It is certainly summer time in Australia with fires and storms, sun and cricket and with the Australian tennis open next month. I am currently back home in Central Queensland, riding horses from the current young horse intake. In riding around home it is a stark contrast to the climate and countryside that many riders in the Northern Hemisphere and elsewhere have available.
Over the years when owners/ riders come to pick their horses up after starting, the question gets asked what do I do now. Most times I will say ride your horses for another couple of weeks and do so outside of an arena if you can. I appreciate that many riders may feel safer in an arena than outside of one and may not have an “outside” to ride. So I am speaking from what I believe is good for the horse and what has worked for me from my own experiences over the years. This is really about the benefits of riding outside versus an arena.
Quite quickly with most “young horses” that are in to be started I like to get them riding outside of an arena as soon as I can. By getting outside I am able to help the horse to become more self confident and forward going. There are many outside experiences that can help with this from crossing creeks and streams to going over logs and up and down hills. Of course in Australia there is also the odd kangaroo that is jumping by and I have cattle as well. All experiences of this nature I really believe help the horse to develop more self confidence. While I am riding I really pay attention to my horses expression and where the horses mind is at. When riding outside I am often looking at cattle or checking waters in other words I am doing a job. Riding with a sense of purpose also helps the horse to learn to walk out. While some horses are more forwards than others, many riders will say that they find their horses more forwards outside than in an arena, the horses expression will often be more positive when outside of an arena.
When I am outside I try and take advantage of logs to jump, water crossings, trotting up hills or walking down hills and keeping the horse’s weight back. I often ride around water troughs or tanks to help the horse take the arc of a circle or turn around. Many horses that have been raised on small acreages will not have had to cross a creek or drink out of a stream so can find water crossings quite a challenge.
Being able to utilise an arena is also important and will cause you to be more accurate and precise, with the timing of your cues and in the way that you set your horse up for different movements. There is so much to the old saying of: preparation to the position for the transition. The way you arrange the life in the body of the horse for the transition becomes really important. Not just in an arena but outside as well. Many riders will struggle with the life coming up in the horse when riding outside. Learn to give that life a direction.
I often see many riders that can ride in an arena but when they go outside they have a different horse. Over time you should be able to ride both outside and in an arena without feeling you are riding a different horse. A healthy balance between the two is important. There are so many props and I don’t have to set any up, they are already set up.
I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year and I look forward to seeing everyone in the new year.