Open spaces are notoriously terrifying. Here are my top tips to riding in them.
I used to be terrified of riding in open spaces. Be it fields, on roads or even at shows in those huge warm up areas. There was always that thought in the back of my mind that I could lose control of my horse at any moment and he would gallop off in to the distance with me.
But now, my only thoughts when riding in open spaces are more like “hey, let’s go galloping off in to the distance”.
Admittedly, this was a lengthy process and I’m talking years. Of course, trusting your horse is also a huge part of this, but here are some tips for riding in open spaces:
- Most of the fear we feel is irrational. It’s in the mind. You could in theory, lose control of your horse anywhere. If he wants to go, then he will go, whether you are in the confines of an arena or in miles of open countryside. I always used to try and focus on this and repeat the fact that I am a good rider and the control I have and my level of riding is the same, no matter what location I’m in. I can deal with it if he bucks in the school, therefore I can deal with it the same if he does it on grass. I can canter in the school and stop him, therefore I can canter in a warm up ring and stop him. The application of riding is the same, no matter what the location may be.
Similarly, I’ve been thinking recently that we always expect the worst. Picture this, you are walking through a crowded street and you are quite confined and can’t walk fast. You turn off in to an open side street. You look round and enjoy the feeling of space and perhaps even develop a bit of a spring in your step, but you don’t go running off down he street like a crazed lunatic! The same theory probably applies to your horse, he may be a little more on his toes, but the chances of him legging it as soon as he sees grass are pretty slim. (If he does do this, I genuinely feel for you and your crazy steed!!).
Have a backup plan. Sometimes things do happen and you can lose brakes and find it hard to stop. There are three main things to think about if the worst does happen:
Bridge your reins
This is a technique where you make a loop with your reins and hold it down across your horse’s neck whilst cantering out. It means that if your horse gets strong, he will only be pulling against himself, rather than against you. It won’t stop him, but it will give you more control and allow you to hold your horse at a comfortable pace, while still be able to maintain a safe, central position and not be pulled forwards. Also, there is no shame in grabbing a good handful of mane for a bit of safety if you ever feel unsafe!
The amount of times I’ve seen this work is unbelievable. If you’ve ever been on a horse who has bolted with you, you will know that the immediate reaction is to pull, pull, pull on those reins. Don’t. By pulling, you are giving your horse something to lean against and he can essentially use you to anchor on to and go even faster. You will never win in a strength competition with your horse and you will quickly lose energy and become weak and this is where accidents can happen. Besides, pulling back will probably put you in an unbalanced position, thus compromising your safety.
It goes against all instincts in your body, but if you find yourself being carted, try loosening the reins. And I mean really giving them away to almost the buckle. The horse is very likely to realise that there is nobody pulling back and will probably slow down off his own accord when he realises there is no fight. I think this is also a technique used to slow racehorses, so it’s got to work!
Horses can go fast in straight lines, but not in circles. If you find yourself in a position where you can’t slow down, stop pulling and turn a circle. I don’t mean a big wide arc across the field, try a tight and immediate circle. It will feel scary and impossible (because it would be impossible to ride a 10m circle at a full pelt gallop) but it will slow your horse down very quickly. One word of advice though, he will most likely become unbalanced and could even get his legs in a bit of a pickle, so be prepared for a little bit of discomfort and bouncing around as you slow down.
A friend of mine had to try this as a last resort when her horse bolted with her towards a main road and she actually leaned forwards and grabbed the bit ring to pull her horse on to an immediate circle and he did stop, narrowly avoiding a nasty accident.
I don’t recommend you do this unless you’re in a total no-other-option emergency though!
- Try schooling when you are out and about to reinforce obedience. I always mix it up and sometimes walk up the hills that I usually canter, so he doesn’t learn that we canter there every time and anticipate it. Also, I change the lengths of canter when hacking, so sometimes I will have a good long blast, but other times I will do three or four strides of canter, pop down to trot, walk for a bit, trot a few more strides. Doing lots of transitions in the school is important, but it is also important when out and about. If your horse has to listen to you, you will have much more control than him doing as he pleases because he’s always been allowed to do so.
I’m a big believer that hacking is a relaxing time for my horse, so I don’t ride him in an outline and make him work hard all of the time, but occasionally I’ll gather him up and ask for a leg yield or rein back or something, just to make sure he’s listening and understands that I’m in charge.
I hope this has helped and I’d love to hear your tips, too!