How The Backyard Barn Lifestyle Has Changed My Ideas About Footing
|A perfectly acceptable riding surface.|
"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?