Beyond the Arena Rail

Now that it’s stopped raining in Texas and our fields have dried up, we’re back to being able to ride outside of the ring as much as we want. This is a happy time, because Henry and I are both big fans of doing as much work outside of the ring as possible.

as Henry demonstrated last week with Hillary

He’s still well-behaved in the confines of an arena, but he’s a little grumpier, a little more sullen, and a little harder to motivate. When the footing is good in the fields, we really only go in the ring to jump, since, ya know… that’s where the jumps are. So we might only ride in the ring once a week or so.

If it’s a dressage ride I usually take him out to the smaller field right next to the barn. In prepping for the 3 Day we’ve added a long walk or long trot before/after pretty much every ride, even dressage days, and it all seems a lot less monotonous going round and a round a field instead of round and round the ring. Plus Henry really likes to pretend to spook at random things, especially bushes, and who am I to take that joy away from him?

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For straight up conditioning rides and gallops we go down the street to the big hay field. I’ve got that place down to a science – one lap at a 220ish mpm trot is exactly 5 minutes, and it’s a lot easier for my brain to handle 8 or 9 laps than it is to embrace the reality of a 40-45 minute trot. I can’t even imagine trying to do that in the ring, I think I’d stab myself in the eye out of sheer boredom and Henny would probably decline to continue carting my butt around.

As an eventer, riding outside of the arena is obviously pretty essential. You have to be able to control the horse in a wide open space, get yourself and your horse used to traversing varying terrain, etc. Plus you just need SPACE to gallop. Can’t do 450mpm gallops sets in an arena. Not without being really freaking scary, anyway. Most of the eventers I know ride outside of the ring at least a few times a week.

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HENNY RUN!

But I also know a lot of people that rarely, if ever, ride outside of the arena. Many because they just don’t need to, but for some people I know it’s a fear issue. Like the lady I knew forever ago who wouldn’t even walk a single step outside of an enclosed area – she would even mount/dismount in the ring and always close the gate. I guess that’s a control thing? And then there are the horses who seem to genuinely lose their shit outside of the ring. Granted, I’ve never had one, but I’ve heard of these mystical creatures.

How often do you ride outside of the ring, and for what purposes?

30 thoughts on “Beyond the Arena Rail

  1. I’m probably about 50-50 depending on what the weather is like and whether I’m working towards any particular goals/shows/etc. But given a choice, I’d much rather work outside the arena! I think it’s more interesting for my horses mentally and makes them all around better citizens, which is always a good thing.

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  2. When I had a horse I felt really unsafe on, I never ever rode outside of the ring after the first time he got really strong with me on a trail ride. My skills were at a point where I could have handled him, but I hated how it felt when he would try to run away with me. When I got a horse I felt really safe on, I spent so much time in the field that I really don’t think I even needed an arena! Just goes to show that even though one can, in theory, handle a hot horse, that may not be the preference of that rider. When it comes time to own a horse again, I’m excited to find that been-there-done-that eventer that will forgivingly show me the ropes!

    Also ‘HENNY RUN’ is my favorite version of Henny. ❤

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  3. Mr. P thinks he’s an old school pony so unless he’s doing something exciting in the arena such as a lesson or being ridden during horse show schooling (he’d really like to horse show again!) I get out of the arena as much as possible because he’s more fun out there. Stampede is a strange creature (I’m sure we all knew that already) so I don’t go out exploring on him alone. He has gotten more steady as he’s gotten older but he still has his set things he’s scared of such as the sound of the motorbikes that race in the woods behind the barn which make him unreliable and sometimes not fun outside the ring. That said, I still try to go out regularly. We did an easy hack in the field last night with two friends and he plodded around happy and lazy. 🙂

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  4. This isn’t news to anyone that knows me, but I get pretty nervous when it comes to riding outside of an arena. At my barn, the arena is actually part of a large turnout field, and we frequently ride in the grass for warm-up/cool down and sometimes do lessons there too. However, Roger loves to pull shoes in the field, so I try to keep our grassy adventures to a cool down walk. It took me a few months to get used to the idea of riding outside of the arena (which is still fenced in) at my barn because I’m pretty afraid of riding in wide open spaces…good thing I’m not trying to be an eventer 😉

    **knock wood** I’ve never had a scary experience riding outside of an arena and used to do it all the time in Texas, but it’s one of the only things that makes me legit nervous as a rider; I’m VERY comfortable being fenced in and contained. I give you eventers so much credit!

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  5. When I boarded at a barn with a legit arena, I rode outside the ring maybe once or twice a week, usually to take a walk down the road or trot up the hills in our pastures. Now that I’m at my current barn, we have no arena, so I ride outside every day and I LOVE IT! So does Dino – he is much happier when I let him be the wild mustang stallion he thinks he is and roam around outside. He is also the best trail horse ever and loves the excitement and challenge of navigating a new trail, and his curious, sensible pony brain makes it seriously FUN to explore new territory. For a pony that also tends to get very ring-sour, being able to switch up the location of our rides on a daily basis is also a huge help in keeping him fresh and happy in his work. Plus, it’s made me so much better and more balanced in riding terrain.

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  6. I mostly ride in the arena when I am starting a young horse as physical boundaries tend to focus tiny attention spans; and for my “finished” (ha!) horses, I only use it to work on specific tasks that I want to work on. Oh, and I will occasionally ride in the arena because my husband is not a horse person and I want him to feel better about all the money we have spent on “my horses” 🙂 I would say I ride outside the arena 90% of the time.

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  7. curious to see peoples responses… i’m like you, i usually only ride in the ring for lessons. there is an almost regulation size dressage arena set up in the field next to the indoor and thats where i’ve been trying to do most of my dressage in there because holy crap when did the short side of the dressage arena get SO short??

    mostly i like frolicking in fields.

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  8. I grew up riding on large cattle ranches in Eastern Montana which necessitated quite a lot of riding in pastures (with cattle) that were thousands of acres large so all my horses from then until recently were accustomed to WIDE open spaces, which I think was great for their brains. I showed QHs so when I was at home I rode mostly in our arena. Fast forward to now and I live on only 10 acres, show in hunter shows and fox hunt. My “show” horse H.A.T.E.S. being anywhere other than in the ring. He’ll hack out on my property, but I took him to a local barn to ride on the XC course with my fox hunting friends a few weeks ago and he had a complete and total melt down. Crazy ridiculous anxiety. I took him back to the ring and he was mostly fine. It kind of blows my mind to have a horse who despises riding outside so much. I took him on lots of trail rides when he was 4-5 and I even fox hunted on him one season (which he failed miserably when at the Closing Hunt he literally kicked one of the Masters while she was ON her horse). He never had a bad experience, but clearly dislikes the ambiance of being on a trail ride.

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  9. I don’t have a ring, so darn near 100% of my riding is “outside of a ring” but I have pretty regular areas where I school flatting and jumping in the vast out of doors. (Level ground is scarce and I don’t feel like dragging the jumps all over the landscape, is why there are schooling areas.) I also hack out on trails and stuff. For starting horses under saddle (these are ‘have never been ridden’ horses), I stay in the barnyard until the horse can trot the length of the driveway (200 feet?) in a decent rhythm and has a pretty good grasp of walk on, trot, whoa, turn left, turn right, one-rein-stop. Usually that’s about four or five rides of very short (ten minutes?) duration. Once those super-basic skills are in place, we cross the hard road and go out into the world.

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  10. This is the first barn I’ve been at (for quite some time) that has a really nice (big) ring which is great… but I love hacking out. We also have a few rolling hay fields on the property to school in and our farm backs up to a nature preserve that we’re allowed to ride in. It’s just so good for their brains and to help install forward… there’s plenty of dressaging that can happen while out doing trot sets too!

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  11. I love to get out of the ring whenever I can. Before this latest batch of shows I was going on a trail ride every couple weeks off farm, then we did the beach, trail riding with Beka etc. I also try to hack a few days a week around the perimeter of the farm. I need to get more organized about conditioning rides!

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  12. My barn is 90% dressage riders, and I am constantly surprised by who I see riding out. It’s almost always the serious riders (professional, or professional-acting amateurs) with horses going 3rd +. You wouldn’t expect to see a PSG horse toodling around on a loose rein in his double bridle, but it’s pretty damn common here. It makes me happy. Meanwhile, most of the amateurs on their ammy friendly 1st level horses NEVER leave the ring. Sad.

    We get out about between 1-3 days a week, weather and time depending. Going a week without a day out of the ring is a recipe for a sour Pig mood. We do a fair amount of dressage schooling in the flat fields nearby, especially when the ground is perfect in spring and fall. We go for a long, mostly walk hack once a week. Plus we try to go for a longer conditioning hack of mostly trot with some back stretching gallops every other week. The galloping really depends on the state of the ground. If it’s a mud pit or a solid rock out there, we stick to the trot. All of this is expected to be on the bit, and all of this is expected to be marching. The horse is not allowed to carry himself crookedly or out of balance.

    Fun fact, learning to sit the trot while my horse navigates a hay field has really improved my ability to sit overall.

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  13. Used to be 100% of the time for almost 8 years until I started boarding. Now I try to venture out as much as possible in the good months, and even once a week in the bad ones. We have a XC course on the property and I try to hit that once a week, as well as use the jump course thats set outside. I honestly have nothing to do serious conditioning rides for, but hacking the hills once a week is nice as well. Yanks leaser does more conditioning rides with him (2x week) because hes coming back from surgery, but I know B would be lit if I kept him in peak competition (like ready yo run a 3day training course) form. A lot of times I will even do a flat school out on the grass. I really don’t like arenas TBH….

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  14. Before Val’s feet decided to fall apart I made a point of doing at least a couple of rides in our grass ring, but with the ground being so hard and his currently crumbly feet, we’re stuck in the arena. He’s so happy outside the ring though, that I at least try to take a tour of the farm after our ride several times a week at the walk.

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  15. I *try* to go once a week but I’m still not 100% on going out alone since we’re near a pretty busy road. Panda’s always been fine outside but she can get a little strong and home-bound. I think it’s a great mental break and really cues me into her balance more than ring work does. I just have to be braver and go out more often

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  16. My horses live on my little property so we have very limited places to ride…. as in I just have the ring. But when I’m feeling confident they’re not planning my early demise, we do meander around the yard sometimes. It’s not big enough for real riding, but we can do some trot and plenty of walking out there. I have access to tons of trails since I live on the same road as the entrance to a state park, but I has the fear! My kids spook. At everything. All the time. I much rather stay where I can be found.

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  17. Mine is tough because of space. There is some space at the farm but the footing. Is horrible with lots of soft ground and deep holes so it’s only safe to walk and even then you have to be cautious. We have neighbors with fences on three sides and an extremely busy road with blind turns on the fourth. Since I don’t have a trailer I’m confined to walk rides out of the arena and any canter sets that I’d be able to do would be in our huge outdoor jumping arena. I’m hoping to get a trailer at some point in the near future so that I can trailer somewhere with the option to ride outside.

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  18. I basically only ride in the ring if I’m jumping or if it’s raining. We are lucky to have two polo fields, lots of pastures, two riding tracks, and trails. I try to ride my horses in a different area every day so they don’t get sour. I love riding out of the ring and I think it’s really good for their minds

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  19. I think I’d be happy if I never rode Gina in an arena again; she’s super nice to hack on. Moe is a total fruitcake if you let him do anything other than walk, or if he’s in a group that has members moving at a faster gait than him. He’s nice for trail rides (at a walk), but totally wretched to try and keep together if anyone is trotting. I try to hack each of them out a couple times a week for everyone’s mental health.

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  20. I’m trying to get out of the ring more. It is a fear issue with me. I aim for one trail ride a week, and at least one other day of cooling out on the bridle path. We do have to go with a buddy, so sometimes it doesn’t happen.

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  21. I basically avoid the ring completely now bc I’m doing zero real work with the horse. Reasons and such. But a more normal routine would always include a healthy dose of escaping from the sandbox for structured or unstructured outings. It’s just a happier balance for me and most of the horses I’ve known.

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  22. I’m a firm believer that EVERY horse benefits from being outside of the ring. That said, sometimes it takes them some life adjustment to learn that they *can* in fact be ridden outside the confined of the sandbox, but I’ve never once had a horse go “fuck this shit I’d rather be in the box.” I’m sure they exist but I’ve never seen them. It’s more like their owners are the limiting factor than the horses.
    O had never been outside of an arena that I know of, and the first few times I rode her out she LOST HER MIND. Oh my god. Lost her mind. There was a lot of flailing and galloping in panic. It was not fun.
    But now she is the BEST on the trails. She’s fantastic on the marathon in the carriage because I basically just tell her to trot, she trots and away we go, powering along. I don’t have to do anything but occasionally steer, and I rarely worry about spooking or other things going on. It’s super enjoyable. She just goes along, ears up, happy.
    Dylan too. Upper level dressage horse but I hack out every ride where it isn’t raining, before or after my ride. He LOVES it.

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  23. I love riding out of the arena pretty much all the time. You give yourself the space and time to get things right without the pressure of a small space, and to make mistakes without having to hurriedly correct before a fence. It lets the horse relax and that’s my priority. Giving yourself the space to stretch out and ride a bit faster helps warm them up before any collection.
    And then riding out on the trail is my favourite as I find it very relaxing.
    If anyone’s interested, I’m new to wordpress and I blogged about riding out recently! Another priority of mine is fitness, especially since I can’t ride as frequently as I’d like.
    https://horseworkblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/fitness-on-the-trail/

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  24. I used to rarely ride outside of the ring, when I was in hunter land. It was mostly just between the mounting block and the ring. It has made doing this eventing thing pretty hard, since both the pony and I had no idea how to deal with outside. Not that she as spooky, just didn’t understand having to jump outside the ring. And I am still struggling with speed.

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