Anyone who knows me knows I’ve bounced from barn to barn for the last few years trying to find just the right one for me. I worked at a nice barn with an indoor, then another smaller barn with a small indoor and hard, rocky footing, then a barn with no arena at all, just acres of hills and swampy mush. I’ve started colts in round pens and followed up in a nice indoor, and I’ve started colts in the middle of nowhere without a fence to be seen for miles, or worse, just electric fences (not fun to have a young horse run you into one of those).
The interesting thing is that my horses came along much faster without an arena at all, and we experienced an array of things my indoor arena horses never would have encountered. Ski-do’s, blizzards, slippery footing, deer, traffic, tractors, steep hills, and miles to sort it out. I’ll admit some of my rides on my greener horses without fences were somewhat bowel liquifying, but those horses turned into pretty solid creatures over time. They knew how to deal with life.
I haven’t had an indoor arena to ride in in years. Do I want one? Absolutely. I would jump at the chance to ride out of the rain, wind, and snow, but I don’t have that going for me yet. But I was surprised this summer when I went to a clinic with a nice little indoor arena – nothing fancy, but it was covered, and that was good for me, since it was hot. It was pretty uneven in spots, but I didn’t think much of it, having been riding in fields and pastures all summer long. A lot of people were complaining their horses couldn’t perform the western dressage maneuvers in that arena because of the footing. Somebody asked me what I thought. I was surprised, because I didn’t think much of the footing at all. When the arena dipped, my mare rushed a bit, but what’s a half halt for if not balancing down a hill? When it went slightly up a hill, I tried to balance her out and maintain rhythm again. That’s the fun of outdoor riding – you have all these little obstacles to create a better, more balanced horse without over schooling or drilling. Every horse wants to keep their balance, so what better way to help them understand than to say, “hey, if you don’t slow down, you’re going to stumble.”
Last summer I started a yoga for riders class at my barn. I was totally green, and I only had a hilly lawn for everyone to practice in. I was stiff and weak, and the poses were hard enough without the added challenge of the dips and sways in my lawn. Sometimes we toppled over, and doing boats and planks down a hill is not so easy. But toward the end of the summer I felt strong and much more balanced, balancing on one foot with half of me going up the hill. By the time we moved to the indoor studio at the end of the season, I felt like I was rocking’ on the nice, level floor (although I will say I missed the grass – my bony knees hate hard floors). I’m grateful I was “started” outdoors, and feel stronger and more balanced now because of it.
The outdoors is not just for trail riders. I’m an avid student of dressage. But dressage is good riding, and I firmly believe good riding can and should be done on every horse in every situation.