Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Are You An “Innie” Or An “Outie”?



There are two great dividing lines in the multi-fractured world of North American riding. The first of these is the great divide between those who ride English and those who ride western, but as the Chronicle is an English horse magazine, I won’t address that.

The other major demarcation is between those who are primarily “innies” and those who are mainly “outies,” and, no, we aren’t addressing belly buttons here.

Is your riding sport inside a riding ring, a dressage arena or other contained space, where spectators can sit in one place and watch you ride? Or do you seek the wide open places, and is your road song, “Don’t Fence Me In”?

I don’t think there were many “innie” riders in the early years of North American horseback riding. What’s more iconic than cowboys and Indians galloping across the vast western prairies? The pioneers who crossed the continent didn’t do that in an indoor ring. George Washington rode outdoors to topple the armies of Great Britain. Jeb Stuart led his gray cavalry regiments to battle the blue Yankees outside of the Virginia riding arenas.

In 2016, the main followers of the American outie riding tradition are foxhunters, trail riders, chasing or timber racing jockeys, and event riders.

The big innie riding sports are dressage, show jumping, show hunters, equitation classes, saddle seat classes and anything else held within the confines of some sort of physical walls.

The Reasons For Our Preferences

What makes a rider become an innie or an outie, assuming that the same rider doesn’t spend equal amounts of time both in and out of an arena?

Probably, as much as anything, it depends upon where the rider grew up and what kind of riding was locally popular and available. In the state of New York, for example, a child from the Genesee Valley area will have been far more likely to have become a foxhunter, I’d think, than her counterpart from New York City or Westchester County, where access to miles of open countryside simply no longer exists. One can be a trail rider around South Woodstock, Vt., much more easily than around Stamford, Conn., because one place has more dirt roads and riding trails than the other. Those are simple explanations.

But I think the road to becoming an innie or outie is more complex and personal than simply access to open land or congested spaces. My guess is that there are personality traits that drive, or at least nudge, a person to be more comfortable in one environment than in another. These have nothing to do with “right” or “wrong,” as they are purely matters of personal taste.


When my brother Tom and I would argue over some triviality, my father would often say, “De gustibus non disputandum est,” which roughly translated from Latin, means, “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.” If you prefer steak and I prefer lobster, neither of us is right or wrong; it’s simply individual preference.

A Test To Determine Your Category

So how might we differentiate the inner workings of those who want to ride to the far horizons compared to the riders who happily spend all day in the 20 by 60 meter “sandbox” of the dressage ring?

Picture two columns. Title one of them, “Innie dressage and show ring riders.” Title the other one, “Outie trail riders, foxhunters and cross-country jumping riders.”

Now here is a list of descriptive words and phrases that we might associate somewhat more or very much more with one group or the other. Place the word or phrase in the appropriate column.

“Precise,” “Meticulous,” “Specific,” “Risk taking,” “Fast,” “Imprecise,” “Euphoric,” “Repetitive,” “Calculated,” “Aggressive,” “Dangerous,” “Risk averse,” “Constraint,” “Abandon,” “Free spirited,” “Rough and Ready,” “Wild,” “Picky,” “Rash,” “Impetuous,” “Dashing,” “Reckless,” “Deliberate,” “Accurate,” “Fastidious,” “Bold,” “Intensive,” “Detail oriented,” “Out There.”

Here’s another way to think about whether you personally lean toward inside or outside riding. In Scenario 1, we watch a rider trot her horse toward a gymnastic line consisting of three cross-rails set 9′ apart, followed 18′ later by a small oxer, followed 19′ later by a second oxer. She quietly and patiently repeats this exercise until the horse executes the line calmly and accurately.

Scenario 2: A dressage rider trots down the centerline and halts at X. She repeats this exercise, ending it only when the horse stands straight and square and even.

Scenario 3: Hounds are running on a line that will take them to a busy highway. The whipper-in races pell-mell through the rain on a slippery, grassy hillside, great gouts of mud and turf spraying behind her, in an attempt to cut them off.

Scenario 4: With only the light of distant stars and a glowstick dangling from his horse’s breast collar, a distance rider trots along a rocky trail high on the rim of a California canyon.


Scenario 5: You sit at the in-gate memorizing your jumper course. “No. 1, the red rails, 2, the blue oxer, 3, a right hand rollback turn to the yellow planks with the pine tree wings, …”

And, finally, a more extreme example, Scenario 6: You’ve just watched the movie Unbranded, about the four young men who rode mustangs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Do you think, “OMG, I’d give anything to do that!” Or do you think, “OMG, I’d give anything to avoid having to do that!”

To which scenarios do you find yourself drawn? I don’t see many riders fully comfortable and competent in two different worlds. Rarely have I seen a distance rider at a horse show or a foxhunter in a dressage ring or a point-to-point jockey in a hunter class at a horse show. I don’t think it’s a matter of lacking the riding skills that keeps these riders apart. The thing that separates the innies from the outies is that their interest and passion for one type of riding is greater than for some other types of riding. They could do anything they want. They simply don’t want to.

Of all the riding sports, eventing is the most obviously a “swing” sport because it is comprised of two arena sports, dressage and show jumping, and a clearly outdoor sport, the cross-country phase. In years past, when the long format still existed, and the second day of a full three-day event was called “the speed and endurance day,” horses needed enough stamina and endurance to persevere for upwards of 18 miles. Eventing was much more clearly an outie sport than today, when the whole cross-country effort is closer to 3 miles.

Some event riders are outies, with enough skills to deal with the technical requirements of dressage and show jumping. Others are technicians who can clamber out of their comfort zones sufficiently to attack the cross-country courses. Either way, the event rider, more than most, is tugged into two different worlds.

There are some riders who are absolutists, one way or the other. I suspect that some jump jockeys are cut from the same cloth as those Top Gun fighter pilots, who, if you remember the movie, were described as, “only happy going Mach Two with their hair on fire.”

I’ve seen some dressage riders dismount in the arena, rather than ride outside from the dressage ring back to the stable.

Most riders are more ambivalent than these two extreme examples. Probably the surest litmus test you can self-perform to discover whether you are an innie or an outie at the core of your being would be to consider the following scenario.

You have the choice from this day forward, of only riding in a contained space, or only riding outside a contained space. There is no possibility of switching back and forth between the innie world and the outie world. Which one would you choose? That will be what you are at your deepest, most fundamental level.

Denny Emerson rode on the 1974 World Championships gold-medal eventing team. He served as the U.S. Eventing Association president twice and won the USEA Wofford Cup for his lifetime dedication to the sport. At his Tamarack Farm in South Strafford, Vt., and Southern Pines, N.C., he trains horses and riders, and he owns shares in stallions standing at other farms. An original Between Rounds contributor, Emerson began writing his column in 1989.




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