A big arena with perfectly manicured ground to work horses in every day is a luxury many performance horse owners would love to have. However, it’s possible to get the job done—and for Tricia Aldridge, done well—without the convenience of your own arena. The Sanger, Texas-based trainer makes the best of pasture riding and sensibly schedules her week to allow time for hauling out to local arenas or friends’ houses.
Riding in the Pasture
Aldridge believes a big advantage to pasture riding is that it encourages horses to think independently without having walls or fences to guide them.
“I want them to be thinking about what they’re supposed to do without relying on a fence or me making them have to come back,” Aldridge said. “I very much prefer to train with no fences, where my horses aren’t looking for walls. That said, it’s just as important sometimes to get to an arena and teach the horses to run up into the walls, but I feel like you can do quite a bit more training without a fence.”
Pasture riding for Aldridge isn’t just a Sunday stroll through the flowers or mindless long trotting. She rides with a purpose and works on basic ‘brokeness’ and also has barrels set up in the field for slow work to reinforce foot placement.
“I feel like the key to really getting them going good is making sure they’re more broke. There’s tons of things we can work on—collection, moving off, moving shoulders, having a nice stop—even just slow working the barrels,” Aldridge said. “When you’re limited like that, you can’t go fast. You have to focus on your fundamentals and make sure you’re putting your horse in the right place. On [2020 OKC Slot Race champion] Three Times The Fury, I had trouble with her leaving the first barrel. I guarantee I spent the most time walking in a circle, just trying to make sure her feet were in the right place.”
Plan for Hauling Out
Developing a successful program without a home arena requires a greater commitment to planning out your riding days each week.
“It is terrible,” Aldridge said with a laugh. “I laugh because it is probably one of my highest stressors—where are we going to ride today?”
Weather is the biggest determinant when Aldridge sits down to make her schedule.
“I’m always calling over to friends’ places, so I try to not be living over there,” Aldridge said with a laugh. “If the weather is good but I know it’s going to rain in a few days, I’ll try to ride at home so that when it is raining, I can go somewhere else.”
Since many horses in Aldridge’s program are aimed at futurities, she uses the aged-event calendar to help make decisions about how often to haul to an arena. Aldridge also says not having the option to fall into a boring arena routine at home on an older, finished horse helps them enjoy the pattern when they do get to run barrels.
“It depends on where the horses are at in their training, so coming up toward the end of their 3-year-old year I probably haul the most, because those horses are getting ready and need to be doing a little faster work regularly,” Aldridge said. “With my early 3-year-olds, a lot of what they need is getting more broke, so I can do more at the house—just trotting through the barrels, showing them where they’re going. Age plays into it. If I get an open horse, [pasture riding] is good because it’s doing something different than working the barrels.”
Why It’s an Advantage
In the midst of constant advanced planning, logistics headaches, added time loading, driving and unloading, it seems easy to complain about the lack of a home arena as a professional barrel horse trainer. However, Aldridge sees it as an advantage.
“My horses know every time they get on the trailer, they’re going to go work barrels—it doesn’t matter if we’re up for money or practicing,” Aldridge said. “I think that’s a big advantage, that it’s always the same to them. It’s not like they’re just winning the National Finals Rodeo at the house and then all of a sudden have to go do it somewhere else. They’re like, ‘Oh, well we always do it somewhere else, so?’ I do think that’s an advantage for them.”
Hauling out frequently is especially helpful for seasoning young horses.
“Because I have to haul so much, it’s not as hard on my horses to haul because they’re so used to going everywhere, looking at different arenas, that it doesn’t faze them as much when we have to really, really haul,” she said.
Advice for Barrel Racers Without Arenas
Aldridge emphasizes that saddle time every day is the most important ingredient to a winning program, whether that time is spent in the pasture, the arena, or a dimly lit flat area of grass.
“I think you can win without having an arena to ride in every day,” Aldridge said. “When I had Miss JB 1214 [multiple 1D champion now ridden by Bayleigh Choate], she’d get cold-backed, and I would literally turn on the headlights on my Jeep and trot that mare in circles in my front yard. If you want to win, nothing replaces time in the saddle—even just trotting around for 15 minutes is better than nothing. I take in outside horses too, so I have to worry about making sure that clients’ horses are far enough along. As long as you’re riding, horses don’t need to do as much barrel work as people think they do. If you’re consistent in your riding, all horse training is just repetition and consistency.”
Finding success in competition ultimately comes down to choices—choosing to put in the time no matter what, and choosing to turn obstacles into advantages.
“I just want to tell everybody that you can do it,” Aldridge said. “There’s been several horses now that come straight out of [my program] to a big show and been in the top five out of 1,000 head, literally coming from riding around in my yard. Those horses can do a lot more than what people think if you just put the time into them—it doesn’t matter where it is.”