I enjoy my round pen with its solid, ag lime footing. It allows me to do some riding when the rest of our property is muddy or frozen. But going round and round in circles is limiting. True, my trail obstacles provide interesting variety. Yet also true, there’s only so much I can do during any one ride in a small space.
The weather in my area has recently been abnormally dry. I am riding more on our grassy areas, particularly our South pasture. The drier than usual weather allows me to enjoy the grass riding without worrying about horse hooves tearing up the ground.
I think my horses are savoring this change of venue. Both Shiloh and Piper are similar in age, 19 and 21 respectively. But they have very different personalities. I find that I can use riding in a more open space to their advantage, despite their very different styles and preferences.
Riding in a wide-open space helps a lower-energy horse like Shiloh to move out more. He actually gets to go somewhere! And where is his favorite somewhere? Any shady spot. Shiloh melts in the Summer heat and will happily halt under even the smallest shadow.
In our South pasture, Shiloh seems very happy to stride out towards the various patches of shade along our far fence line. Doesn’t seem to matter to him that we are moving away from the barn and the other horses. I can feel Shiloh smile when I ask him to stop and pause while we are shielded from the sun.
Piper, on the other hand, is a higher-energy horse. When he is either physically or mentally uncomfortable, he gets quick. I notice that he seems more subdued outside of the pen. He is more likely to stretch his neck and blow out air through his nose. He just seems more relaxed.
Considering how stiff Piper can be, I think not having to attempt to keep him on a continuous bend is more comfortable for him. This contributes to his relaxation. Outside of the round pen, I can intersperse doing bending figures with heading out on a straightaway. This allows Piper to stay more comfortable while still getting the benefits of bending.
His favorite exercise so far is serpentines. I prepare and ask for a bend through the brief turns. I then release the bend to travel straight until the next turn. This seems to work well for him both physically and mentally. A little bit of effort to make a turn followed by a quick release. This instead of my asking him for a continuous bend all the way around the pen.
In my fantasy world, my backyard has an indoor arena, a reining-size outdoor arena, an outdoor dressage arena, a mountain-trail obstacle course, a large oval racing-style track and a set of trails winding through woods with tall, full trees. Now, don’t ask me how I’d maintain all that. But I can tell you exactly how much I would enjoy having diverse riding venues at my fingertips.
Out here in reality, though, my backyard looks different. Nevertheless, I will continue for as long as I can to do what I’ve done for the last twenty years. I will dodge weather and footing conditions. I will try to keep riding with some kind of regularity despite less-than-ideal facilities. I will relish the ability to expand my horizons outside of the round pen when the opportunity presents.
And speaking of open spaces . . . Drum roll please . . . In my next post, I will tell you about Shiloh’s and my first official trail ride!