I compete off grass – my horses live out 24/7 and from March-October I school in the field. I’ve turned my attentions away from wanting a 40x60 indoor, floodlit arena with elastic-fibre surface (mainly because it’s not going to happen anytime soon!), to using what I have to my advantage. Here’s why it could be the approach to help you to get the results you want.
Turnout: a healthy horse is a happy horse
There’s plenty of research to suggest that turn-out is good for the horses’ mental and physical health – after all, being at grass is their natural habitat. Many professional riders (including Mary King) try to keep their horse turned out for as long as possible. It works well for most horses because it allows them to stretch over their backs when grazing (by putting their head down), allowing them to let off steam and enjoy their down-time. I find there’s a noticeable difference in my horse if she’s ever kept in so I only do it if it’s absolutely necessary. There’s also some evidence to suggest that horses that are turned out are fitter than those that are kept in.
Having enough grass is also crucial for the horses’ digestion, as it ensures the horse has the required amount of fibre every day. Furthermore, it is very important the horse receives sufficient sunlight so it can obtain the required levels of Vitamin D.
Schooling in the field: some new skills
This works for a number of reasons. As an eventer, I nearly always have to perform dressage tests on grass, so it helps to practice on grass because then, when I get to a competition, my horse is less likely to get tense. The field I school in is also slightly sloped, which I believe helps to improve balance and engage the back-end – when I get onto a flat surface it feels much easier! It can be good to work on ground that isn’t always perfect, because it allows the horse to be accustomed to a range of surfaces.
There are lots of events where the show jumping and cross country can be on undulating ground, so it is very important that you use your field to your advantage! Even using poles uphill can improve the strength of your horse. If you’re lucky enough to have a large field, practice the pace you would use for a cross-country round (known as a hand-gallop) and use the open space to ensure the adjustability of the canter.
It is also good in terms of discipline, because by working my horse in a field next to her friends, she learns that she has to go off my leg, despite distractions. This is great practice for the competition atmosphere in which many horses are subject to being distracted by other horses and the general competition atmosphere.
The best thing about schooling in the field is that it’s a bit more exciting than a flat surface, and it’s a great way to interest a horse that has a tendency to go “stale” when it comes to going into the arena. Perhaps I’m being a little optimistic suggesting it will give you an advantage over those who use an arena all year round, because over the winter it can be very limiting only being able to hack but it will definitely help familiarise your horse with a more testing environment. In terms of turnout, although not always my preference when my horse comes coated in mud (luckily I can use my Eqclusive grooming set to remove it quickly!), is incredibly important for the horses’ health and wellbeing, and therefore overall performance.
By Ella Vincent, author of the eveventing blog, who is generously sponsored by Eqclusive. If you want to find out more about me, you can follow my Twitter, Instagram orYoutube channels. You can Contact Me here.