If you’re not able to get out and ride trails or go on little adventures regularly with your horse, you may find yourself getting bored with riding in an arena. When this happens, it’s wise to keep in mind that the way to change your experience is to change your approach. In this article, we share 15 smart tips to help you have more fun while working with your horse in an arena. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- 1 Fun Things To Do With Your Horse While Riding
- 1.1 1. Stop on a dime
- 1.2 2. Practice smooth transitions
- 1.3 3. Make your horse safer and more confident on the trail
- 1.4 4. Play knight in shining armor
- 1.5 5. Pick up and place objects
- 1.6 6. Teach your horse to do unusual tasks that arise unexpectedly
- 1.7 7. Work on the ground skills surrounding riding
- 1.8 8. Practice fancy footwork
- 1.9 9. Build obstacles
- 1.10 10. Perfect your communication with your horse
- 1.11 11. Introduce music
- 1.12 12. Wear a costume!
- 1.13 13. It’s also fun to sing while riding
- 1.14 14. Work on your own seat
- 1.15 15. Play games with a friend
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
Fun Things To Do With Your Horse While Riding
If you’re working towards goals with your horse when you work in an arena, it’s a good idea to use the easy/hard training method to make your training more effective.
This involves working on a difficult and challenging task for a few minutes and then taking a mini break by doing something fun. Here are 15 activities (both hard and easy) you can use to do just that!
1. Stop on a dime
Pick out a particular fence post or mark a place on the wall in the arena and practice stopping exactly even with it. Begin by practicing at a walk and gradually work into stopping “on a dime” from a trot or canter.
2. Practice smooth transitions
Some horses have habits such as tossing their heads or stopping and then restarting when transitioning from one gait to another.
Identify any little quirks your horse may have and focus on working through them by gently encouraging your horse when transitioning. This small effort will pay off when you are out riding in the real world.
3. Make your horse safer and more confident on the trail
An arena is a safe and predictable place to ride, but you can add spark and challenges to help your horse learn to respond appropriately to unusual circumstances.
Introduce unusual objects (e.g. tarps, blankets hanging over fences, a fan blowing ribbons, etc.) and help your horse learn to approach them without panic.
When doing this, stay calm and confident yourself and always use the same words. In this way, if you do encounter something unusual on the trail you can immediately use your calming words to reassure your horse effectively.
4. Play knight in shining armor
Use soft, harmless, durable “toys” such as a foam noodle or a large foam ball to run relays with friends, joust, knock objects off of posts, etc. Make up games to help hone your skills at performing tasks while in the saddle.
5. Pick up and place objects
Using a safe, unbreakable object such as a water bottle or foam ball try picking up the object from a barrel or fence post as you ride past and then replacing it as you ride past again.
6. Teach your horse to do unusual tasks that arise unexpectedly
Ride while carrying a fly whisk and move it all around as you ride. Touch the horse’s head, neck and body randomly while riding. All the while, talk to him and assure him using your calming words.
This exercise may prove helpful to you if you’re riding in an area where gnats are flies are a problem or where you need to write through brush and limbs.
7. Work on the ground skills surrounding riding
Many horses tend to walk off while you’re mounting up. Use your work time in the arena to teach your horse to stand while you’re mounting and not to move off until you’re ready.
You can signal that you are ready to move out with a gentle nudge of the heels or with the classic “Walk on!” command.
8. Practice fancy footwork
Invest in some cones to set up a series of different patterns that you can ride to work on reining and maneuvering in tight places.
9. Build obstacles
Use foam noodles to create mazes or build small obstacles for your horse to step over.
10. Perfect your communication with your horse
Your ideal when riding should be for no one but you and your horse to know what you want your horse to do next.
If you’re currently riding two-handed and using direct reining, begin consciously introducing leg signals, seat shifting and quiet voice commands to teach your horse to respond without visible signals from you.
As your horse begins responding to your new signals, gradually fade your reining signals. As your horse becomes more reliably responsive to leg and seat signals, transition add one-handed neck reining and then freestyle reining.
11. Introduce music
If you ever been to a horse show, you have probably noticed that if music is playing many of the horses will naturally move in time to it.
Horses tend to like jaunty music with a clear beat. If your horse really enjoys music, you may be able to teach him a little dance routine!
12. Wear a costume!
It’s a sure bet that one of the biggest challenges in choreographing a freestyle reining routine like the one in the video above involves getting the horse used to being ridden with a long flowing costume and having part of that costume slide off during the performance.
If you aspire to do a performance piece like this with your horse, take some time to get him or her used to seeing you and being ridden in a variety of different, unusual (safe) clothing.
13. It’s also fun to sing while riding
Simple songs such as hymns and old-fashioned folk songs are easy to remember and add an element of fun while riding.
Additionally, if your horse tends to be anxious you can adopt a specific song to sing to them whenever anything stressful is going on. This can be amazingly helpful.
14. Work on your own seat
Riding in an arena provides you with a safe space where you can give your horse his head somewhat and focus on your own posture and ability to move with your horse.
Relax and pay attention to your horse’s gait and rhythm and allow your body to move with him.
This exercise will help you develop a natural, graceful, safe seat that will keep you in the saddle even in challenging circumstances.
15. Play games with a friend
Think of old-fashioned games that children play, such as follow-the-leader and play those with a friend on horseback. Be careful to always maintain a safe distance so that nobody gets kicked.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, spending time with your horse to walk or jog together, teach tricks, get used to potentially scary situations, work on voice communication and agility and much more can really help you bond and build trust with your horse. Good communication and trust are very important when challenging situations arise.
It’s alright to do this, but not while you are riding and not while the horse is tacked up. When a horse paws at and blows into water, it is a precursor for lying down and rolling in the water. This is not something you want your horse doing to you or your good saddle and bridle! If you want to give your horse some play time with water, lead him to it with a halter and lead rope and allow him to explore the water at his own pace.
You can create an obstacle course using items such as railroad ties or other lumber, tires, foam noodles, etc. to walk through with your horse. As he becomes accustomed to walking the course, you can add more challenging items, such as a tarp on the ground, milk jugs full of water hanging from above, stationary platforms, tilting platforms and more. Working patiently with an obstacle course is a good way to get your horse used to unfamiliar objects and footing without scaring him or risking harm. Start out by walking through the course with your horse. When he is completely confident, try riding through it.
Including your horse in costume fun can be safe if you do it right. You must take plenty of time to get your horse used to every element of your costume and his. Introduce individual components of the costumes one by one on a still, quiet day in a safe setting. Getting your horse used to billowing fabrics, masks, hats and headdresses (whether on you or on the horse) can take quite a bit of time. Be patient. If you plan to do any body painting on your horse, be sure to use non-toxic substances.
Ideally, you should not need to do this. The best way to learn to ride is to start out riding bareback. This is a skill that all horses and all riders should have before learning about any riding discipline. Sadly, that is not how horseback riding is usually taught these days, though.
If you find that your horse is frightened, unresponsive or differently responsive when you ride bareback, try working with him on voice commands when you lunge and when you ride with a saddle. Use the same commands in the same way every time. Once he is responsive to voice only while you are in the saddle, try switching to bareback and using these same commands. Having your horse responsive to voice commands in all circumstances is a very valuable skill.