Those who follow Denny Emerson’s Tamarack Hill Farm Facebook page may have caught his comments a few days back on the “innies” and “outies” of the horse world:
“In the great big world of riding, there are innies and outies, and this has nothing to do with belly buttons. Some riders love open spaces and no boundaries, while others find comfort and security within walls and arenas, with lots of technical requirements.
“And never the twain shall meet,” not quite literally, but how many times have you seen a dressage rider out fox hunting, or a trail rider showing a hunter?
Outie sports like fox hunting, where literally the riders have no idea, at any given moment, where the fox or coyote will lead them, or for how long, are far different from, say, show jumping, which has a specific track, and sequence of fences, and a specific start and finish, and a required time allowed.
It has been postulated that those who gravitate toward outie sports, like trail riding, fox hunting, point to point racing, and (sometimes) eventing have entirely different kinds of psychological profiles than those who prefer innie sports like dressage, show hunters and show jumping.
Outie sports tend to be less precise, exact and meticulous than innie sports. They are also often faster, perhaps more high risk, and less encumbered by rules and regulations.
Of these sports, eventing is perhaps the “swing’ sport, less outie than back in long format days, but still attracting both the innie and outie riders.
Which type of riding draws you in, the more precise, more specific innie sports, or the more “laissez faire” outie ones?”
I had to laugh a little after reading the post…because I seem to be living up to my Gemini nature and enjoy both worlds quite a bit. I have two horses right now—the distance horse that also does a bit of a dressage, and the “event horse who is becoming more of a dressage horse” who focuses much better on dressage days when we have the benefit of time spent outside of the ring in between.
I have successfully competed through 4th level in dressage, and even had the honor of owning a wonderful, big moving and super handsome Hanoverian gelding for five years who helped me finish my USDF Bronze Medal. But to just ride around and around the arena six days per week, even on a fancy mover who can execute flawless changes, smooth half passes and extravagant lengthenings, for me, starts to become a little repetitive. Worldly and I always hacked out a little bit—definitely with attention to the footing (wouldn’t want to lose an eggbar) and more frequent spooks at common objects, but I think the escape from the arena did a lot to keep his attention fresh and focus sharp when working on the precision, accuracy and submission that dressage requires. It also helped us when we showed at Saugerties (NY) and had to hack from the absolute opposite side of the show grounds, over a bridge, through the Marshall and Sterling League Finals, to the dressage arenas where the NEDA Championships were being held.
But on the flip side of the coin, I wouldn’t want to always ride out on the trail, either, for several reasons. It is one thing when a horse is totally retired, and they are basically being ridden to give them attention, companionship and light exercise. For most riders, though, riding only out of the ring makes it too easy to become sloppy and complacent with position, and to also become accepting of asymmetry in both horse and rider. Both partners will tend to favor their stronger side and do not have the same opportunity to address tightness, restriction and weakness on the less dominant side that those who work in the ring do. This kind of imbalance can, over time, contribute to uneven muscle development, saddle fit issues, pain and even lameness. I also genuinely enjoy the process of developing a horse for various arena disciplines; the steady progression of exercises and application of training pyramid concepts appeals to my methodical, organized, intellectual side.
As in most things, a balance seems to be required. Trail and distance horses, and their riders, certainly can benefit from the fundamentals of basic dressage to encourage suppleness, develop strength and improve the quality of communication. Work over basic cavaletti or even small fences can help improve footwork, coordination, strengthen hindquarters and can also prove helpful when crossing downed trees or other trail obstacles. Arena horses, like hunters and dressage horses, can also improve their level of fitness (both mental and physical) but by spending time OUTSIDE of the ring. The many balance checks required when going over uneven terrain on the trail can help to strengthen muscles and stabilize joints, hopefully helping to reduce the risk of injury from a misstep in the ring.
And just as one would not expect the trail horse to magically piaffe or clear a four foot spread in the ring, the arena horse would not be expected to handle the more significant terrain or speeds required of the competitive trail horse. Each has a specialty and is just ‘dabbling’ in the other area.
As an instructor and coach, I have been struck by how many students enter our college riding program, many from a hunt seat background, having never ridden out in the open. We are lucky to have an on campus cross country course, likely the only one of its kind in the country, where we run sanctioned events. Students riding in the more advanced levels of riding class have the opportunity to go school out on the course, under supervision. It is probably the most stressful week of riding instruction that I offer each semester, and a lot of what I have to do is manage the deep fear which many of these “arena riders” face in simply crossing the bridge to our course.
Many of these riders have never experienced even basic terrain, and have no knowledge of how to balance their horse going up or downhill, or how to hold their own bodies to stay centered when the ground is not level. They are not familiar with pulley reins, emergency dismounts or other techniques used to regain control of a fresh mount. I must constantly remind them that their arena jumping techniques should come with them onto the course, that all of the good practice and methods they have used to control pace, balance and form when jumping in the ring also apply to fences out in the open.
At the end of a school, the riders almost always fall into one of two groups—the ones which have experienced the first adrenalin rush of cross country, hooked, ready to go again, and the ones who (sometimes literally) wipe away their tears, happy to have survived the experience, hoping that they may never have to do it again. Denny was right—these are the outies and the innies. I guess we all do sort of have a tendency towards one or the other.
In the end, the question is whether you choose to accept your true nature, or whether you get brave, get disciplined, or some combination of the two, and step into the world which is less comfortable. My guess is that even if you don’t choose to stay there, you will be a better horseman for the experience.