The prospect of sharing an arena can be a little intimidating, particularly when warming up at a show. Here we cover some of the basics when it comes to common arena etiquette and how to feel much more comfortable when you ride into a shared arena.
Most privately owned or public arenas (either a warm-up arena at a showground or hired arena at a private property) will have their own set of rules or regulations. Things like picking up manure after your horse and making sure you have appropriate safety gear will apply as house rules, but these wouldn’t be considered “etiquette”. Etiquette is a set of unspoken guidelines that are followed for the safety of all horses and riders that are sharing the arena.
Entering and Exiting the Arena
It is very important to make sure that you look both ways before you enter the arena for the safety of you, your horse and other riders in the arena. If there are blind spots, call out to reduce the risk of suddenly appearing in front of another rider and their horse, or cutting someone off and potentially spooking their horse or your own.
If possible, enter the arena mounted. If this isn’t an option, then move to the centre of the arena, or the designated mounting area, where you will be out of the way while you mount and get yourself situated. Most arenas have a mounting block setup in a safe place. If the arena is gated, ensure you always close the gate behind you after you have entered the arena.
Most importantly, enter as calmly as possible.
When exiting the arena, the same applies, ensure that you don’t cut anyone off, announce that you are leaving, and exit calmly but quickly. Close the gate behind you.
Many of this also applies for open space warm up area’s at show grounds. An arena is not always available and in many cases, especially at agricultural shows, the warm up space is nothing more than an open grass area that is out of the way.
Passing other horses, left shoulder to left shoulder. Slow horses work on the inside whereas faster work is done on the outside. It can be a little overwhelming entering a large open space with a lot of horses working at the same time but generally as long as you are respectful of others then you shouldn’t have any problems.
Arena Do’s and Don’ts
- The general rule of thumb is that fast work uses the outside track or wall, whereas slow work uses the inside.
- This is because faster working horses always have right of way, yet nevertheless, it is important to communicate. If you are unsure of another’s path, or you need to pass, make sure to announce yourself before making a move.
- This is especially important if you are planning movements that deviate from the wall such as calling jump lines or diagonals.
- If another horse is coming up behind you, the polite thing is to circle to the inside and let them pass.
- If you plan to work on a circle then let others know, most people are happy to keep to the wall if someone is on a circle, but it is best etiquette to check in and keep others informed of your intentions.
- It is also courtesy to leave as much room between yourself and the horse in front of you as possible, for safety reasons. The general rule is at least two horse lengths but if more is possible then that is usually best.
Consideration for hot, anxious or misbehaving horses
If you can see someone struggling with a green, excitable or misbehaving horse then make sure to give them as much space as you can allow. Even though it may be slightly inconvenient for you, sometimes offering to work up one end of the arena to give them space can be a great help and is very appreciated. If you are a confident and capable rider on a well seasoned horse, sometimes the offer of riding some patterns with them (like the idea of ‘’ponying’) to help give their horse confidence might be appreciated.
Most riders feel terrible when it is their horse that is causing trouble and some understanding can go a long way. Just put yourself in their shoes and imagine if it were you in that situation.
Stallions are just as entitled to working on the arena as everyone else though they should be clearly marked with a green disk on their saddle cloth or bridle. It is important that they are announced before entering so that other riders are aware of the Stallion’s presence. Working in a public space with a stallion is possible if managed correctly and arena etiquette is practiced.
Most agistment yards or show grounds have a separate space for lunging or long reining. However, if this is not the case, then best etiquette is to wait until the arena is not busy and always ask if other riders are okay with this, as ridden horses take priority.
Demonstrating good arena etiquette and following the individual rules of the arena, makes for a much safer and happier riding experience for all, so we recommend familiarising yourself with these unwritten rules or “etiquette” before riding in a shared arena for the first time.