The pros and cons of field training
My stable is not too chic, but it is functional. I have big safe stalls for my horses, a nice wide ventilation aisle and two great saddle spots right next to the horse chest. Levada is large and well fortified. My husband made me some barriers. However, I do not have a comfortable riding platform with a fence and ground. Instead, I work on an open grass field.
This is not new to me – for about half of my rider career I did not have an arena. When I first arrived at the DorothyC rowell stables, there was no ground with soil, and we worked and jumped horses on a ground of 20-30 m in diameter between the hills. We jumped over ridges and hillsides. If you have learned how to manage small, then having arrived at the tournament you will appreciate a level ground!
Over the past few years, I only worked horses in fields, levadas, and forest paths. In Ocala, riding in the field is actually quite pleasant – the natural ground is quite flat and dense (until you knock out all the grass). Some consider this work to be a disadvantage, but I know that riding outside the grounds was useful for me and my horses.
I always get 7 and 8 for center lines, with good straightness marks. Why? Because when you don’t have an arena, each line is central. There is no fence or low fence to lean on — you must use both legs and both halves to drive straight. I use distant visual markers – a tree, a telephone pole, a fence pole, and drive straight to it. Without fencing, there is no “crutch” for my external controls that you can rely on, and the horses also have nothing to snuggle in. Therefore, we both must learn to be straightforward on their own, in every movement, on every line, daily.
When I do the rear take-out, there is no wall to keep the outer shoulder straight — I have to use my outer schenkel and motive. With young inexperienced horses, it is difficult to develop this straightforwardness … I am struggling with a wriggling worm that is not very well controlled, has no idea what we are doing, which is constantly drawn to the house, and, my goodness, I want to have a real one playpen a few days! But having sustained this for several months, I end up with a much more correct horse in the long run. Believe me … when I see 8 points for simple changes and center lines (“very straight!”), I understand that I did everything right.
Freedom: no limited space.
Although I sometimes miss the enclosed playpen, open space has a big plus – there is always plenty of space. When I have to work with young animals only after a race, I understand that they had to run in a circle of 20 meters. I have 40 meters +, I can make soft turns, teach them how to bend and gradually help them gain strength and coordination in small spaces. This is very useful for learning to counter-gallop. The absence of a fence also means that I can turn in any direction, anywhere, anytime; if the horse is struggling to maintain leadership, I can make a volt in the other direction and maintain balance. I can make volts and serpentines where I like, I have the freedom of choice to adapt my ride to the needs of my horse. There is not a single line “across the diagonal” – my diagonal can be anywhere on a field of 5 acres, and I can repeat the movement again without going through a short wall. I can train transitions anywhere when my horse feels balanced and ready, without a specific letter or place in the marked rectangle. For horse riding it is more important to perform the correct transition (balanced, straight, smooth) than to do it in a certain place.
The challenge makes life easier
Of course, there are difficulties when working in the open. It’s possible that without walls your horse will be hotter than usual. Much more half-steps, volts, and side-occupying minds may be required to keep the horse focused and controlled. It’s easy for you to be disappointed as a rider (“he won’t listen!”), But instead try to appreciate the challenge. Find ways to get your horse to focus on you with a lot of transitions, and most importantly, keep your emotions in check.
Resist the urge to firmly take the occasion if the horse abuts harder. Use your weight, body and voice. The horse must learn to work in any environment, regardless of the fence. Do not expect sudden progress, but be consistent and persistent. Most horses adapt to a new job site within a week or two; and a regular change of scenery (moving from field to field) will help both of you to adapt. It will be easier for you to perform in new places. In the end, many warm-up areas are just an open field …