could participate at their own level, which is good, but that is different than being in the hunt.  Phebes is THE horse for THIS job.  She is so tenacious when it comes to intricate movement.  The only thing that could hold her back would be MY NOT KNOWING how to teach the skill.  This job would weigh on her strengths, and possibly tone down her weakness as she could mosey down the trail at trail horse pace (which might cause me to gnash on my nails, but they make pills for this).

This is a list of the obstacles that may be presented at an ACTHA competition:

ACTHA obstacles
Affiliates must choose from this menu of obstacles. They may combine elements of the obstacles to create an obstacle. If an affiliate wants to use an obstacle that is not on this list, they may do so with ACTHA approval.

Click here for the full scoop on ACTHA

Information concerning obstacles:

Affiliates may use their imagination in creating interesting situations that may occur on trail using these obstacles. An example would be when judging the mount obstacle, the competitor may be asked to pick up a 'wounded animal', place the 'wounded animal' on their saddle, remount, and ride off. This is actually a mount obstacle. However, the situation with the 'injured animal' is an imagined scenario that shows how this obstacle applies to a real life situation.
Another example would be placing a 'fake snake' on a log and having the horses stop before crossing the log and side pass around the obstacle. This obstacle is the combination of a stop and a side pass. The snake demonstrates the real life situation that could cause the use of these skills.

Judges are given individual discretion in deducting points for their obstacle, depending on the severity of the terrain and the obstacle. Judges score their obstacle consistently, albeit some judges are more lenient, and some judges are more severe. As long as they are consistent for every competitor, the judging is considered impartial.

Check the obstacle list often, as the obstacles may be updated from time to time.



Rider will be asked to back their horse.

Judge Criteria

Horse is to back calmly and willingly, any sign of resistance will be penalized.
The horse should back straight, horses head should be on vertical (nice break at the poll), no opening or gaping of the horse`s mouth. Horse should not toss head.

Horse should back quietly and slowly, speed will be penalized.

Rider should glance backwards to check out where he/she is going and check for any danger, rider is to then remain balanced with eyes forward.

Rider`s aids (cues) should be subtle.

If backing through something (trees, rocks, cones, etc.), assess penalty for hitting object.

back up a hill
back down a small incline (never anything steep)
back over a pole on the ground
back a figure 8 around 2 trees

BANK (Down an Embankment)

Rider will be asked to take horse down an embankment.
Judge Criteria
The rider is to sink down and back into a secure position in their saddle, placing weight into their heels and stirrups.
The rider should release the rein enough to allow the horse freedom to balance with his head and neck.
The rider should regain a centered position upon landing.
Penalize any loss of balance on the part of horse or rider.
The horse should demonstrate balance, willingness, and athletic ability.
Penalize run out, refusal, or prolonged hesitation.
This obstacle should be done at a walk for pleasure/junior divisions.
Open division may approach at a trot or canter (keep safety in mind extreme and not recommended).

PLEASE USE CAUTION, any rider not confident should pass.
BANK (Up an Embankment)


Rider will be asked to take horse up an embankment.

Embankment should be no higher than a barrel on its side.

Judge Criteria

Up onto bank - The rider is to release the rein as to allow the horse use of his head and neck.
Rider may grab mane without point deduction.
Penalize hitting the horse in the mouth, or any loss of balance on the part of the rider (getting left behind by the horse`s movement).
English rider may assume a 2 point position.
Western rider is to stand slightly forward with no loss of balance.
Good release of rein is important.
Judge horse on athleticism, calm steady approach, balanced landing.
Penalty for refusal or run out.
Penalty for a stumble.
Western riders may place their hand on the horn to protect their body.
Execute at a walk, trot or canter (FOR OPEN ONLY extreme and not recommended).


Two barrels spaced apart with a board laid across them and a rope handle on one end of the board.
Rider to approach outside barrel and pick up handle end.
Proceed to ride a circle replacing the board to its original position.

Judge Criteria
Horse should make a nice round circle with an arc to their body and their head looking in the direction of travel.
Horse should hold a steady rhythm or cadence.
Rider receives max penalty if board is dropped from either end of barrel.
Horse to be judged on calmness and control.


All horses must walk over the bridge.
For safety, horses MUST NOT be asked to trot over any bridge or slick surface.

Judge Criteria
Horse is to proceed forward at rider`s cue without hesitation.
Horse may regard bridge for a moment without penalty, but must cross willingly when asked.
Long hesitation will incur a penalty.
Any form of disobedience or refusal is a penalty.
Stepping off the bridge is a penalty.

All rules for proper balanced equitation apply.


stop after bridge
back off bridge
stop in the middle of bridge
pick up something that is on the bridge, or place something on the bridge
dismount and walk over bridge safely and quietly

CANTER (lope)

Rider may be asked to canter their horse in a straight line on either lead.
Rider may be asked for to canter in a circle on the correct lead.

Judge Criteria
Penalize an incorrect lead.
Smoothness of canter departure will be judged.
Judge should reward a slow soft canter (lope).
A flying lead change will not be required, a simple lead change may be asked (drop to trot).
A flying lead change will be awarded with a plus if a horse & rider team does a flying lead change, demonstrating balance and athleticism.
Canter to stop may be judged together (optional).
Rider is to be judged on quietness and fluidity of seat.
Quiet aids, immediate response from horse, and quiet hands a must for a high score.

Open division may be asked to hand gallop to show athleticism of horse and rider. A noticeable change of speed must be observed for a high score, yet horse must remain in control.

Plr/Jr - may ask for a change of direction with a simple change (drop to trot).



Rider will be asked to dismount their horse in a safe manner.

Judge Criteria

The horses are to stand absolutely still! (deduct points for movement).

The rider should clear the rump of the horse as he/she swings their leg over the horse.

The rider`s foot should not be left in the stirrup once the 2nd foot touches the ground (unsafe).

The rider should land softly on the ground facing forward.

The rider should maintain control of the reins the entire time they dismount.


Riders may be asked to pick up a horse`s front foot, as if a stone were to be removed.

Riders may be asked to produce a hoof pick or leatherman tool for a plus.

Emergency dismount - rider dismounts quickly as horse comes to a stop. Both feet should hit the ground simultaneously facing forward (running if necessary).

Off side dismount


Affiliates are to have enough water and spray bottles to accommodate their riders. Riders may spray themselves if desired. Riders are to dismount and lead their horses properly, approximately 6 big steps to a table with spray bottles filled with water. Contestants are to spray their horses on each side.

Judge Criteria

Riders should dismount on left side making sure they are free of their stirrups before touching the ground. The rider should take the reins over the horses head, and lead him to the water bottles. Riders should never drag their leg over the horses rump.

Horses should lead quietly, walking willingly next to their riders shoulder. Horses should not walk behind or ahead of their rider. Horse should show a pleasant expression with no ears back. Horses should stand quietly while being sprayed. Any movement or head tossing will be penalized.

Spray your horse 3 times on his shoulder and legs on each side (pleasure, junior)
Spray your horse 4 times on each side of his neck. One spray should be near his head. (open)



Rider will be asked to ride their horse downhill.

Backing downhill is not allowed.

Judge Criteria

Walk only.
Rider is to remain supple and fluid while controlling their sway as not to unbalance their horse. Too much sway will be penalized.
Rider may adjust their seat slightly back to accommodate steepness.
Rider cannot lean too far backward (like a bull rider).
Rider`s hands should not flail or wave.
Rider should appear balanced and in control.
Rider may place more weight into their stirrups to maintain balance.
Rider may never balance off their reins.
Horse should appear calm and athletic; stumbling will incur a severe penalty.
Rushing will incur a penalty.
Any form of resistance from the horse will incur a penalty.

transition to a stop
step over a pole
straddle a pole
traverse (zig zag) around cones, markers or bags (open div)


Drag log (or something similar) that is not too heavy in a straight line from point A to point B. Next horse can go from B to A to keep things moving. Western riders are to wrap rope one turn toward their belt buckle, keeping their thumb up and out of the way. Rope should release immediately upon rider release. English or saddles without a horn- rider can hold rope in a figure 8 in their hand, they must be able to drop rope and NOT COIL IT AROUND THEIR HAND. A nylon or cotton rope must be used similar in thickness to a horse lead rope. This rope will not inflict injury on human or horse.

Judge Criteria

Object being dragged should be kept a comfortable distance (a horse`s length) from horse; care should be taken not to bump horse`s legs.
Horse will be judged on calmness and willingness.
Rider will be judged on balance and safety.

Open Div. - drag plastic bag with cans.
Open Div.-move horse in two directions, pulling away, and facing the object.
Pl/Jr. Div. - Use small log or branch.
Pl/Jr. Div.- pull object in one direction only



Team ride to gate ride up parallel to gate and stand quietly, open gate in any manner in which the gate swings (unless specified by the affiliate) and walk horse through opening turn horse and side pass to close gate.

Judge Criteria

Rider must maintain control of the gate by keeping their hand on the gate at all times. Judge will deduct points from rider if they remove their hand from the gate.

Horse will incur penalty points for: spooking, backing away, refusing to cooperate with riders aids, gaping mouth, head tossing, any sign of disobedience, or pushing the gate with their head or chest.

Judge is to always reward refined and subtle aids or cues. Punishing aids from rider will result in a lower score.


(pl/jr) may open gate only

(open) back through gate

(open) step over pole under gate

(open) side pass from marker to gate

(open) hang plastic bag on gate



The judge will toss a hat on the ground near the horse, and hand the rider a stick and ask the rider to retrieve the hat from the back of the horse.

This is meant to be a FUN obstacle.

Judge Criteria

The horse is to remain calm and quiet. Spooking will receive a deduction in points from horse. The horse may move only when asked by rider.

Horse may retrieve the hat in his mouth if trained to do so.

The judge is to reward smoothness and quickness on the part of the rider.

Calm and willing attitude on the part of the horse will be rewarded.


Open division may be asked to pick up a different type of hat or a hat with bright colors.

Seasonal decor is permissible (Santa hat at Christmas time, for example).

Judge may ask to see emergency equipment such as knife, hoof pick, halter, and lead rope

Judge may ask questions such as, "What type of bit are you using and why?" (Same for hackamore); 30 second extension of time given if needed for questions.



The horse is to jump over a natural log no higher than a barrel lying on its side (18inches).

The log should be bordered by trees or cones to aid the horse, or to be of sufficient length to make it appealing to jump.

Judge Criteria

The horse is to show athletic ability and good judgment in performing this obstacle.

The horse should leave the ground no further back than the obstacle is high, performing a smooth arc.

The horse should approach the obstacle in a straight line with attention on the obstacle.

The horse should remain calm, with a steady rhythm.

The horse should raise his knees and lower his head (using his shoulders) and clear the jump.

Penalty for hitting the jump with his front or hind legs.

The horse should continue forward motion for several strides after the jump and not land in a heap.

The rider should look up and forward.

The rider should rise up out of the saddle and release their hands forward. Penalty for loss of balance or balancing off the horse`s mouth.

English horses or saddles without horns -rider should close their hip angle (break forward at the waist known as a two point position).

Western riders should stand slightly, and release one hand forward, and the other hand may be placed against the horn to avoid body contact.

The picture of horse and rider should appear rhythmical and smooth, with calm forward motion.

Severe Penalty for refusal.

The rider may approach at a walk and have their horse step over the obstacle; this will receive a lower score, but not constitute a refusal.


Plr/Jr- approach at a walk or trot (they may canter if they feel comfortable doing so, but not suggested).

Open division - approach at a canter.



Rider will be asked to back horse through an 'L' shaped obstacle.

Judge Criteria

Horse should back with straightness and not step out of "L".

Penalize stepping on poles or dislodging a pole.

Horse should be straight from head to tail.

Reward subtle cues.

Rider should be balanced in the middle of their horse.

Rider may look back, but should return to centered position.

Horse should be careful and slow.

Penalize any resistance (tossing head, opening mouth, etc.).


Plr/Jr Div. may be asked to back the straight portion of the 'L' only and then walk forward exiting the obstacle.



This is meant to be a FUN obstacle. Horse and rider must quietly approach a box and open to remove contents.
Judge Criteria

Horse is to stand quietly as rider completes this maneuver.

Rider may loop reins thru arm, but should not drop their reins.
Penalize any disobedience from horse.

Open division may side pass to box.

Treats for horse or rider



Rider will be asked to mount their horse in a safe manner.

Judge Criteria

The horses are to stand absolutely still! (points will be deducted for movement).

Rider is to grab rein and mane, while facing slightly forward. (This is to allow the rider the safest position should the horse move).

The rider should land softly and politely in the saddle.

The rider should not place his/her foot too far into the stirrup when mounting. Keep the stirrup up near the toe for ease of exit should the horse move.

The rider should clear the cantle and rump of the horse as he/she swings his leg over the horse.

The rider can and should use the terrain to assist their mount. (Use rock, stump, standing the horse in a ditch, etc.) Management will always provide a mounting block.

Points should be deducted if:

- the saddle is shifted or dislodged (heavy penalty)

- the horse moves

- any loss of control is noted

- horse starts eating

- rider lands heavily in the saddle

- the rider faces the tail of the horse (unsafe)

- the rider grabs the horn and moves the saddle

- the rider swings their leg under and kicks horse in the belly


Off side mount (mounting from the right side), use of log or any mounting aid is appropriate

Have horse straddle log and mount from log (open)

Have horse stand in ditch while rider mounts

Injured animal - Open division. Using a stuffed animal on the ground, the rider is to dismount and pick up the animal as if it were real. Place the animal over the horse in front of the saddle and remount without dropping the animal.

Rider mounts with a pretend broken right arm with the use of a mounting log.



The horse should stand quietly in a box or circle as a noise goes off (the noise should be something that is common in this day and age: pop or crack, siren, bell, alarm, squeaky windmill, etc.

Judge Criteria

Judge calmness and bravery of the horse.

Judge on rider`s balance and control.

Open division - a louder noise can be used.

POLES (Cavalettis)


We suggest 3-6 poles 2ft. 8in. to 3ft.6in apart for a trot, 11' for a canter/lope; distance may be changed at management discretion. Deadfall - falls in a forest in an unpredictable fashion.

Judge Criteria

Penalize for hitting (slight bump), stepping directly on a pole (higher penalty), stumbling or moving the pole (most severe penalty).
The rider is to rise slightly off the back of the horse, however, the rider should not collapse too much as to unbalance the horse (over-weight the horse`s forehand).
Balance and soft hands are important.


in-hand- lead horse over the poles
raise poles 6 inches off the ground
uneven spacing
lay a cross pole diagonally
log jumble
stop between poles
straddle mid-pole
stop before last pole
straddle last pole and side pass off the pole (right or left)



A correct side pass is a lateral move.

The horse moves sideways, moving his hips and shoulders at the same time.

If the horse is moving to the left his right front foot should cross over in front of his left and vice versa.

Judge Criteria

Point deduction for crossing behind, or moving his legs sideways but next to each other.

Rider should have a proper balanced position. Example- heels hips, and shoulders in a straight line. Heels down. Hands in front of the saddle. Riders may look where they are going, but should not be leaning or looking down.

Western riders using shank bits should use one hand.

English, snaffle bit, or hackamore riders may use 2 hands.

Horse to be judged on calmness and control.


Video 1



SLICKER (raincoat)


Rider will maneuver a raincoat while mounted on the horse.

Judge Criteria

Rider should not hand-cuff themselves by placing both hands in the slicker at once (penalty). Riders should never let go of their reins, one hand should have control of the reins.

The judge is looking for a calm and still horse. Points will be deducted for movement or poor attitude on the part of the horse.

The rider is to stay in control of the horse and stay balanced.


OPEN DIV.-Remove the slicker from a post and put it on/off.

PLEASURE DIV. - Lift slicker off post and slide slicker on each side of horse in front of saddle and or behind the saddle.



Rider will be asked to bring their horse to a stop.

Judge Criteria

Horse is to stop in a balanced fashion.

Open horses should stop quickly to achieve a high score.

Horses should stop in a straight line.

Penalize a head toss, open mouth, or any form of resistance.

Penalize any steps past the stop marker.


Open may canter or gallop to a stop.

Pleasure/junior divisions may transition to a stop.



The horse is to cross the tarp as instructed.

Judge Criteria

The horse should demonstrate willingness.

Prolonged hesitation will be penalized, as will backing up or sidestepping.

Horse is to be judged on calmness and control.


Water can be simulated by the use of a tarp, rocks and a hose to create the impression of flowing water.

Simulated wildlife or flowers may be added to create a "Do not disturb the wildlife" obstacle (do not step on the wildlife while crossing the tarp). Penalty given for stepping on the wildlife.



A box (maze) made by arranging poles in a square, with an opening at the top and the bottom. There will be two poles in the middle, one extending from the right side and one extending from the left side. Horses must weave through the maze by backing through it or walking through it.

Judge Criteria

Horses must negotiate the maze without hitting any poles. Horses should appear supple and athletic.

Riders should stay in balance and not lean, maintaining good equitation. Riders should have good hands and not pull or jerk their horses. Finesse will be rewardedJog through the maze (open)

Back through the maze (open)

Move forward through the maze (pleasure, junior)


Rider will be asked to transition from an extended posting trot to a sitting trot, or vice versa.

Judge Criteria
When judging the trot pay special attention to the transitions. The horse should make a smooth transition from the faster trot to the slower trot or vice versa. There should be a noticeable difference in speed. The extended trot should be ground covering and floating, while the sitting trot or jog should be easy for the rider to sit, and have a steady rhythm and cadence.
The rider should not post from his/her stirrup, which makes the rider go up too high, but rather move their hips slightly forward taking the vertical push from the horse and moving it horizontally.
The rider should never bounce in the saddle heavy penalty.
The rider's hands should never bounce, but rather remain steady as if carrying a tray heavy penalty for unsteady hands.
On the circle a rider should post on the outside diagonal.
On a weaving pattern riders should change diagonal every time they change directions.
Riders can stand in a two point (optional).
Gaited horse must gait properly for their breed. Smooth, calm, and on the bit is acceptable. They should be able to transition from slow to fast in a controlled fashion.
A gaited horse`s rider may be in a position slightly toward the cantle of the saddle (back), as that is what is traditional in the discipline.
English riders should post a working trot. Western riders may post or stand.


Ask for trot transitions while weaving in and out of trees.

Ask for a figure 8, with a change of diagonal.



Horse & rider team is to weave (walk, trot only) through poles, barrels, trees, etc.

Judge Criteria

Horse is to maintain a steady rhythm or cadence.

Penalty for speeding up or slowing down.

Penalty for bumping into poles, etc.

Rider should not lean.

Rider should keep their eyes forward.

A plus should be given to any rider who can change diagonals.


Horse is to maneuver in a circular pattern.
Judge Criteria
- Hind quarters to remain as still as practical.
- Front legs "cross over" each other.
- Front end to remain as still or quiet as practical.- Hind legs "cross over" each other.

- However must execute properly crossing front legs while pivoting on inside hind leg.
- This is a trotting type maneuver not a canter pirouette.


Rider will be asked to ride their horse uphill.
Judge Criteria

Horses should walk calmly uphill, only open horses may move at a faster speed if stipulated (only on a moderate uphill with good footing).

Horse should not rush or lunge.

Horse should demonstrate strength and athletic ability.

Rider should be in an up and forward position to aid the horse on an uphill, getting off the horses loins/back.

A soft rein allowing the horse full use of his head and neck will be appreciated.

Rider will be penalized for balancing on the horse`s mouth or head.

Riders may grab mane without penalty.

Faltering or stumbling will incur a severe penalty.

Lay a pole on the ground - horse must stop before pole (transition to a stop) then proceed, crossing the pole.

Horse must straddle a pole on the ground (front feet over the pole).

Traverse (zig zag) uphill around cones or plastic bags filled with something to keep them in place.

Open Div. - may gallop up a hill (only on a moderate uphill with good footing).

Transition of gait may be asked at any point on hill or at top; transitions should appear effortless and subtle for a high score.



Rider will be asked to ride horse through brush (or anything simulating dangling vines).

Judge Criteria

Horse should proceed willingly at a walk.

Penalize any disobedience hesitation, side step, or refusal.

Penalize rushing or excited behavior.

Look for balance, quiet cues, and soft rein aids from rider.

Horse should be centered as they enter and exit vines.


Back through
Open division may trot or canter through



The horse is to cross or enter the water as instructed.

Judge Criteria

The horse should demonstrate willingness.
Prolonged hesitation will be penalized, as will backing up or sidestepping.
Horse may not drink during the performance of an obstacle. Horses may drink prior to or after completion of the obstacle. Riders must be careful as not to obstruct or impede another competitor.
Pawing and attempting to lie down will be penalized.
Lying down in water is a disqualification (DQ).

Open div. may be asked to enter the water at a greater speed than a walk (trot preferred).
Water can be simulated by the use of a tarp, rocks and a hose to create the impression of flowing water.
Open div. may be asked to step off a bank into the water.
Open div. may back into the water.

As you can see many of us could take many of these skills for granted.  Your horse may be an old pro at some of it, but I doubt you have perfection at ALL OF IT.  So there is a ot of horsemanship skill related to doing well in this sport, and if your horse requires medication (mine does) and has a metabloic disorder (which mine apparently does) it is an option to do something fun and interesting with your horse that involves a different skill set.

These rides are spreading and Indiana has a few now.  So for Phebes and I ACTHA, here we come!      


  1. ACTHA sounds like hell to me, but I think it would be perfect for you and Phoebes! Can't wait to hear about it :)

  2. I think it sounds like a great challenge for you, EG. Go for it!

  3. Yay, glad you are going to try something new with Phebes. I bet you'll do great.

    The trick to teaching a lot of those skills... Don't overthink your cues. Feel them. Look where you want to go. Open the door and ask. If it doesn't go perfect the first time, regroup and try again. Both horse and rider need to know it is ok to make mistakes.