Practicing dressage in an odd sized arena isn’t ideal. Ours is 25m wide (not 20m) and 40m long (my test is in a long arena which is 60m).

Letters A and C don’t line up properly and M/H/F/K are very close to the corners.  B and E are roughly where they should be but remaining letters (S/V/P/R) are far too close together.

Day-to-day it doesn’t bother me, in fact I am normally grateful that our YO put in the biggest school they could. It means more of us can comfortably work in there at the same time, and there’s more room for showjumping courses.

However, when it comes to test-riding it can lead to brain pickle!

The first thing we do, is put out poles to bring in the width – 2.5m on each side. For a short arena test, I just ignore the ‘middle’ letters (V/S/P/R).

But if it’s a long test…..then it starts to get complicated….

Often I’ll practice the test in the arena with the sides in, sticking to the letters as they are laid out in our arena…just getting the know the ‘route’ as I call it.

Then I will practice the movements of the test with the ‘right’ dimensions (or as close as I get make it).

For example, early in Novice 23 I will change the rein from S to F showing some medium trot strides.  If I ride that as per the letters in our school, it’s the equivalent to a short diagonal in a long arena, so I’ll practice the movement (accurately making all the letters and transitions in and out of the medium trot, as well as the medium trot itself) across my long diagonal (while remembering that in the test I’ll be going from S not H).

The combination of the wind and Abbey’s mood plus our inexperience with medium canters meant we didn’t do this in our lesson (see here). So my RI left me with homework to practice the medium canter to working canter to trot, starting from A (rather than F) and move the working canter transitions up a letter e.g. on the left rein in the test it’s medium strides between F and R, I’ll ride A-B.  Leaving the trot and walk transitions where they are.

While this incorporates a corner of medium canter (which I should make more shallow for practice purposes), it gives us the time we need (at the moment) to regain our balance, and it’s more reflective of the space and time we’ll have in a full length menage.

Eventually,  we’ll aim to be able to do it in out short school, but for now it’s better to allow ourselves more time through the transitions, than to rush and have scrappy transitions.

Talking of new things….15m circles are completely new to Abbey and I, this will be the first time we’ve ridden them in a test.  And while I’ve googled where they are (see picture below), getting a feel for riding them accurately is another kettle of fish.

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The two 15m circles in Novice 23 are at the ends of the school, so I’ll concentrate on those for now.  In a normal arena I need to look half way between the 3/4 lines and the boards just after the corner letters (or 2.5m in from the boards).

Once I’ve reached the first corner letter (for example, M, if I have started the circle at C), and I need to head towards the half way point between the 3/4 line and the boards just  before the next letter (H, to continue the example) then we auto-magically come out far enough. If I’m nearing the imaginary letter I, I have gone too wide.

During my lesson I must have ridden 50 15m circles and think I have got the hang of them.

We also practiced the canter 20m circles with a give and retake, these were a nice shape and Abbey maintained her rhythm through the giving and retaking of the reins so we moved onto the 1/2 20m circle with a stretch, in trot.

At the start, I wasn’t making these half as deep as they need to be. In Novice 23, the 1/2 20m starts on the right rein at V.  As you can see from the diagram below, I need to be hitting X. In our school at home, I needed to be going well over X – nearly halfway to I. My RI, paced it out…10m (half a 20m) is surprisingly large!

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I didn’t practice stretching in trot during this lesson, Abbey just wasn’t settled enough.  The wind had wound her up and I wasn’t letting her do what see wanted (run at speed with a neck like a giraffe), as a result she was snatching at the reins, backing off my leg and trying to run through my hands (for that side of the lesson – including video –  click here!). If we had tried and Abbey got away with her antics, all I’d have taught her is that when I lengthen the contact, it’s ok to run like a chicken with a fox on it’s tail!.

I felt it was a productive lesson in the end. I definitely understand 15m circles that start at A and C. I started getting the feeling of riding them too (which somehow is something completely different!).

When the ground is less squishy I am intending on taking some markers down the field and marking out a 60m x 20m arena and do a lot more practice.

Do you have an odd shaped menage? If so, how do you adjust and learn to ride different sized circles accurately? Have you any other hints or tips? Particularly on overcoming the scary corners!