Apparently you can’t reblog a post more than once, even if it’s still relevant. So instead here is the link, and I will continue my ramblings below.
This is the time of year when everyone starts getting brave; venturing outside the arena. It’s amazing how institutionalised we become working on circles in the arena through winter. I do think working on a variety of surfaces is very beneficial for horses in terms of soundness as the tendons are neither continuously strained or the bones continuously beaten.
But anyway, how does riding in a field differ from an arena?
Firstly, the ground is undulating which means a greater degree of balance is required from horse and rider. This also leads to a slight variance in their way of going – the rhythm and frame may adjust slightly to maintain balance. So the rider needs to adapt to slight changes, relax into the horse, whilst giving the horse support from the leg and quiet hands which don’t restrict the head and neck, thus inhibiting their balance. And go with the flow.
Dressage tests on grass are usually ridden more tactfully; not quite such deep corners and more progressive transitions as the ground conditions and inclines dictate. I think it definitely contributes to the differences between pure dressage and eventing dressage.
I do a bit of teaching on grass and it definitely tests my ingenuity, particularly through winter. Any jump courses I design have to have bigger or complicated fences going uphill. Downhill fences are avoidable in wet weather so diagonal ones work quite well so long as there isn’t a sharp turn anywhere! I have to avoid using the same take off points for too long as they get poached. Grid work is uphill, and lengthening the trot and canter also need to be uphill, and other areas of flatwork need to be tactfully ridden.
But how does riding on grass affect you as a rider? I think it gives you a far better sense of balance, makes you confident over all sorts of terrain – uphill, downhill, hard ground, soft ground – and able to negotiate it correctly by adjusting the gait, your position, and horse’s balance. All of which are very useful for cross country! I think you also develop a “just get on with it” mentality which helps both yours and your horse’s confidence.
Sometimes we get stuck into the regime of flatwork and showjumps in the arena and cross country out in the open. When really, developing the dressage side of things in the open fields improves the horse’s general way of going which improves the quality of the jumping canter. Jumping out in the open has similar benefits, as well as the horse learning not to run onto the forehand or flatten over fences, which is useful for skinnies and tricky combinations on the cross country course.
Even if you aren’t wanting to event I think it’s really useful to shake things up a bit and ride in the fields, and within a few sessions you should feel an improvement in yourself as well as your horse. Being used to working calmly and quietly in open spaces also stops horses getting over excited when their hooves hit grass and galloping off to find some cross country obstacles. Horses find their fifth leg when working over varying terrain which should mean that you feel safer in the saddle because they are more foot sure – think of the native ponies scaling the wild, desolate mountains!
Therefore my challenge to you this summer, is to take your lessons outside the arena! Practice grid work on grass, or perfect those lateral movements on an incline.