How The Backyard Barn Lifestyle Has Changed My Ideas About Footing

A perfectly acceptable riding surface.
For most of my riding life, I considered an arena with footing and lights to be pretty essential to being able to ride on a regular basis. At the very least, I had always had access to some sort of flat space with stone dust footing, and until I moved Dino to Orchard Hill, I only ever boarded or took lessons at barns with proper arenas. A ring with all-weather footing seemed like an absolute necessity if I wanted to continue to ride year round, and while I've never been a high-maintenance rider, "Good Footing" was important to me. 

"Good Footing," in my mind, was not too dusty and not too wet, not too deep and not too shallow. My idea of an appropriate area in which to ride was a totally flat, preferably enclosed space with some type of sand or screenings installed. "Good Footing" definitely did not include wet grass, mud, crop fields, hills, tall grass, grass with small amounts of frost on it, snow, hard ground, roadways, or anywhere that I might encounter a rock. Poor footing, after all, could break my pony's legs and make him lame!

Then I started eventing and moved to a farm where there is no flat space and an arena with sand footing is nothing more than a dream. If I wanted to ride, I had to adjust my strict ideas about what "Good Footing" is. 

Nowadays, "Good Footing" is any sort of surface that isn't so wet that my pony will sink into the mud several inches with each step or slip and slide around like he's on an ice rink, or so hard that I can hear his hoofbeats echoing as he walks along. Everything else is pretty doable. Riding on actual footing in a real arena is a treat these days! I'll ride on pretty much everything.

It's also been liberating. I've learned that our horses can physically handle a lot more than we give them credit for when we limit them to arena work, or demand "Good Footing" in order to ride. Dino has carried me over mud, rocks, turf, and hills that I never would have dreamed of riding a horse on a few years ago, and is the fittest and soundest he's ever been in his life. Obviously I still pay attention to the footing and ride conservatively when required, but I've learned over the past couple years that less-than-ideal ground conditions won't break most horses. 

Living the backyard-barn life has also shown me that what I once thought of as an essential item is really purely optional - I don't need a fancy arena with European fiber footing to stay in training, just a relatively-flattish spot that isn't too hard or too muddy. While having access to an arena certainly makes things easier, I've gained a lot of confidence and independence by learning to ride on all types of footing, and it's encouraging to know that when I eventually have my own farm, I won't need to install a ring just to be able to ride! 

Is a ring with "real" footing a must-have for you? Or are you an all-terrain rider? 




Comments

  1. Oh! Lovery this post! I think all horses could benefit from training on vastly varied footing. I'm convinced working on only perfect footing is a recipe for soft tissue injury.

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    1. It's definitely made my pony a lot stronger and sounder, for sure, and working on flat, groomed footing just feels so EASY now.

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  2. this is a great post. I consider myself pretty lax about 'good footing' as I have similar requirements to you. However when I went to montana this summer and saw what my friend regularly rides her (perfectly sound, and keep all 4 shoes) horses on I realized I'm still an east coast pansy. THERE WERE JUST SO MANY ROCKS???

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    1. Oh man... trail riding with foxhunters cured me of any anxiety I ever had about rocks. They just ride over EVERYTHING. And the horses are fine. Totally fine.

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  3. Great post! Unfortunately my backyard barn does not have a square inch of flat ground so I am jealous of your ability to find flattish spots to ride :).

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    1. We don't have TOO many flat spots, but enough to make it work!

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  4. I was the same until I started endurance. I remember my first 25 mile ride where I hooked up with 3 ladies. They trotted and cantered over things I thought were impossible to even walk over gingerly. It was a big eye opener to me.

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    1. That is exactly how I felt when I started riding with foxhunters.. it's AMAZING what horses can handle footing-wise that we think is "not possible"!

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  5. This! It's a horse, not a hothouse orchid. While I don't take unnecessary risks with my horses legs, I want them to be comfortable in all sorts of footing and terrain.

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    1. LOL exactly! They won't melt in the rain/break if they step on a rock.

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  6. Most important is that it makes strong ligaments and a sounder horse to ride off the ring. They become more aware of their environment and are more sure footed. A horse who rides out of the ring will handle envirmental encounters with ease. Ditches, brush in the woods, rocks and water. Rings are a people thing.

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  7. I will definitely ride just about anywhere. I can be picky about the type of work that I will do, depending on the footing - I rarely do long trots on the dirt roads near us because they're often quite hard - but it's pretty rare for me to flat out refuse to ride somewhere. I think there's also a good argument for variable footing helping to improve spatial awareness and muscle tone.

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    1. Agreed - not every footing is appropriate for jumping or dressage work, but the horses can handle a lot more than we think they can.

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  8. I agree completely! I think its much better for a horse to experience many kinds of footing. If we only keep them on the most forgiving footing, what will happen when we encounter the not so great footing? I feel like softening them up like that will make them brittle.
    The main time I'm concerned about footing is when I'm jumping, because I don't want them to land in jarring material, but sand, grass, dirt or well fluffed stonedust all fit in with my idea of appropriate. What does not fit is rock, or stone dust that's been allowed to settle into a concrete-like substance.

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    1. Exactly - I'm careful about how hard I work my pony in certain conditions, but you can get some kind of work done on just about everything!

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  9. The only things I won't ride in are super super hard footing (well I'll walk on it for conditioning but that's about it), super deep mud, or something really really uneven. Otherwise I like varied footing (Grass or sand) and terrain. I agree with others who said that varied footing is actually much better for them, it makes them stronger in the long run.

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    1. Yeah I'll walk/do limited trot on very hard footing and just walk in deep mud. Otherwise... it's fair game for just about anything.

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  10. I agree- I watch my horses prance through mud and snow and then hard ground and tall grass and their legs/feet/joints are fine.

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    1. Yep! If they can do the things they do in turnout and be okay, they can haul my butt around in less than perfect conditions!

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  11. All terrain almost all of the time! And I think my horses are stronger for it because uneven terrain builds their bodies better than perfect footing would.

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    1. You are the ultimate all-terrain rider!!

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  12. I'm definitely an all-terrain sort of person with all-terrain sort of horses! I like having access to arenas (or really, any kind of enclosed area) to ride green horses or to work on something like a dressage test, but I really enjoy being out and about.

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    1. An arena is definitely really helpful to have at times, but being able to ride outside the ring is important for so many reasons.

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  13. I'm a ring baby, but I'm working on it!

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    1. You got out of the ring a lot last year!!

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  14. honestly for me it depends a lot on the horse. isabel was straight up unreliable for a very very long time in the fields around her barn. to the point where it could just be really unpleasant to ride her out there. so.... i often didn't. tho that wasn't really a function of footing (she was a dream in fields literally anywhere else) vs just her plain personality... so idk.

    footing has kinda become a consideration with the new guy too tho bc esp in the earlier days, he would actually turn up more sore/lame in certain footings vs others. turned out tho he was most sound in the field, except going down hill was a real struggle (kinda still is lol). so actually getting him outside the arena has been really important.

    long story tho - i guess what i'm saying is footing and riding environment considerations might have different influences on different horses. tho perhaps it's up to us as riders to work through that anyway?

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    1. It's true that not every horse has the mentality to be ridden out in the wide open spaces of the world, but I think physically the vast majority of horses can be conditioned to work on varied terrain and less-than-perfect footing. We still have to be mindful of their mental and physical tolerance of the work, for sure!

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  15. If I had the option for a safe variety of terrain I'd totally take it. Unfortunately it is either asphalt, arena, or uneven pastures that have flood irrigation. So arena wins

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  16. For me it depends on the horse. I have some geriatrics with lots of soundness issues so for them, they stay in the ring. But the younger ones can definitely go on grass or sand. Up and down hills is great for them! But I still won't ride in sticky mud or slick anything. Not worth the risk. Overly hard is a no-go as well.

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    1. Oh I definitely agree that we have to take soundness issues into consideration! But for the average, sound, healthy horse, I've found that they can deal with a lot more 'bad' footing than we give them credit for. :)

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  17. Another all-terrainer here :) If I only rode on 'good' footing, about 95% of my riding career would never have happened hahaha.

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  18. Yup - all terrain is the way to go!

    Of course, if the terrain is unsafe I won't ride on it, but usually I ride over varied terrain as much as I can.

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  19. Love it! I saw that pic of the cornfield and thought - perfect footing! ;-) I used to ride my pony as a kid over anything. She was barefoot too. Sadly I don't have any cornfields close to me anymore!

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  20. This is great! Horses really are tougher than many give them credit for. I have always longed for an arena with any kind of footing other than grass, but it really is liberating, to get it done even if you don't have what others deem necessary. It feels like vacation every time I am in a groomed arena!

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  21. I've always been of the opinion that varied footing is very good for horses (which is why I like hacking out in the fields)

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