Practice Dressage Arena

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My sister and I ride dressage, or as I like to joke, we ?think? we ride dressage. We're actually riding?at such a low level,?it's truly just trying to ride well and properly.? So, while about all we're?doing are leg yields and shoulder-in,?our level of enjoyment is as high as any Grand Prix rider.

We decided it was time to practice actual tests, so we downloaded 2011 tests for free?via the Internet (we found them here) ?and we'read them to each other while the other one rode the test. ?(We put the copy of the test in our breeches pocket, ready to pull out once we were warmed up.)

When we started this exercise, we only had orange cones to mark the placement of the letters and the corners, but we quickly decided it would be much easier to actually mark the cones with the proper letters than to have to quickly think, ?Hmmm, is F in the corner or center along the long side'?

Because I'm forever frugal, I went to the local dollar store for help.? I found foam board that was about the size of poster board, but much more stiff (so it would stand up on its own). I bought two boards for $1 each, which I later cut into eight sections and used a Sharpie pen to mark the letters on them.

Needing a way to make the foam letters stand up, I went to our local Home Depot and purchased eight 99? wire sign holders. (Total investment so far is about $10.)

We used a measuring wheel to mark off the size of a small dressage arena and placed the letters in the appropriate spots in our arena.??Now, we have two dollar-store clothesline rope in two sections ? the long side and the short side ?with the spots for the letters marked on them, so we don't need the wheel each time.

This worked pretty well, except?the signs could fall over in the wind?and, when they did, our horses would spook. So, we duct-taped the wire to the orange cones, which held them more securely. ?We've now expanded to include eight pieces of landscape timber to mark the corners better than just a single cone.

Viola! Instant dressage arena, which took two of us less than 10 minutes to put up and take down.?

What was the most fascinating aspect of all this was that we found ourselves riding better and our horses far more engaged and interested in what was going on.? It really gave us goals, and it gave our horses a sense of knowing where they were headed next.

If you want better instructions on how to build a proper dressage practice arena, in our July 2004 issue, Margaret Freeman wrote an article with specific instructions on how to set up a dressage practice arena. If you would like to see the PDF of that article, I've included it here. Download the?dressage practice arena PDF.

But, I'll tell you, whether you're "into" dressage or not, you'll find that riding these lower level tests will improve your horsemanship and your horse's attitude. You can even just find walk-trot and walk-trot-canter?intro/training tests, if you'd like.