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Horseback Riding in an Arena: 5 Fun Exercises to Banish Boredom

For many reasons, sometimes riders who would prefer to be on a trailer practicing over a jump scores have to spend more time than they’d like riding their horse and an arena. Arenas provide in an arena. Horseback riding arenas provide a safe, confined space for riding with predictable even footing that is either resistant to weather (such as indoor arenas) or designed to drain especially well (to minimize mud)

People ride in arenas for many reasons, whether it’s training a new horse that might be likely to bolt, staying warm and protected from winter weather and the muddy footing it creates or gently rehabbing a horse following an injury and stall rest. But being stuck riding in an arena can feel boring.

Both horses and riders get bored simply riding around an arena. Too much time spent riding the ring around and around can cause riders to dread mounting up and horses to begin experimenting with bad behaviors out of boredom. To prevent boredom, it’s a good idea to mix up your training rides in an arena so both horse and rider stay engaged, and skills and fitness continue to grow.

Here are some tips to make riding in an arena more interesting and productive

Set goals for your Arena Riding Time

A good riding instructor should have used setting goals regularly about what you want out of your time spent in the saddle, but if you know you’ll be in an arena for a few weeks or even months as winter passes in your region, it’s a good idea to set micro-goals. These goals – which work best if they are specific and aspirational. Avoid goals like “maintain condition,” and get creative (after all, the goal is to have fun and make your time in the riding arena more interesting).

Perhaps your goal might be to teach your horse something new (like side passes, a perfectly-trained halt from a verbal cue, or even teaching your horse to fetch) or gain a new skill yourself (like comfort doing an emergency dismount at a trot, or finding a sidesaddle instructor in ASSA’s directory who can help you safely try riding sidesaddle). Goals keep us engaged and provide a way to measure our progress that we wouldn’t have the goal was simply getting to the next show season, trail ride, or dry cross-country course.

Take a riding lesson on a lunge line

Lessons on a lunge line are so often associated with brand-new beginner riders, but most riders can benefit from a riding lesson on a lunge line. When riding a horse that is being longed, the rider has the unique opportunity to place almost 100% of their focus on their own body position in the saddle. Paired with a mirror along the side of the arena or the feedback of a skilled professional, lunge lessons can help build muscle and grow a deeper seat, developing balance and stability that will pay off during show season.

Drop your stirrups

I once knew a rider who, faced with an entire winter exercising their horse in an indoor arena, simply removed the stirrups from their saddle and spent more than a month riding without them. Without stirrups, core muscles have to work harder to balance and find RC to walk, trot, and canter. While circling the arena with standard tack gets boring very quickly, you may find that with no stirrups walk, trot, canter’s, and especially transitions become a challenge.

Doing basic exercises and stretches on horseback without stirrups can make riding and an arena more fun and develop your seat for more enjoyment outside the arena next summer. It may even help to turn this practice into a game, since researchers in education know that gamification can increase engagement and learning.

Play with dressage tests & choreography

Serious riders who compete in eventing or other highly competitive sports may benefit from time spent sincerely honing dressage skills over the winter. For the rest of us, though, riding and riding lessons can be more fun– if we take some of the aspects of dressage and work with them creatively.

For example, choosing a dressage test to practice and setting it to music, even altering the movements as needed to match the horse’s cadence in a certain gate to changes in the music, can be a creative exercise that keeps horses and riders engaged in doing something interesting in the arena while also having fun – and perhaps even producing something TikTok video worthy.

Train over poles on the ground.

Riders who enjoy jumping have a reputation for only enjoying jumping, but during the long winter months when the ground is frozen jumping should be limited for the sake of horses’ joints. Instead, jumpers can benefit from practicing over poles laid out on the ground.

Poles let jumpers practice things like counting strides, lengthening strides, and shortening strides, while protecting horses’ joints from the strain of jumping in freezing temperatures. This extra challenge keeps horses from engaging in boredom-motivated bad behavior and lets riders have fun while learning skills that are applicable to the next show season.

final thoughts on making riding in an arena fun

Riders aren’t alone in their distaste of endlessly riding an arena – horses seem to dislike it just as much. For the sake of both horse and rider, it’s important to think creatively about how you can make riding in an arena more fun and interesting, whether you are a rider, trainer, or riding instructor.

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