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Making the most of the outside of the arena

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

In this training article we are going to be talking all about those last few moments before you go down the centre line, why i think they are the most important part of the test and how you can make the most of it as well as how it can completely change how your test goes. Were also going to look at loads of different ideas that you can add to your routine to really get the most of those last few moments before you go down the centre line.


When you watch riders compete how many do you see trot around the outside of the arena, the bell rings and down the centre line they go. 80% ? Maybe to be honest even more?

But what have those riders achieved in those last few minutes trotting around the outside; have they improved their horse in any way? Have they made the most of those last few minutes they have before they are judged for every movement they do?

This is why i wanted to talk about making the most of the outside of the arena. It is the last few moments you have to correct or change anything before you go down that centre line.

When i discuss this with my clients a lot of them say 'but the judge is watching' and yes they may be, although to be honest theyre probably still writing their comment for the previous horse, but even if they are watching; if your horse is being slow and lazy and then remains slow and lazy in the test they will mark it down for being inactive and lacking impulsion. But if they see your horse is lazy around the outside and you correct it then they will mark you up for having a now active and forward going horse.

The warm up

Now obviously you do only have on average about one lap around the arena to get everything together and sorted so a lot of the work needs to be done in the warm up. When i work with my clients a big part of our competition preparation is planning an effective warm up that is going to get both them and their horse going well both physically and mentally. This is a whole separate issue which is why it forms such a big part of the competition preparation E-Book because its a big gap of time that you have to create the horse that you want going down that centre line.

But i think a lot of people know this already and i think most people do know the importance of the warm up and use it effectively. I think where people tend to lose it is in that walk to the arena and those last few moments around the outside before they go down the centre line.

How can it influence your test?

There is a famous old saying that i always hear around warm ups that is ;you cant change anything now' or 'a competition isnt the time to train' which i think is true to an extent. But i think it implies that you cant change anything which is definitely not true. It takes time and practice to find a warm up routine that gets you and your horse ready to go and similarly, it takes time and practice to find the right 'round the outside' routine too.

The number of times i have seen riders (and lets be honest weve all done it), completely ruin all their good warm up in those last few seconds before they go down the centre line. Whether thats their horse spooks so they lose their attention or they start to slip behind the leg or they start to tense up and so really the main aim for your warm up is to get your horse and you into the best possible position to compete, your aim for that walk over and round the outside is to keep you and your horse in the best possible position to compete.

The walk to the arena

If you have a horse that tends to get behind the leg, you will know that a walk break can sometimes be like the kiss of death. You let them walk and chill for a bit and then you pick them up and BAM you have nothing, no reaction to your leg, no forward energy, no impulsion.

On the way to the arena then we know we have to walk there and if its a long way then you need to make sure that you keep them focussed and attentive to you. You can try doing some transitions on the way there; it doesnt have to be manic but some little walk halt walk transitions or asking for a little joggy trot and then back down to walk again. But keeping them attentive and listening means that when you get in there they are still with you and not half fallen asleep.

Similarly, if you have a hot horse, those steps to the arena can be equally damaging if you let them lose focus and they start spooking or getting hot. Again some quiet walk halt transitions or leg yields or a little shoulder in or shoulder fore can work wonders on your way to the arena just to keep them attentive and with you.

The outside of the arena

Then once youre in the arena its go time. Most of the time you can fit in one lap of the arena before you have to get down that centre line (unless you have a mean judge or one thats running a bit late). Its also worth mentioning that after the bell rings it doesnt have to be a rush to the centre line you have a whole 40 seconds to get there which is more than enough time to get halfway round. Dont rush yourself to get down that centre line, take your time and make sure you are in a good relaxed rhythm before setting off and that you are well prepared for that first turn down your centre line.

Those last few seconds and minutes round the outside of the arena is your last opportunity to change, correct or remind before you are judged so make the most of it. If your horse is behind the leg dont be afraid to give them a big kick or ride some transitions similarly if your horse gets tense and nervous dont feel under pressure to trot you can walk on a loose rein. I had one horse that i rode in a stretchy trot going round the outside as it really helped to relax him. Theres no rules on what you can and cant do around the outside as long as you stay on the outside of the arena, dont cause any damage or harm and dont run anyone over then youre good to go.

Things to try round the outside

Ive put together some things you could try around the outside of the arena to really make the most of those last few minutes. Every horse is different so its worth trying out a couple of different ideas or even putting a few different exercises together. Its definitely about trial and error with this one until you find a plan that consistently works. Remember though, its not about completely transforming your horse its about maintaining that good way of going you achieved in the warm up. Thats where your hard work needs to be this bit is just about keeping it.

  1. Horses that get behind the leg: try trot-halt or trot-walk transitions making sure youre really thinking about that quick reaction off your leg. Dont be afraid to do a medium canter or medium trot too!

  2. Horses that get hot: try combinations of things to keep their attention on you. Leg yields, transitions within the paces, shoulder ins, circles in corners if there is space all work well.

  3. Horses that become fixed and unsupple: little leg yield zig zags work a treat here. Down the long side leg yield left then right and keep going back and forth. If its quite tight you can just do a few steps each way.

  4. Horses that become heavy and strong: again trot-halt or trot-walk transitions or transitions within the paces. Think about transferring the weight onto the hind end.

  5. Horses that are spooky: Again these ones need to be kept thinking, intermingle a bit of shoulder in with some trot-walk or trot-halt transitions. If you can try to change direction a few times too.

  6. Horses that get tense or tight in the neck: dont be afraid to trot stretch these types of horses it will encourage them to take the contact down and out and in a longer frame then you need them for the test. Youll then be picking them up to go down the centre line.

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