This summer for me is all about riding outside the arena. Between our Horseback Getaways and helping a good friend with his summer riding projects, there has not been much time to work in the arena. If we visualize our time in the arena as a full glass of water when we first get there, our goal might be to empty that glass.
Our walk and trot work might empty out a quarter of the glass. Our time loping might empty out another 25%, so now we’re at half full. We then spend some time on controlling the body. My friend refers to a, “Train, Track, Circle,” which is our point of reference that sets up all our compulsory exercises. That’s a great visual, and the time spent there might remove another 25% of the glass. Working lastly on maybe a long reaching walk and cooling things down should dump out the remaining water in the glass. Now what? What can we do with an empty glass? We can now leave the arena- safely!
What I see, or visualize, in this horse world is too many riders who are out there with a glass of water that’s way too full to have room for anything else. If we imagine the contents of the glass, rather than water, as being things that can trouble our horse, or anything that might supersede our training, we can now understand the need to have some room in that glass for the outside world. The outside world is trying to put things in your glass as soon as you leave the arena.
One great horseman used to say, “We lose half of our training the minute we leave the corral.” I’m not sure what the exact ratio is, but I certainly agree. The corral walls sometimes cause us to have an unrealistic view of our horse, but the moment we get outside the safety of those panels, here comes the world! Spooks and distractions are everywhere trying to fill that glass back up. If you didn’t do any work in the corral and started out with a tight tailed horse, your glass doesn’t have enough room for a grasshopper to pass gas behind a blade of grass- that would spook your horse!
What exactly should you be doing while in the corral or arena? I believe we should be able to travel on our horses with no issues at the walk, trot, and canter or lope. Being on the correct lead would be important, or at least it should be important to one of you. Being able to gain speed and reduce speed should be something to practice in the arena. There are too many riders who never reach high speeds with their horse, and when it does happen, say for example chasing a cow, it’s a wreck! Neither the horse or rider have any experience at that speed, not to mention the emotion of chasing a cow. Working on having the horse stay between your legs and reins can be done in the arena using the rail as a guide line. This is a must when you’re outside with no point of reference of straightness other than your guidance to the horse.
Developing a good balanced or “Independent” seat should be worked on in the arena. This will assure that you do not to use the reins for balance, or as a “Third Stirrup,” as one horseman once said. Gaining control of your horse’s body might be the most important. That’s done through slow work, getting your horse comfortable with your lower aids- your legs and seat bones. If we only have the reins to control our horse, we’ll get some things done, but we’re limited to only that. Once our horse starts to listen to our lower half, we’re now getting control of all things. Having some lateral control of our horse, via our legs, give us the ability to open and close a gate. It may save us from getting hit by a car by simply leg yielding off the road onto the shoulder. It might keep you and your horse on the trail, rather than over the edge!
Developing a good stop and back up are two things that should be taught as ONE in the arena. A good stop should almost always mean, “Back up” in the horse’s mind. Every time I stop my horse, I always ask for a step back or at the very least, a weight shift back onto all four feet. This starts to develop a process in the horses mind that stop not only means stop, but it might mean back up too, or get some roots, we’re apt to be here a while.
Having all these things good and solid before venturing out into the world would certainly raise our level of success, not to mention our confidence. If we know exactly what we’re riding in the corrals, we’ll have a much better idea what we’re riding outside them. This summer, as you make your way out to trail horse camping or maybe to one of our Horseback Getaways, make sure your glass is not chucked full when you leave, but instead have it close to empty so there’s a little wiggle room for the world to drop in.
See ya out there!
Steve Bauhr owns and operates Bauhr Ranch, a full horse training facility in Chinese Camp, CA. For more info go to www.bauhrranch.com, or send Steve Bauhr a friend request on Facebook!