Thinking Outside the (Sand)box

—Lisa Hellmer

Often the hardest part about dressage is staying in the 20 x 60-meter arena day-in and day-out. Both horses and riders can get a little stuck repeating the same exercises over and over again. They continuously ride on the same footing, in the same environment, with the same distractions, and then wonder why their horses are so different when they take them to a clinic or a show.

Every week, challenge yourself to take your horse “out of the sandbox.” Whether it is a hack around the farm, a walk down the driveway, or a quick trailer ride to another farm―change is good! Not only is this super-important for the horse’s body (working on new footing and with changes in grade and material), but it’s also so good for their minds. Keeping them interested in their work isn’t always easy, and asking your horse to focus on the same half-pass line or canter circle day-in and day-out probably makes you both crazy!

Lisa on her Oldenburg gelding, Aniko, working outside the sandbox with her dog Calvin.

Give yourself one or two new things to try each week.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Take a lesson at a new barn and therefore in a new ring.
  2. Go for a walk before or after your ride―ideally horses should have 20 minutes of warm-up and cool-down at the walk, so why not do it outside the ring?
  3. Walk down the driveway―walking on pavement or hard gravel is actually good to load the horse’s hooves and tendons, just make sure it is not slippery! Sealed pavement is not a good surface to ride horses on because they can slip.
  4. Find a hill! Walk up and down the hill and at different angles.
  5. Ride with a buddy. Riding with a friend is great for you and your horse! Do some circles together, practice passing each other as if at a horse show. Hacking is more fun with company!
Author profile

Lisa Hellmer is working toward the Grand Prix with her Oldenburg “Aniko.” She graduated summa cum laude from Johnson & Wales University with a degree in equine business management and riding. As a former event rider, Lisa brings that experience into building EQuine AMerica’s Cavaletti Crossfit posters and her cross-training lessons, which you can find here. Recently, Lisa became a USEF Silver Para Dressage Coach and formed LCH Equestrian in Ocala, FL where she continues to focus on dressage, para dressage, and cross-training the dressage horse.