It’s fantastic that even with the nasty weather we sometimes have to endure, we can still compete during the winter, thanks to all the indoor facilities we have in the UK. Moving indoors, however, brings a whole new set of challenges and it’s never too early or too late to prepare you and your horse for this change in scenery. 

Eventer Barry Meningen shares how you can prepare your horse to feel confident in an indoor arena, even if you don’t have one to practise in.

Dressage horses have plenty of issues to deal with indoors. There may be banners on walls to spook them, cafes, viewing galleries, judges wafting papers around, the school doors opening and closing, and so on. Not that conducive to pulling off a winning test, particularly if your horse is inexperienced. Here are Barry’s top tips to helping your horse be as calm and focused as possible in this environment:

A confident start

“Whether you’re competing indoors or outside, I always advise creating a warm-up routine you can use at home and replicate at competitions,” explains Barry. “This will give your horse confidence at event as they’ll be doing something they recognise.” 

The basis of your warm up should consist of stretching at the beginning and end, large and small circles, and plenty of changes in bend, in all gaits. 

“You can then add in things that are particular to your horse or the venue,” says Barry. “They may need more time on one rein due to stiffness for instance, or if they’re spooking at banners around the arena, then riding lateral movements will help. Only stretch your horse at the start of the warm up if they’re relaxed. If they’re not, pick up the contact straight away and get them moving.” 

Remember the left-to-left rule for passing other riders in the warm-up arena – less space means it’s even more important to be aware of your surroundings. 

Preparing at home

“It’s more difficult to find exercises to ride at home that will help at an indoor dressage competition,” says Barry. “My top tip would be to try to replicate the atmosphere while you’re schooling. Get friends at the yard to make lots of noise, sit at a table at A to mimic the judge, bang the arena gate and play a radio loudly. Tie plastic feed bags to the arena fence to get your horse used to riding close to banners.” 

Barry also suggests you ride with others. 

“Often, in bigger indoor schools, you’ll have two dressage areas side by side, so your horse needs to accept another horse going the opposite way or at a different pace nearby and still be able to concentrate.” 

When you’re in the arena and waiting to start your test, you may have very little space between the arena and the school wall, which some horses can take exception to. 

“To help with this, place a line of poles a few feet away from your arena fence and practise riding between the two – like tram lines,” says Barry. “You can make the gap smaller and smaller to teach your horse to forwards even if they initially think it’s not a good idea.” 

Meet the expert: Barry Meningen is a UKCC-qualified British Eventing coach. He trains pony and riding clubs and is a BE80(T) coach. He has competed up to advanced level on home-produced horses and also in pure show jumping and dressage.

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