The barn I spent so many years riding and teaching in was nothing much to look at. It was your typical dusty pole barn, so common in the Western U.S. Built by cowboys for year round roping practice (there was still a holding pen and remnants of a shoot attached to the indoor), it was meant for utility not for looks. However, over many years and several owners, it had become much more. When we moved in there were the remnants of a cross country course, which the then new owners revived. Some boarders who showed in Western Trail classes had banded together to carve out a corner for a practice course. Eventually there was a full Dressage court and a perimeter track added to the mix. None of it bright and shiny, but all of it utilitarian.
Aside from the indoor arena, and the miles of farm roads just across the road, I have often missed that eclectic mix of facilities. In this age of specialized barns, it is a rare sight indeed. Most Dressage barns think there is no need for jumps. Trail obstacles seem only suited to Western barns. And how many, outside of Event riders, think that riding outside of the arena is necessary at all?
I was thinking again about that barn, as I recently read this passage.
“Dressage riding comprises many skills, several of which are acquired by jumping and riding cross-country, or on trails.
… A good rider is, by definition, a diversified equestrian athlete who is willing and able to generalize any horse’s training before specializing strictly in ‘dressage’ (gymnastics) schooling for purposes of competition. …
Any rider who is ‘doing dressage’ in order to avoid cross-country work, cavaletti and jumping because these activities frighten him, is certainly a rider of great contradictions. Overcoming one’s fear of falling and fear of the horse and his motion is essential; without this, horsemanship should not be pursued and cannot succeed. …
I have written and lectured often on the subject of the compatibility and coexistence of dressage and jumping, both in the interest of the horse and of the rider. Dressage and jumping (combined training) are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Unquestionably, the development of all-around equine and human athletes depends on practice over varied terrain, jumps, and a formal school for gymnasticizing on the level ground.
Charles De Kunffy, The Ethics and Passions of Dressage
I cannot do anything about adding safe trails to my neighborhood, and building an indoor arena is reserved for win I have that winning lottery ticket – but I am trying to add the other facilities I miss. We are in the process of building a trail course in a front turnout, too close to the road to safely leave horses unattended (as we found out early on). It has a lovely mild slope, so the horses will get to work up and downhill, while navigating the obstacles.
We also have the materials to set up some small cross-country obstacles on our back acre. No one says that we have to prepare for competition, but it’s an enjoyable activity, both lunged and ridden. We have always lunged over fences, in the arena, for a mental break and further gymnastic development; but, it has been many years since I had anyone safe or sound enough to jump. My goal for this year is to start schooling Coffee and maybe Roxie over poles and small fences, under saddle. That will give me a year to get the cross-country jumps built.
So, if you are a Dressage rider with nary a jump or obstacle at your disposal, pick yourself up some poles and cones. After all, there is no better way to hone the communication and responses necessary for good Dressage than to have obstacles to work around. If you never learned to jump, through fear or lack of interest, challenge yourself! You don’t need to start showing over fences to get the benefit that comes from learning to jump. If nothing else, it is great for your confidence! The photo at right was my mother, at age 55, teaching her 5 year old mustang to jump. Trust me that she is not an innately confident rider, and didn’t start riding regularly until late in life. Yet, the jumping she did added to her confidence, and is something of which she is still proud. Stretch yourself – you and your horse might just enjoy it!
Be good to your horses!