Dressage Today - - Con­tent -

How do I in­tro­duce my horse to the out­door arena?

So far I have only schooled my horse in an in­door arena. I’ve moved to a new fa­cil­ity that only has a 20-by-40 out­door sand arena. Do you think it will be harder to ride dres­sage in the out­door ring? I am wor­ried that my horse will be so much more dis­tracted and I won’t be able to get him to fo­cus on the work. Do you have any tips that can help make my train­ing suc­cess­ful in an out­door arena? I am school­ing Sec­ond Level.

Name with­held by re­quest


With a lit­tle time and pa­tience there is no rea­son why you can’t ride dres­sage in a 20-by-40-me­ter ring, and in time you might ap­pre­ci­ate it. Ev­ery horse is dif­fer­ent in his re­ac­tion to an out­door arena, but you might be sur­prised to find that your horse likes it. Some horses can get dis­tracted and some like that they can see every­thing so there is noth­ing to be scared of. A 20-by-40-me­ter arena is not a full dres­sage-court size, which would be 20 by 60 me­ters. But the smaller arena will help you to ride more ac­cu­rate fig­ures and cor­ners. The con­fine­ment will help your horse find his own bal­ance. If you are rid­ing at Sec­ond Level al­ready, you will ap­pre­ci­ate the help.

If you de­cide to show, it will take a small ad­just­ment to get used to the long sides of the arena, but that shouldn’t cause any real prob­lem. As with any new en­vi­ron­ments and changes, the more grad­ual you can in­tro­duce them the bet­ter. When you move to the new barn, give your horse a week or so (pos­si­bly longer) be­fore you ex­pect him to have set­tled and work the way he did at the last barn. Dur­ing this time, in­tro­duce the out­door arena slowly. His first ex­pe­ri­ences in the new arena will be the ones he re­mem­bers. Start by hand-walk­ing him around the arena, let­ting him look at every­thing. Good ground­work and re­spect­ful hand-

walk­ing are al­ways good ba­sic skills to re­fresh. Your horse should look to you for guid­ance and sup­port. If he gets scared, take him to a more com­fort­able area in the arena. Keep his fo­cus by do­ing walk–halt tran­si­tions with big re­wards when he over­comes scary ar­eas. He should back up and move away from you like he does un­der sad­dle. When your horse is able to re­lax and walk around the arena bravely, you can move on. Don’t rush this phase, as re­lax­ation is a nec­es­sary qual­ity in a good rid­ing part­ner.

Ask if you can longe in the arena (some fa­cil­i­ties don’t al­low this as it can tear up the foot­ing) and longe him in the new out­door—at both ends of the arena—un­til your horse re­laxes and swings and stays fo­cused on you. If there is a lot to look at, be for­giv­ing for the first day or two as long as your horse stays with you and is obe­di­ent. Horses are an­i­mals and new en­vi­ron­ments are quite in­ter­est­ing to them. By day three your horse should be able to fo­cus more and you can start to get some work done. I will some­times put a pole or a se­ries of poles on the ground for the horse to fo­cus on if he is eas­ily dis­tracted.

When your horse is able to fo­cus on the longe line and seems con­fi­dent, you should be able to go back to rid­ing. The most im­por­tant com­po­nent of your train­ing is to build con­fi­dence in

your horse. Tak­ing the time to build this trust will help with fu­ture out­ings if you show and go to clin­ics and, in gen­eral, this makes for a well-rounded horse.

Treats and feed­ing in the arena are al­ways an op­tion if your horse needs a good rea­son to go in there. But keep that only as a backup or for the first day. If he can­not re­lax and fo­cus on your work, you might have to do more ground­work.

If you are school­ing Sec­ond Level, you have been through some train­ing with your horse al­ready. You know the rate at which he learns and what it takes to get him to re­lax and be a good part­ner. Just think of it as an­other part of train­ing to get him used to the new en­vi­ron­ment. A con­fi­dent horse is much eas­ier to train and ride, so this re­turn to ground­work for a cou­ple of weeks (or less) can help all your fu­ture train­ing.

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Jaki Hardy is a BHS Cer­ti­fied In­struc­tor, a USDF Cer­ti­fied In­struc­tor through Fourth Level and a USEF “r” judge. She op­er­ates JH Dres­sage out of Sporthorse Amer­ica in Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia.

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