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Dressage is a sport of constant repetition, both in the movements but also in the environment we ride in. Dressage riders often confine themselves to the 20 x 60 meter arena or as I often refer to it: The Sandbox. A surprising amount of dressage horses are unable to leave the sandbox. Some horses have never trained on uneven or imperfect footing, only on level ground in a perfect rectangle. Some horses are not exposed to nature, terrified of the leaf blown on the ground, the gravel path, or the dreaded puddle. Riders are faced with all these monsters when they leave home, but there are ways to increase bravery and balance by taking your training outside of the ring.
One of the great things about riding outside is the unexpected. Seeing a bird flying overhead, a gust of wind blowing the grass or rustling in the trees. It doesn’t seem like much at first, but desensitizing your horse to these everyday elements is often way overlooked. If we are always stuck riding in an indoor or enclosed arena we don’t run into this, and taking a horse outside for the first time at a show is less than ideal. By riding outside and exposing our horses to the sights and sounds of the great outdoors, riders instill confidence, learn how to deal with situations where the horse may spook, and how to overcome and move on when there are distractions.
The other wonderful benefit to riding outside of the sandbox is the various terrain. Whether you ride on grass, sand, dirt trails, or even sometimes gravel, your horse must learn to balance and develop body awareness. Grades incline or decline and riding up or down hills is very different than in the arena. Maintaining balance, rhythm and straightness outdoors is just as important as in the ring. Riding up and down hills builds strength in the horse’s hind end, over the back and topline. Various terrain improves dexterity, balance and confidence. This variety can also improve mental clarity for both horse and rider. A change of scenery can make a world of difference to your horse. A challenging movement may seem much easier now in a different environment.
Sometimes we just need to change the way we ask our horse a question to get the answer we are looking for.
Remember to look around, take a big deep breath and enjoy the great outdoors with your horse! Have Fun!
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