Blogger and dressage judge Margaret Freeman discusses the perks of riding with friends.

I recently moved from a barn where I mostly rode by myself to a new barn where I’m finding a lot of company when I ride. There are roughly the same number of horses in both. The difference seems to be that we check in with each other when we can to make sure we have friends riding at the same time.

 The sun’s setting as our Friday evening group finishes with a short hack.  There are two FEI horses in the group, two mid-level and a couple at Training Level. (Courtesy, Margaret Freeman) 

 The sun’s setting as our Friday evening group finishes with a short hack. There are two FEI horses in the group, two mid-level and a couple at Training Level. (Courtesy, Margaret Freeman) 

 We even seem to have our own version of Friday Night Lights. Everyone who can shows up on Fridays at 6:30 p.m., including one who trailers in with two horses, a young horse for herself and one that she loans out to one of our barn buddies who might need a ride. We end up with five or six each Friday, often doing drill-team patterns two, three or four abreast, before splitting off for individual work. And it all ends with a hack and then a potluck meal. Hubbies are welcome, and some even show up.

When we’re riding in groups, like pairs, threes or even fours, I find myself concentrating less on small details. As a result, my mare seems to free up and work with more energy and looseness. Near the end of the ride, I find that things like sitting trot, passage and extensions all work better for me than when I alone.

And, since my Windy is a true alpha mare, I pay close attention to her position with the horses next to her to eliminate the possibility of a kick. I know her well, and I know when an ear back just a little bit too much could turn into something socially unacceptable. The interesting thing is that she’s becoming much relaxed with other horses nearby, and that has to be a big help with warm-ups at a show. (But, she still detests Zak, and Zak feels the same way, so we’ll keep a safe distance. I sometimes think Windy and Zak have an “Anything you can do, I can do better” vibe going on and just aren’t good sports about it.)

This has been a bit of a revelation to me. We all have our barn friends, of course, but dressage is also a very individual endeavor and we can focus within ourselves too much at times. We don’t always have a lot of time to get to the barn, to ride, to clean up, and then scurry home to other responsibilities. I find I’m a lot more relaxed when there are others at the barn—spending more time not just riding but also doing more things with my horse on the ground and just laughing and enjoying myself. We all watch each other and help each other. I’m not just riding more but also enjoying it more.

With my judging schedule, it’s tough for me to be at the barn on Friday nights, but I really try to be there when I can. Riding, friendship and food . . . doesn’t get much better than that.

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